It's not as though C.J. Prentiss hadn't been in this position before, trying to figure out a way to close the cavernous education achievement gap between African Americans, particularly males, and their white peers.
Moreover, it's not as if educators haven't heard almost non-stop talk about the achievement gap. What's different is Prentiss, a long-time civil rights activist and former state senator from Cleveland, is taking a different approach than many others. First, she's focusing specifically on 9th-grade boys who exhibit behavior that makes them more likely to drop out of high school than finish; freshmen year is a make-or break time in their lives. Second, Prentiss is talking community mobilization, shared responsibility, and pegging measurement to the most meaningful element: high school graduation rates. At a time when the NCLB-inspired emphasis is on narrow test scores, Prentiss's broader approach is, for some, a breath of fresh air.
The achievement gap is a crisis that goes beyond test scores and sheepskins. According to a 2006 New York Times story, 60 percent of black male dropouts in their 30s had spent time in prison.
In March, Ohio's Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland named Prentiss his special representative for closing the achievement gap, primarily for her political acumen and her decades of experience working on education issues. When she was a state senator, Prentiss served as the minority whip, was the ranking Democrat on the education committee, and chaired the National Black Caucus of State Legislators' primary and secondary education committee. Prentiss has taught at many levels from preschool to college, and helped found the National Coalition of Education Activists and served on its steering committee from 1996-1999.
Prentiss has spent years attending conferences, writing and reading reports, making stump speeches on the importance of education and closing the achievement gap to her constituents and colleagues, and bartering behind closed doors in the state capital, Columbus. Unfortunately, despite the talk, there's been very little progress. Today, in Cleveland, one in three black males graduates from high school. Statewide, there is a 24-percentage-point gap in graduation rates between black and white males.