Helping African-American Boys
May 17, 2007
Helping African-American Boys
Henry M. Levin, professor of economics and education at Columbia University, and Michael Holzman, lead consultant for the Schott Foundation initiative, discussed the best approaches for helping African-American boys succeed in school.
Bess Keller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s chat on the education of African-American boys. This is turning into a very popular chat with a lot of questions already, so let’s get started.
Question from Martha King:
Can you compare the success of African American boys with that of Latino boys and Asian American boys? Key differences, similarities.
Henry M. Levin:
Asian boys do better than Latino or African American boys on all educational measures. Latino boys show higher dropout rates than African American boys, the exact numbers depending on which of the many competing measures of dropouts are used. The consequences of dropping out are greater for black males in terms of the probability of being employed, annual earnings, and crime. For example, only about half of black males who are high school dropouts are employed compared to about 70 percent of the other dropout groups (white, Latino, Asian). Partially, as a consequence, African American male dropouts receive only about $13,500 in average annual earnings compared to about $ 22,000 for the other male dropout groups.
Question from Connie Collins, Program Specialist K-12, Fort Wayne Community Schools:
Are there specific methods or classroom practices that motivate students to perform to their potential? For example, do small groups work better than whole group discussions, or does the instructional intent still play a large role in method choice with diverse students.
Henry M. Levin:
I am not sure that one can generalize about group size and pedagogy for black males since it depends upon the subject, teacher skills in different instructional modes, and the use of balancing different approaches rather than relying on a single one. However, any approach that more nearly personalizes instruction is helpful. Personalization can be based upon small group or even tutoring approaches. But, it can also draw upon guided independent study on topics of interest or of curiosity to the learner. My own experience suggests that personal mentoring has a very positive effect for the education of black males. If we can get members of the school staff or the larger community to take on mentoring tasks for individuals or small groups(advice, friendship, guidance, connections to employment and other opportunities, assistance with homework and assignments), we can get some very good results.
Question from firstname.lastname@example.org:
To what extent do you think early intervention might help Black male students at ages: 0-3 working with families 3-5 working with families and classroom 3-5 just in classrooms
Henry M. Levin:
I think that early intervention is any extremely important part of the solution of addressing the needs of black males. Precisely what this looks like and at what ages is open to discussion. The Abecederian experiment provided unusually strong positive educational results that extend into adulthood. Further, pediatric neurologists such as Jack Shonkoff have written extensively on the evolution of brain development that supports the empirical evidence on learning. However, this does not meana that it is “too late” to begin at ages 3-5. My best guess is that earlier is better, but that development in the 3-5 year old age range can be very significant as we have learned from many evaluations of “high quality” programs in this age range (not only Perry Preschool or Chicago Child and Parent Centers).
Question from Annie Pettway, Director Community College of Allegheny County:
Can High Schools integrate college course requirements for African American Males in the 9th grade? Allowing them to come to a college campus on a daily basis.
Henry M. Levin:
I have seen many examples of dual enrollment programs that have shown effectiveness for black males. It is not only the content of the college courses, but familiarity with expectations for success and college role models seem to have very positive results on aspirations and behavior that lead to educational success. My colleague, Melissa Karp at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University has done considerable research on the development of successful dual enrollment programs.
Question from Jack Walden, Board Menber, OESD#2:
On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your opinion of the value of “Motivation”? (mine is 10)
Henry M. Levin:
Motivation is certainly key. Sadly, it is a complicated phenomenon. Of course, building on strengths of students and their curiosity is elemental as is the enthusiasm of the teacher. At the same time, the deadening effects of economic insecurity, poor housing, unsafe neighborhoods, and negative peer influences (a product of all of these) such as gangs can easily overwhelm a young person and serve as obstacles to educational motivation. Good teaching is a necessary ingredient for motivation as is good parenting. However, we need to focus on ways to reduce the obstacles that detract from a focus on learning.
Question from Hashim Bello, Stakeholder, Bell Curves LLC:
The Supreme Court of the U.S., arguably, seems to implicitly concede that there are barriers to entry at prestigious institutions that require the use carefully tailored affirmative action policies/preferences to redress. To the extent that any given standardized test represents such a barrier, how, in your opinion, does the current climate of increased standardized testing exacerbate the discrepancy in performance between African-American male and female students? Between African-Americans and other racial groups?
