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Demanding excellence


Ironically, while a contingent of students from across Los Angeles County spent Saturday battling to claim one of the most coveted educational prizes—the title of Academic Decathlon champ and winner of the Super Quiz event—a parade of educational experts and observers held a think-tank conversation about why more Black students do not attend so-called “selective” research institutions of higher education.

And while 43 teams competed against one another at the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) Super Quiz event at USC and 59 teams jousted for the top spot in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s version of the final leg of the competition at UCLA, the three panels of speakers at the summit essentially explored the status of education among African American youth.

One common theme emerged that tied the three events together expectations.

The summit participants, which included representatives from the USC and UCLA alumni associations as well as the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, discussed the need for high-quality early childhood education; the importance of listening when Black children tell you what they need; the urgency for African Americans “being at the table” when policies are discussed and established; and the necessity for having high expectations for our children.

At the same time, LACOE Super Quiz featured teams from all over the county, but there was only one squad representing schools with significant populations of African American students Inglewood High School. According to the coache Jacqueline Sparrow, Hilberto Sandoval and Arthuro Nunez people were always surprised to see them show up at decathlon meetings.

“People always have a low expectation of Inglewood,” said Sparrow, a government teacher who also graduated from Inglewood High herself.

Sparrow went on to note that Inglewood was a “good school with a bad reputation.”

“We need to address the expectations of our students,” said Jay Tucker, chief marketing officer and head of the Program Institute for Communication Technology Management at the USC Marshall School of Business.

Tucker noted that 90 percent of kids believe they are going to college but unfortunately neither they nor the African American community have a very clear understanding of what it takes to get into college in general nor the selective schools like USC and UCLA. They do not know that the “so-called” college prep courses called the A-G requirements are the minimal requirements.

Consequently, pointed out Ainsley Carry, Ph.D., USC Assistant Vice Provost of Student Affairs, African American students represent only 29 percent of those in the college-going pool who have completed A-G requirements. This compares to 63 percent of Asians.

This results in a number of barriers fewer Black students in the pool of eligible applicants (there were 112,000 people applying for 5,000 spaces at UCLA and 52,000 applicants for 3,000 slots at USC.)

As a result, Carry said, many Black students find themselves in community college often doing remedial work rather than heading for the USCs and UCLAs.

The panalists explained that changing this outcome is going to require changing the dynamic of the culture in the Black community. It also means becoming more intentional about exposing Black young people to opportunities and developing their skills, said Sharoni Little, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the Marshall School of Business.

It’s also going to take not believing the lies perpetuated about Blacks, said David Johns, executive director of the White House initiative. These include the often repeated statement that there are more Black men in prison than in college.

Johns said there needs to be a better job done of honoring and protecting our most precious resource “our babies,” and it must be done sooner.

In other words, Blacks must expect all of their children to act like they are on the schools academic decathlon team.

To see the entire livestream of summit and hear all of the recommendation, visit