*LOS ANGELES – A new episode of TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS, a primetime special on PBS, will examine one of the most disturbing aspects of the education crisis facing America today — the increased dropout rate among teenagers, specifically among black teenage males.
In the fifth installment of TSR, host Tavis Smiley investigates the root causes of this calamity as well as what can be done and is being done to reverse it. Behind every catch phrase and every statistic is a young person whose future will be lost if something is not done immediately to change this reality.
The fifth episode of TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS, titled “Too Important to Fail,” premieres on Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS.
In many states, less than 50 percent of young black males graduate from high school. Low graduation rates, combined with high rates of placement in special education classes and disproportionate use of suspension and expulsion, add up to a crisis for young black males on the brink of adulthood.
“As we saw recently in the UK, an entire society suffers when one part of a population is ignored,” Smiley said. “A new focus on our black boys is a renewed focus on America.”
Many experts point to generational poverty, the pressure on single-parent households, continued unemployment, the lack of positive male role models in schools, crime, drugs, gangs and the condition of many urban schools as factors in this alarming dropout rate. Research also supports that in too many traditional classrooms, particularly where teachers are asked to handle large classes, active boys are seen as disciplinary problems and treated accordingly. Teacher expectations are often lower for boys who seem less focused. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that boys will fail when teachers expect them to do so.
In TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS “Too Important to Fail,” Smiley will travel across the country, speaking to education experts as well as to the boys themselves about the challenges they face and how education can be redirected to address their needs. He will profile individuals who are making a difference in the lives of young black males and look at the schools that are best serving them.
For example, Smiley talks with Dr. Alfred Tatum, who heads up a literacy program in Chicago and is one of many educators grappling with how to reverse the alarming dropout rate. Smiley also sits down with noted author and educational consultant Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, who believes the country’s response would be more immediate if this were a crisis involving white boys.
“…if 53 percent was the dropout for white males, it would be unacceptable; if 41 percent of their children were being placed in special education, that would be a major crisis,” says Dr. Kunjufu. “If only 20 percent of their boys were proficient in reading in eighth grade, that would be a crisis. If only 2.5 percent of white males ever earned a college degree, that would be a major crisis in America.”
“Too Important to Fail” is also a national education initiative that includes parent summits, a reading mobile truck tour and an interactive website, www.tooimportanttofail.com, which invites thousands of Americans to share ideas that reflect the critical role of teachers, parents, community and government. The site was developed in partnership with Microsoft and Open Society.
TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS, a series of primetime specials, debuted in January 2010 with “One on One With Hillary Clinton.” Next, “MLK: A Call to Conscience” aired on March 31, and the series continued when Smiley teamed up with Academy Award®-winning director Jonathan Demme to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in “New Orleans: Been in the Storm too Long” on July 21. The fourth episode premiered December 29 with an inside look into music programs for schools and a one-on-one conversation with L.A. Philharmonic’s music director Gustavo Dudamel.
Visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/tsr/ for web-exclusive content and to view past episodes.
TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS is produced for PBS by The Smiley Group, Inc./TS Media, Inc. Executive producer is Jacoba Atlas. Funding is provided by The California Endowment, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Education Association (NEA).
ABOUT TAVIS SMILEY
Tavis Smiley is host of the nightly talk show TAVIS SMILEY on PBS and the host of “The Tavis Smiley Show” and co-host of “Smiley & West” from Public Radio International (PRI). Smiley launched America I AM: The African American Imprint, a world-class traveling exhibition celebrating the extraordinary impact of African-American contributions to our nation and the world. The exhibit is on a four-year, 10-city tour and is currently on display in St. Louis, Missouri. Smiley is also the author/editor of 15 books, including The New York Times best-sellers Covenant with Black America and What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America. His most recent book is FAIL UP: 20 Lessons on Building Success From Failure. In 2009, TIME magazine named him one of the World’s Most Influential People. For more information, visit www.tavistalks.com.