Henry M. Levin:
This is a complex question. We must start off with the fact that standardized tests are not the only predictor of college success. Effort, motivation, commitment, openness to intellectual growth, and other factors are also very important. So, I worry about the increasing reliance on test scores--often small differences--to be used as criteria for college entry. Factually, African-American male students do not do as well on the tests as African-American females. My guess is that much of this is attitudinal. It seems more difficult for African-American males to accept the regimen of middle schools and high schools, and some of the influences in inner-city communities such as gangs encourage resistance to school demaands. The argument of those who favor the high-stakes and standardized testing is that it will force schools to reduce the learning gaps. But, evidence is still out on this topic. Certainly the gap has been reduced very little by an instrumental focus on test performance. As a recent American Institutes for Research study seems to show, changing the culture of schooling to accommodate the needs to those groups of students who are not doing well takes much longer than teaching to the test. Nevertheless, I think that the deeper and more meaningful improvements will come only from a focus on the quality of instruction and learning, and not the present focus on test scores.
Question from David Millwe, CVO , Urban Leadership Institute:
What role does teacher development and preparation play in addressing academic and social deficits among African American males?
Henry M. Levin:
I think that teacher development and preparation can play an enormous role. However, too much of such preparation is traditional and largely removed from the actual teaching context. I would recommend a much greater emphasis on teachers working in groups to address learning issues; on learning to work more closely with parents to build their capacities as emphasized by Ronald Ferguson; and on developing new curricula and instructional approaches based upon building on student strengths and experiences; and on learning how to evaluate the approaches that they have tried rather than waiting to see if the school has met AYP. I think that schools also need to have lead teachers and coaches who can guide and reinforce learning rather than assuming that professional development workshops or one-shot courses lead to this kind of professional development in the absence of guide practice.
Question from Gwen Lavert, Asst. Professor Education, Indiana Wesleyan University:
There is reserach that shows that some children come to in cognitive confusion. If this is true, why do so many schools put so much empahasis on rote and recall? Why do many schools spend time teaching to the test instead of teaching students how to think?
Henry M. Levin:
When learning is viewed as an instrumental activities of means and ends, the means chosen will be those that appear to be most parsimonious. The present approach to set out standardized tests that presumably measure content goals seems very logical. The direct teaching of this content, often in test format with an emphasis on regurgitation, also seems to be very compelling in terms of simple logic. The problem is that it does not work. It is force labor for both teacher and student, rather than enlisting the natural curiosity of both and creating a highly supportive and imaginative set of strategies that can build on student motivation and “love of learning” that is part of human nature until we suppress it in favor of a means-ends perspective. The point is that we can do better for our students and ourselves if the focus is on learning.
Question from Judy Puglisi, Facilitator, New Haven Public Schools:
What is the single most influencial factor in increasing academic acheivement for African-American boys?
Teachers. Schools that are successful in increasing academic achievement for African-American boys hire and keep teachers who are committed to the success of their students, who have high expectations for them and who are knowledgeable about their subjects and skillful in their craft. They are rewarded for their success with their students and supported by administrators with appropriate professional development opportunities, equipment, materials and facilities.
Question from Janice E. Jones, Retired Educator:
When and why do so many African American males lose hope in the educational system of their community?
Henry M. Levin:
I don’t think that there is a simple answer to this question. So much of the struggle to grow and survive for black males places emphasis on the male part. Educated male role models are abundant in the middle class black community, but less so in the inner-city or rural areas. Families pressed by economic circumstances have difficulty making education a high priority and leave it largely to the school. Other hardships and residential mobility and the the decline of the black church have undermined the broader social networks that provided guidance to black male students, and gangs have emerged to fill in the gaps. At the same time, the schools have not adjusted to the changing situation in their attempt to standardize operations rather than to understand how to build on the strengths of black community and black males. Further, strong schools aren’t enough in the absence of strong neighborhoods and strong communities. We need to strengthen all three to create healthy learning environments and results for black male students.
Question from Nancy deProsse:
What roles have teacher unions been able to play in working on this issue?
