The AALF seeks to improve the quality of education for African American students in the greater Seattle area through education, advocacy, and direct action. LEARN 28, our Education Committee, engages students, parents, teachers and administrators in action oriented discussion around curriculum and instruction in our schools.

The State of Black Education– the Civil Rights Issue of our Time

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom. ~ George Washington Carver

There are few who would argue that education is the path to success for African Americans.  As a community, an excellent education is among the highest priorities we have for our children.  

Unfortunately, our public education system–  early learning through K-12 and higher education– is failing an alarming number of our Black children and nearly half of our Black boys.

  • Washington State serves only about half the children who are eligible for subsidized preschool, about 8,389 this year. (1)
  • An estimated 40 percent of kindergarten students are already behind their peers when they walk through the school door on the first day. Those children are unlikely to ever catch up. (2)
  • Nationally, the average Black child is two or three grade levels behind the average White child and about half of Black students fail to graduate on time (3) 
  • Locally, at Seattle Public Schools:

-          51% of Black students are proficient in reading and 35% are proficient in math based on state test student proficiency 2010-11 averages, 87% of White students are proficient in reading and 81% are so in math. (4)

-          Black, Hispanic, and Native-American students lag the district average in Math while White and Asian-American students out-perform the district average.  Over the past four years, this gap is widest between Black and White students. (5)

  • Enrollment in advanced placement classes should be encouraged for all students.  Nonetheless, more than four times as many White male students take Advanced Placement Mathematics and Science classes as Black male students.
  • 18% of Blacks have a college degree, compared with 31% of Whites.

Clearly, African American students who succeed in attaining high school diplomas speak far more for personal skill and ability than for the system in which they were educated.

In today’s global economy, increasing numbers of family-wage jobs require education beyond high school (post-secondary education).  By 2018, 67% of the jobs in our state will require a college degree or a career credential (3).  For the educated in our King County region, opportunity is rich in diverse, innovative and entrepreneurial industries from Microsoft and Boeing to Amazon and the University of Washington.  Yet, when only one in five Black students is attaining a bachelor’s degree, the job market is not promising for most.

Closing the education opportunity and achievement gaps have been a perennial topic of concern and significant investments have been made over the years in the name of improvement.  However, system changes have yielded few positive results for low-income and students of color.

Simply put, the state of Black education is a national crisis that will require a full court press if we expect our children to get a quality public education any day soon.  We know there are solutions.  We have them in our own backyard and we intend to support and collaborate, but they are too few and too far between.

Now that we’ve reviewed the data that is all-too familiar and heartbreaking  for most of us, we will focus on the great assets we have as a community and work toward fixing the system that’s failing our kids.

It is on these pages that we will highlight the amazing education work being done on behalf our Black students and the organizations and heroes leading and supporting it.  We will spotlight the Black students who are making it (or have made it!) in spite of all that has been stacked up against them. 

Education is the civil rights issue of our time.  There is no time like the present to create systems that will provide every student the opportunities he/she deserves to grow to their potential and succeed in life.

Connect with AALF and get informed, involved and grow your power to challenge the education status quo and lead on behalf of our children… today!


 Dawn Bennett    and      Kerry Cooley-Stroum

347-581-5081                     206-910-1400       



  1. Washington Department of Early Learning,  
  2. U.S. Education Secretary
  3. National Urban League
  4. Seattle Public Schools District Report 2011
  5. National College Board
  6. Georgetown University Center on Education