I recently read a report titled, “Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability. The article had some eye-opening stats. Here’s a few:

  • 1:4 students entering college had to enroll in remedial coursework
  • This costs students and families $1.5 Billion!
  • 45% of these students came from middle to upper class families while 55% came from poor families
  • 74% more likely to drop out of college
  • Those that do graduate take 11 more months to graduate on average

I felt my muscles tensing up as I read this. I remember graduating being in the top 10 percentile throughout high school. I remember having As and Bs, thinking I knew what I was doing. Then I had to take a full year of remedial Language Arts and Math. I remember the counselor telling me that these 6 classes — yes, dammit 6 classes in a quarter system — wouldn’t count towards my college graduation. More than 10 years after college and still owing Sallie Mae more than $75K, I’m still paying for those courses.

I was discouraged. I was embarrassed and it reiterated the belief I had when I entered college – the notion that I didn’t belong here. The counselors are straight up with you too. They were clear that you got a few shots at passing these classes before they made you leave the university and get caught up at a JuCo. I knew if I left and went to a Junior College I wasn’t coming back. I know folks that did this successfully but if I left, I wasn’t coming back.

I was able to do it by taking 20 units most quarters and taking full loads during the summer but I was determined to finish in 4 years. That means no summer vacations. No internships. I did that while doing work study as an assistant in the library and working a full load at the shoe store in Bayfair Mall in the next city.

So when I see folks talking about “Opt-Out”, I’m confused. Then when I look deeper and I see folks like Diane Ravitch saying it I get angry. Here’s why. Diane’s kids didn’t grow up where I grew up. For me, the lack of quality education puts me on a path to crime, violence and homelessness. I know this because I was raised by parents with no education and that was my experience growing up. It’s all I knew.

I got those empty grades that lied to me and told me I was prepared to do college level math and I wasn’t. I’ll keep it all the way real with you, I hated taking tests. Absolutely hated it. So if you told me as a child that I could opt out, then you could’ve used me in any way you wanted, straight up! I would’ve made videos for you. I would’ve appeared in commercials, all of it. But as an adult that’s now traveled the country and seen quality education for Black folks, I’m even more offended because I feel like people that will never have OUR experience are using OUR babies to make their point.


The tests aren’t what’s hurting our self-esteem, it’s the not knowing what the hell I was supposed to learn when you made me come to your school everyday that has us feeling some type of way. Take the results of the test, analyze it and improve how you educate us. Make adjustments. Also, I’m all for improving the tests. Do what you need to do. Make it more culturally relevant. Find a way to better integrate it so it isn’t as disruptive but don’t take away the ability to assess on a large scale. I do want to know how well I am doing compared to the suburbs. I do want to know where I rank amongst different groups.

So no, the test isn’t giving Black kids low self-esteem, it’s when we think we’re prepared to do something and fall flat on our faces because we got empty grades. It’s watching all of your friends around you that you started college with drop out one by one. It’s feeling like we’re set up to fail every step of the way. The answer isn’t to dumb it down.  Let’s smarten it up. The days of my people fighting for crumbs has to go, son! We’re worth more than that. I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if your parents never showed up to one PTA, I don’t care if your momma was a crackhead or your daddy was a dope boy, you deserve quality. Those things were true for me and if you try to tell me I didn’t deserve better then we may have a problem. Sometimes it takes one of us to say that to the rest of us. You are worth it and you are not getting what you deserve. God Bless.

-Cole Out

BeAnEnergyConvertor #DoWork

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. This passion comes from his experiences growing up without proper support, including being homeless and attending more than ten elementary schools across the country while his parents battled addiction and incarceration. Throughout that experience, no adult, no group, no organization ever asked him how he was achieving success nor how he was surviving. Schools were not a place where students in similar predicaments were learning. This experience helped lead to the publication of his first book, ​Beyond Grit and Resilience. As founder of ​Energy Convertors​, Charles comes from the community and has shared many of the students’ experiences. Previously Charles served as a social worker, a Director for Teach for America, the Vice Chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level with various youth-focused nonprofits. n addition to founding Energy Convertors, Charles is a national speaker and a writer, and he can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. Charles is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast. Charles’ life goal is to better the communities he grew up in, which include Chicago, Paducah, KY, and Oakland.    


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