Henry M. Levin:
In my opinion teachers unions have not taken the lead on these issues, perhaps because they constantly find themselves in the position of having to respond to such developments as NCLB, Charter Schools, and other initiatives. I think that there is great potential opportunity for the teachers unions to become leaders by negotiating agreements to undertake more experimental schools that can demonstrate success with black males. Additionally, they can attempt to have more influence on professional development approaches that have shown to be effective in both their schools and in local teacher training institutions. Indeed, they might even undertake to do more of their own professional development rather than leaving it largely to other entities.
Question from Diane Proctor, first grade teacher, R.F. Kennedy Elementary School, Providence, RI:
I have a number of African American boys in my inner-city school, who have many social problems such as incarcerated fathers, mothers who have drug-related issues, and multiple psychiatric problems. Because their family structure is falling apart so much, there are very few positive male role models to guide these children out of trouble. What can I do as a teacher to help them?
A child with a constellation of problems surrounding him like that which you describe will benefit from a caring, skillful teacher of any race, gender or ethnicity.
If this type of home situation is characteristic of many of the children at your school, it might be helpful to look at whole-school solutions, including academically-oriented pre-school, intensive early literacy work, extended school hours, school activities on weekends and in summer, links with social service and health services agencies.
Question from Aline Hill-Ries, Dir of Program, Studio in a School:
At what age do problems generally tend to arise? How important is it to have a male African-American as a teacher? How can the rate of recruitment of more African-Amercian males into the teaching profession be increased? Do African-American males tend to leave the teaching profession or stay, compared to other ethnic groups? If so, why?
Recent research shows that African-American boys as early as preschool suffer from adverse attitudes and actions by staff. This can be overcome by appropriate staff professional development. The attitudes and skills of teachers matter much more than ethinicity, race or gender.
Question from Geniese Ligon, Dean of Students:
Are there specific issues we need to consider as studnets are transitioning from one grade span to the enxt. specifically elem. to middle school.
Henry M. Levin:
I think that national data suggest that at the elementary level we need to do a better job in terms of getting high quality teaching into classrooms and a more supportive environment for black males. When black male students arrive at school--and particularly if they have come from good preschool programs--they seem to be focused more on the school and school success. At about the fourth grade we start to see their interests move in other directions, perhaps attracted by the world outside of the school and perhaps because there is an increasing divergence between their emotional and learning needs and the approach of the schools. In general, elementary schools are small and more personalized environments, features that seem to dissipate in middle schools where they are typically larger, impersonal, more bureaucratic, sorted into tracks documenting “inferiority” in the school community, all features that can undermine individual importance and belonging. Many of the newer reforms at the middle school level, when implemented well, seem to have positive impacts on student performance. These include breaking down the schools into houses, sustained contact with committed teachers over a number of years, serious counseling responsibilities of teachers, advisory periods where students can meet in groups with caring teachers or other staff to address issues, and a strong focus on high expectations and curriculum and teaching adaptations to enable students to meet them. Parental linkages are also important.
Question from Sarah, Social Studies teacher:
How can technology be used to promote positive outcomes in academic and personal achievement in African American boys?
In the same way that technology can be used to promote positive outcomes for all children. It is important that children feel that they are in a first-rate environment. When they are in schools that are poorly maintained and poorly equipped, they realize that is a message abou how they are regarded by the adult community. That said, information technology can be used both as a resource for study and as an object of study (“How does an iPod work?). The latter may appeal particularly to boys.
Question from Judy Puglisi, Facilitator, New Haven Public Schools:
What research can you direct me to that identifies the characteristics of high schools that have been successful in increasing academic outcomes for African-American boys.
The Schott Foundation for Public Education gives awards for the Excellent Education of African American Male Students. The Foundation’s webpage (www.schottfoundation.org) describes some of these schools.
Question from Barbara Montgomery, Training Specialist, Ombudsman Educational Services:
With all that is going on in the world today, including peer preseeure, how do we get our young, African-American men to change their mindset to see the importance of having an education?
The issue is not so much the mindset of young African-American men about education as the mindset of educators about young African-American men. When teachers from preschool to college have high expectations for African-American (and all) students, and the skills to help them meet those expectations, the students will understand the importance of education.
Question from Alison Moya Teacher CMSD:
What do you think is the root of this problem? Does the problem stems from the absence of male role models?
I believe that the root of the problem is racism. The key research effort in this regard was done more than half a century ago in the American Dilemma project led by Gunnar Myrdal. Myrdal found that what he called “the vicious cycle” affecting African-Americans was an outcome of White American racist attitudes and actions. Not much has changed.
