Should All Black Students Be Considered ‘At-Risk’? This Michigan Superintendent Thinks So

Ben Edmonson

Ben Edmondson

Lingering, nationwide achievement gaps between African-American students and their white counterparts mean all Black children are highly disadvantaged and therefore deserving of targeted financial assistance, according to one Michigan superintendent.

Washtenaw County’s Ypsilanti Community Schools district is one in crisis. Record numbers of white and Black families are vacating the local institutions due to a long history of low performance and escalating gang violence among area youths.

While African-Americans make up just 29 percent of the city population, Black students account for 60 percent of the YCS student body.

When former school principal Ben Edmondson joined the Ypsilanti Community Schools district last July, one of his first acts as superintendent was the inauguration of Man Up or Kid Down, a mentorship initiative for boys in response to the increased gang activity.

Edmondson met with the Michigan Department of Education on June 3 to discuss the distribution of funds for the coming school year, MLive reports.

Section 31a of the State School Aid Act assigned special funding to students deemed at-risk by the system, including victims of child abuse or neglect; pregnant teenagers or teen parents; students with a family history of school failure, incarceration or substance abuse; or students in a priority or priority successor school. Although legislators voted to expand the definition of ‘at-risk’ for the 2015-2016 school year, Edmondson believes the criteria should be further extended to cover all members of a minority group.

“The fact that you’re a person of color in the state of Michigan should be on there,” he said at the meeting. “My children are African-American. Yes, I’m in a higher tax bracket and highly educated, but the simple fact that you’re born into this country as a person of color puts you at risk. … Some state needs to be bold enough to say yes, that is a factor.”

The Education Department’s newly released figures on racial disparities seem to give credence to the assertion. Black students are almost four times as likely to be suspended as white students and nearly twice as likely to be expelled, and many teachers in low-income, majority-minority schools lack the experience to deal with the unique needs of their pupils.

The Michigan DOE acknowledged that the state’s largest gaps impact Black male students, but argued the department could not label all African-American students as low-income nor all low-income students African-American.

“We need to focus targeted resources to assist all low-income at-risk students, whether they are in our urban communities or in our rural communities,” Bill DiSessa, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education, said in a statement released to Ann Arbor News Friday.

Edmondson is well versed in bridging educational achievement gaps. The superintendent obtained his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University in 2006, according to Ann Arbor Chronicle, and his dissertation, “The Effects of Parental Involvement and Small Class Sizes on the Academic Achievement Gap,” won him the George Brower Award for Excellence in Education.

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