Many of America’s Black youths cannot read or do math — and that imperils us all

There is something deeply troubling happening in this country. I thought I had a grasp on it, but I was gravely off-base. I hosted the Republican candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor, Winsome Sears, on my TV show, Your Voice, Your Future, on Nov. 1. I had planned to ask her and the other guests questions on issues ranging from the November election to inflation, to the current presidential administration. However, in Mrs. Sears’s first response, the entire course of the show changed.

In my first question, I asked her what is wrong in Virginia and how it can be fixed. Her response startled me: She told me that 84 percent of Black students in eighth grade lack the ability to do math, and 85 percent are functionally illiterate. I could not believe this. In fact, I thought she had misspoken. My researchers quickly fact-checked her words and confirmed this sad reality. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a sector of the U.S. Department of Education, 84 percent of Black students lack proficiency in mathematics and 85 percent of Black students lack proficiency in reading skills. This astonished me, and the hour-long show became dedicated to examining what’s behind these numbers.

Still, I left the studio perplexed. How could this happen in schools located so close to the nation’s capital? I have reported extensively on the educational plight of Baltimore, but I thought this issue might be unique to that city. Was this happening nationwide? I had to get to the bottom of it. 

My team and I scoured the NAEP data sets and found a trend that should concern every politician — indeed, every American. In California, 90 percent of students cannot do math or read well. In New York, the numbers are 85 percent and 82 percent. In Illinois it is 86 percent and 85 percent. In Texas the numbers are 84 percent and 89 percent. Maryland sits at 86 percent for math and 80 percent for reading. My home state of South Carolina is 90 percent and 87 percent. In Georgia, the numbers are 86 percent and 82 percent. In Missouri, it is 89 percent and 88 percent. And in Washington, D.C., the numbers are 85 percent and 87 percent

That’s just a sampling, but the problem isn’t confined to these states. Nationwide, Black children overwhelmingly lack proficiency in math and reading. To use Mrs. Sears’s words, they are “functionally illiterate,” meaning that they are “unable to manage daily living and employment tasks.” How can our society progress if a major segment of our country cannot read?

Arguably, our math skills are what will bog us down more in the coming years. The world has shifted toward the digital field; practically all aspects of technology and programming are rooted in mathematics. This should worry lawmakers because the U.S. is falling behind internationally in math skills. Currently, the U.S. ranks 38th in math skills globally. China, which already surpasses us economically and technologically, unsurprisingly ranks No. 1. Even Vietnam ranks 14 spots better than we do, at No. 24. 

What is going on in this country?

These numbers are an indictment of our nation’s educational system. Across all subjects, we rank 25th globally in education. Think about that. The largest, richest and most powerful country in the world is failing miserably at educating its youths. Are they not the future of our country? The truth is, we are seeing the devastating results of this already in America. Think about the incompetent leaders we elect — only an incompetent populace can bring to power such people. To quote the 18th century French philosopher Joseph de Maistre: “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

Do we deserve this, though? Do we deserve to watch as our children fall victim to the failed policies of consecutive administrations on the federal, state and local levels? I do not think so. This country was designed so that if the system is failing, we have every right to fix it. That is why it is so important to actually engage with the people running for office, as opposed to blindly following what the mainstream media tell you. Clearly, if the people the establishment wanted in power were good at their jobs, there would be no need to force-feed propaganda down the throats of Americans to get their candidates elected.

America is supposed to be a place where people around the globe wish to come in order to educate their children and build better futures. If we cannot educate ourselves, there is no reason that anyone should think we can educate others. Real leadership requires deep introspection as to the reasons we have fallen so far behind as a nation educationally. If we continue on the same path of illiteracy and failing math grades, our country will not survive. Moreover, if we continue to focus on trivial social issues that have no impact on our country’s future, we will continue to neglect the real issues that we face. 

I pray that we begin now to turn things around. It is not too late.

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”

Tags Black youth Education Literacy National Assessment of Educational Progress

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