Question from Nikki Myers, teacher and graduate student, Colorado Springs:
Do you know of any research or strategies that are being used to help identify and cultivate the abilities of gifted/talented African American boys?
Under-identification of gifted/talented African American students, particularly boys, is a very significant national problem. If a school or district’s gifted/talented population is in a major way unbalanced in comparison to enrollments, as a first step those charged with identifying gifted/talented students might reflect on their practices and preconceptions.
Question from Latisha Price, Teacher, Community Action School:
How can we get boys who have almost giving up on school back on track and help them see a successful future.
Schools that provide an comprehensive, positive, supportive and challenging environment are effective with boys (and girls). Balancing academics and sports, remaining open in the evenings, on weekends and in the summer, providing services to and opportunities for services by students are effective strategies. Students find schools giving up on them, or percieve that to be the case, before they give up on school.
Question from Charles, Teacher:
Do you believe that the race of the teacher of black students makes a difference in terms of their personal achievement?
No. The most effective schools for African-American students that I have seen have highly diverse teaching staffs.
Question from Dr. Monica Roache, Assistant Principal Arlington Public Schools:
What strategies can be used to motivate African American Boys to be successful in school. Often African American Boys feel that it is “Cool to be a Fool”. They dont want to be recognized for their academic achievements.
I really think it is a myth that African-American male students are less interested in academic achievement than White or Hispanic male students. Caring teachers, high expectations, challenging curricula, well-equipped and well-maintained schools create conditions for improved academic achievement for all students.
Question from Veronica Bloomfield, Elementary Language Arts Program Specialist, Los Angeles County Office of Education:
Do you know of specific programs (strategy based approaches) that are especially helpful for teachers in need of culturally responsive teaching practices?
You might wish to contact: The Cotsen Family Foundation 12100 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 920 Los Angeles, CA 90025
Question from Kenya Easton, Parent:
If so many articles and studies exist regarding the state of emergency on Black Boys failing in school, gang violence, being fatherless and a whole lot of others problems that black boys face.
Please tell me why laws and other prevention programs, schools, clubs are not put into place to help them help thems?
Contrary tn popular belief. Black boys would love to succeed if they know they have a chance in life. Taught how to reach their goals, by developing social skills and wanting to get their education. and gaining knowledge on how to do it effectively. Please tell me how I can help? How to open up an organization for black boys?
Unfortunately we have too mny people in power who don’t belive that. I wnat to help, I need to help. I need to find out how I can do more.
I believe that I ‘ve responded in other comments to the general point. In a word, I agree with you that “Black boys would love to succeed if they know they have a chance in life.”
Question from Walt Gardner, education writer:
What specifically is unique about African-American boys that accounts for their dismal academic performance overall?
As Gunnar Myrdal pointed out in An American Dilemma more than half a century ago, male African-Americans are the particular focus of racist attitudes and actions.
Question from Hashim Bello, Stakeholder, Bell Curves LLC:
Do you feel that African-American (AA) boys are conditioned to be underperformers, by virtue of lower expectations, and that the underperformance is currently the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy? To the extent that AA boys (as a subset of AAs in general) are conditioned to be underperformers, how can the educational system compensate?
The educational system can compensate with high expectations, challenging curricula and caring teachers.
Question from Mary Thomas, teacher District of Columbia Public Schools:
I am a teacher and mother of two black males, ages 12 and 13. Oftentimes black adolescent males are perceived as more threatening, which negatively impacts the relationship between the school and the students/parents--adversely affecting quality of instruction and student academic performance. How can parents encourage schools to institute training for teachers and administrators to increase their awareness of age-appropriate behavior and racial sensitivity?
Good question. That is putting the responsibility where it should be: on the adults--teachers and administrators.
As to how appropriate policies and professional development can be put in place, that will vary with the school and district. Contacting those with decision-making authority about including such matters in budgets might be a place to begin.
Question from Verna Smith, Education Services Coordinator, Mingo CAP, Inc. Head Start:
Head Start is concious of culture in regards to center environment (books, posters, learning materials,etc.) and promoting acceptance of diversity including gender. What can we do in our role as early interventionist to help our young African-American boys in their academic struggles?
See: Prekindergarteners Left Behind Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Systems by Walter Gilliam.
Question from Tommy La’Pola, Teacer, Seattle Schools:
In those places around the country where black boys are succeeding, to what extent is this the result of “cultural segregation”? In other words are these schools where parents have had to apply or otherwise work to get their children enrolled, thereby indicating a family culture that puts a premium on education and where families are willing to work to assist their child with their education?
A follow up question: can a school expect to be able to overcome the influences of a student’s family if the family and school have contradictory expectations of a student?
Some are. Others are not. Those that are can be quite minimally so, with admission based just on application.
A school can strive to become as positively influential an environment as possible: open evenings, on weekends and in the summer; offering challenging course with high expectations and a variety of other activities, including sports, field trips and technology.
Question from Lorraine forte, Deputy Editor, Catalyst Chicago:
What teaching strategies are most effective with young black men? How do you get a large urban system to address the needs of these youth on a significant scale?
Dr. Rosa Smith has suggested that making the success of African-American male students “the litmus test” for the success of the entire system is one approach to systemic change.
We could take a leaf from the corporate handbook and tie administrative compensatioin to the value the add in this regard.
Question from NGrant, Math Coach, NYCDOE:
What are the effects of immigrants of African descent, as teachers, on the teaching and learning of African-American students?
We find that the key factor is that teachers care for their students. Good, caring, well-prepared teachers can be of any gender race/ethnicity/
Question from Dotti Shelton, Ed. D., Independent Educational Consultant:
What strategies, tools, activities in particular have been shown to be appropriate and effective with black students, especially at the middle school and high school?
Henry M. Levin:
I have tried to answer this above for the middle school. At the high school level similar principles are involved with the added components of getting students onto college campuses or into apprenticeship-type jobs where they can learn as well as obtain paid work. There are many models out there that are worth exploring including: Talent Development, Institute for Student Achievement, First Things First, National Academies, and others that build much of their work on smaller group sizes, personalization and support, outstanding teaching and counseling, and thoughtful approaches to instruction. As my former colleague has argued, it is important to create caring environments so that students feel that the school cares about them.
Question from Amy Westfield, Spanish Teacher, Champaign Centennial High School:
Can you speak on any differences in achievement between African American boys and mixed (African American/White) boys. Is there any correlation between achievement and how these boys identify themselves? (ie. higher rate of achievement for those who identify themselves as white vs. those who identify themselves as black?)
First, most African-Americans are of mixed ancestry.
Self-identification is another thing, as is identification by others.
It is my understanding that rates of achievement are much more dependent on opportunities then on identify, and in America opportunities for those perceived as African-American are all-too-often less than those for those perceived as White.
Question from Mattie E. Curry, Teacher, Dooly County High, GA:
African American males tend to be targeted from the time they enter the school doors. Do you think that a separate institution for them might be the answer as based upon my 20 years of teaching experience, even African American teachers appear to be more antagonistic toward them?
Separate institutions, that is, segregated schools, show lower graduation and achievement rates than integrated schools, probably because they tend to be less well-funded.
The key here, as you point out, is the preparation of teachers so that they are able and willing--eager--to provide high quality educations to African-American male and all students.
Question from Danny Martin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education and Mathematics, University of Illinois at Chicago:
While I agree that we need to give focused attention to the needs of African Ameircan males, I am always very troubled by the ways in which these these boys, and their needs, are framed. I am particularly troubled that the needs of African American boys are determined based on how they differ from white boys and African American girls. Comparisons such as these produce the damaging message that African American boys are changeworthty and that there is something wrong with them rather than something being wrong with the practices and systems that devalue their very being. A comparison with white boys, for example, carries with it an assumption that outcomes for white boys should the norm and goal for black boys. I would argue that this is an artificially low standard and that black boys should be allowed to develop and thrive to their full potential, not based on what is deemed acceptable or good for white boys. Comparing black boys to black females carries with it a dangerous and pernicious assault on black masculinity. The assumptions under both comparisons seem to be that, in order to be successful, black boys must become less black (more like white boys) and that they must become more feminine (more like African American girls). What I also find troubling is how many so-called experts and policy-makers proliferate this rhetoric without ever questioning the very premises on which they operate. Anyone who frames the needs of black boys in terms of how they differ from white boys is in no way an expert. To begin your discussion here says that you, a priori, accept the inferiority of African American boys. In my view, there is nothing inherently wrong with black boys. Many of the behaviors of these young boys are responses to systems of oppression that continue to mount vicious assaults on them everyday.
My comments are not meant to romanticize the state of black males. However, I question the very way that the so-called “problem of black boys” is framed. Black boys don’t need to be like white boys and black boys don’t need to be like African American girls. Black boys need to be cared for, loved, and respected. The truth is that too many people who work in schools and other societal institutions do not care about black boys.
I’d like your guests to comment on my assertions. If the above issues are too heavy-hitting, I’d like your guests to address the following question: How much day-to-day work do you do with African American boys, outside of research?
Danny Martin, Ph.D.
I agree that African American male students should be allowed/encouraged/helped to achieve their full potential.
Comparisons wth White (or Hispanic or Asian) boy and girls are useful for pointing to inequities with the allocation of resources, including teacher professional development.
Question from Jessica Thumser, Teacher, Needwood Middle School:
I’m looking for ways to make “school is cool” relevant to 8th graders. This years’ kids seemed to delight getting suspended, etc. They loose ground by being out of the classroom due to behavior problems. PS: I will probably miss the Live Chat due to the fact I teach until 3:20! I wish the chats could be later in the day . . .
Henry M. Levin:
My answer to this comes from my work with Accelerated Schools. All children are curious about something. We need to build wonder and curiousity into the teaching functions of the schools by incorporating it into each subject. We need to show children that they have a right and the power to learn about those things for which they are curious. We need to give them the research and inquiry tools that can create those powers and try to incorporate into much of the curriculum the ability to apply subjects and studies to their wonders. Surely, writing and language pervade this approach. Many questions that students have can be informed by scientific thinking, by the age-old themes found in literature, and the sweep of history and specific historical episodes. Making those connections with personal concerns and experience are what gives learning a feeling of job and accomplishment. This works for almost all children (and adults).
Question from Cindy Friday Beeman, student teacher in kinder, Harrison Elementary:
Is there any research that shows whether the ethnicity or the sex of the teacher matters in the success of African-American boys in school? If so, does this factor matter more in a student’s early years, just before middle school, or later? I can count on one hand the African-American teaching students I have met through the course of my program, male and female. This concerns me, but I wonder what research finds about whether it should. Thank you.
I don’t know of any research that shows teacher ethnicity/gender matters. The most successful schools identified by the Schott Foundation have highly diverse teaching staffs.
They do all care about their students.
Question from Trish Steele, Kindergarten Teacher, Fox Chapel Elementary:
How do we get African American boys to listen and not talk back to adults when they are corrected for mistakes? Also related... How do we get them to be responsible for their actions when they deny that they have done anything wrong?
See the comment citing Walter Gilliam’s research.
Question from Linda Stiles, Speech Language Pathologist:
Do you feel that the evaluation methods and criteria used to place students into special education programs are not considering the background and culture of African American boys and that is contributing to the over-referral of African American boys into special education programs? For example the tests that are used, what population are they normed and standardized on? Are they valid for students from all cultures and economic backgrounds?
Special Education placements of African-American students, especially males, is highly inequitable in most school districts. They are under-identified for gifted/talented programs and over-identified form mental retardation. Given that research shows that these matters are fairly uniformally distributed across populations, there is, on the face of it, a significant problem with the administration of Special Education programs.
Question from June Bernabucci, Sr. Director, Unified Arts, Hartford, CT:
Breaking the cycle of teen mothers who don’t have father figures plays significantly in the development of african-american boys. what can be done to assist teen moms to be better mothers and find proper role models for their sons?
This is a very important question. In other developed countries, such as France and Britain, there are strong local governmental agency supports available. Unfortunately, our country does not do nearly as much as it could.
Question from Kevin A. Dougherty, Hall Director, The University of Arizona:
What do the achieving African American males say? Is there any research that explores the experiences of how or why the few African American males are able to academically achieve?
This is an interesting research question that I may be looking at in the near future. As far as I know, there is not anything in the literature at the moment.
Question from Arthur Jarman, Head of Membership and Communications at the National Union of Teachers for England and Wales:
I hope you will find of interest the work we have done in respect of the educational performance of black Caribbean boys in the UK. You can find it on our website,www.teachers.org.uk. On the home page, click on:"Born to be Great A Charter on Promoting the Achievement of Black Caribbean Boys”
Thank you. I will look at it.
Question from David Battle, Doctoral Learner, Capella University:
What are some options that are available that an individual can participate in helping African-American boys in academics? I am an African-American male myself. Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in this chat due to my schedule demands.
I would think that your on-line teaching knowledge would be very helpful. Perhaps you could approach a local principal and offer your on-line services.
Question from LuAnn Stout, Math Teacher, Smallwood MS:
I have been studying the success of charter schools, particularly KIPP Academies, that have shown remarkable success with below grade level African-American boys. Can public schools be flexible enough to incorporate their strategies (for example,greater autonomy for Principal’s, longer school days, and parent-supported behavior contracts)?
Yes, all those things are possible in public schools. It is a matter of district and school commitment.
Question from Karen Brown, Special Education Teacher, P.S. 398, Brooklyn:
Does the education system at large feel a sense of responsibility to incorporate social education within the curriculum?
Henry M. Levin:
If we believe the rhetoric of schooling, a major function of democratic schooling is to prepare the young for participation as thinking citizens. Certainly this is true at a conceptual level. But, precisely how this is done can be done in a thoughtful and exciting way in which the child sees a meaningful role or in a lackluster and mechanical way in which the schools go through motions and turn students off to social understanding and responsibilities. I have seen both in action, but all too much of the latter.
Question from Celestine Candida, teacher, St. Mark’s Episcopal School:
I have a 5th grade student who is very capable of doing passing work, but is doing D work. He is very polite and helpful, but he has anger issues and this gets him in trouble at school. How do I motivate him and get him to do his work
Why is the school structured in such a way that his “anger issues” result in trouble rather than help for him? Perhaps those policies cold be reviewed.
Question from Q. Davis, children’s pastor, Southbay community Church:
Is their any particular curriculum that has been effective for young african american males
Challenging, high expectations, with a variety of activities (including sports from field hockey to chess), extended school days.
Question from Diane Haney CEO San Diego County Title I parents:
How many schools throughout the United States lack African American Teachers as role models?
Henry M. Levin:
I cannot answer this question in numerical terms because I don’t find these data to be available. But, I can say that the disproportion of African-American teachers relative to the numbers of students is a deep concern. However, we cannot blame the schools completely. The good news is that over the last three to four decades, professional opportunities have opened up to African-Americans that were once closed. Years ago black females with post-secondary education were heavily concentrated in teaching and nursing. Now they increased their numbers in all of the professions including law, business, and medicine, and that also creates important role models for our students. But, the schools face tremendous competition for talent from these professions, and particularly among minorities. The solution is that we need to nurture more talent, both male and female, in elementary and secondary schools to increase the pool of African American college graduates for all professions including teaching.
Question from Jeffrey Lewis, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison:
We live in a society that has historically and continually constructed its collective image of Black males based on fear and aversion, and not love and caring. I believe Black male identities and behaviors (individual and group) are at least partly, and probably significantly the result of their attempts to survive what many experience as hostile, suffocating environments. How do we intervene to help adults move beyond their fear and aversion of Black males, and create more inclusive educational environments?
Well, I agree with your diagnosis.
The treatment is the problem, isn’t it?
On the other hand, there are many tools used in individual and group situations that might be useful, running from counseling on one end of the scale to “value-added” pay scales on the other.
Question from Sonya Gray,Director, RWOC After school at-risk program:
What is the biggest problem you see with our African American young men? What can we as African American adults do to help them succeed in todays society? How can we get the fathers and mothers more involved in the young mens lives?
Henry M. Levin:
We need to emphasize community solutions to this issue as well as better public policies. We need more black fathers to work with their children rather than leaving it to too many single mothers. But, to do that we need to make it possible for more African-American men to become highly educated, and we need to cut down on the huge numbers of incarcerated males. The latter can be done by changing laws on substance abuse so that violators are provided with meaningful rehab programs that keep them in the community. The vast majority of “offenders” are jailed for position or sale, not for violent offenses. The same amount of money spent on incarceration could be used for rehab, job training, neighborhood renovation, housing, and improvement of elementary and secondary schools. We also need to assist families in their parenting skills as Ron Ferguson at Harvard has pointed out from his research. We also need for communities to organize around the success of their African-American children, to provide resources for study and for assistance to families.
Question from Tiombe Kendrick, School Psychologist, Miami-Dade County Public Schools:
I read the report on conducted by the Schott foundation and found it to be interesting. How does a school district take that report and consider applying the recommendations, especially in a large urban district
One could begin with some questions:
Are expert teachers and excellent facilities equally available in schools with high enrollments of African-American students as in those with high enrollments of upper middle class White students?
Is the achievement of African-American students an evaluation criteria for principals, area superintendents, etc.?
Is there academically-oriented pre-school and early childhood education available for those most in need of these in the district?
Are all students provided with challenging curricula and high expectations?
Are schools in Liberty City and similar areas open most hours of the day/days of the week/months of the year?
Question from Tisha Markette, principal, Amistad Academy Elementary School:
How can we get parents to be open about concerns and advocate for their children?
Should not principals and teachers advocate for children, even when their parents do not?
Question from Beth Robins, Doctoral Student Researcher , Aurora University:
Could the answer to the illiteracy rates among African American boys simply be to teach them (and indeed all students)the basic 42 to 44 phonemes of the English language, and how to blend them “first and fast”, i.e. in Kindergarten, as recommended by the research-based National Reading Panel(2000)?
Teaching all students “first and fast” is probably a good idea. There is a tacit assumption among many early childhood teachers that the children reach them knowing their letters and phonemes. If they do not, the school should be set up to meet that challenge as soon as possible so that “gaps” do not develop.
Question from Timothy Nevels, Co-Founder, Onyx House, In.c:
Why aren’t schools adopting single gender classes? It clearly works and it cost next to nothing to deploy. Only requires some retraining of teachers.
Henry M. Levin:
My understanding of the single gender school issue is that it is still controversial. There certainly are examples of where it appears to be working and some where it hasn’t made a difference. I would like to see more evidence in either direction before moving forward in the single gender direction. I suspect that the effectiveness depends upon leadership and adapting educational practices to build on a single gender. That is, it is not a magic solution in itself. Unfortunately, too much of school policy simply changes logistics without addressing the more substantive actitivies that will determine the outcomes. This is why we need to consider the substantive changes as well as the gender of the enrollees.
Question from Clara M. Moulds, Independent Educational Consultant:
As a prevention strategy, what can we do to assist parents of Africa-American toddlers and preschoolers with knowing how to help their childlren learn at home that could help prevent school failure of so many black boys?
Henry M. Levin:
I think that we can learn from a wide range of programs that have addressed these needs. One that comes to mind is Hippie which works with parents when the children are infants to educate the parents in activities that will assist the child to learn. I think that we can also learn from the Abecedarian Project which showed that very early intervention has strongly positive effects in schools and beyond. However, I am not an expert on the specifics and would wish to search out the details of other successful programs.
Question from Edward M. Trusty, Jr., teacher, Gilman School:
Is there any research addressing the performance of African American males in private/independent schools compared to their public school counterparts? Which variables for this population prove to facilitate achievement?
Henry M. Levin:
The research that I am familiar with tends to focus on comparing academic performance of black males in independent versus public schools. Much of it shows that at the high school level the independent schools do better, at least in terms of graduation rates and college participation. The book-length analysis of Anthony Bryk and Valerie Lee compares students in Catholic and public high schools and relates the statistical determinants of differents in achievement to specific practices in the two types of schools. Some of the differences are in academic expectations, use of homework and treatment of homework assignments, and peer effects. But, there is still considerable controversy over whether differences in outcomes are due to independent and private schools enrolling more capable and motivated students with stronger family support or whether it is school effects. Most reasonable people conclude that it is both.
Question from Peter Meyer, Contributing Editor, Education Next:
Could it be that the racial achievement gap is no more than a proxy for the “background knowledge” gap that E.D. Hirsch has so eloquently described. And instead of focusing our attentions on “black,” shouldn’t we be directing our attentions to content?
Henry M. Levin:
I don’t fully know the answer to this question. As a fact we know that African-American students are entering school with less of the skills that lead to school success and that this gap is partially explained by differences in parental education and socio-economic status variables. However, I would surmise that there are other major challenges that undermine school success including greater likelihood of poverty, poorer housing, peer cultures that do not give school learning a high priority and so on. The work of John Ogbu and Ronald Ferguson ought to be referred to in this regard.
Question from Rashid Johnson,Curriculum Specialist, Bruce-Monroe Elementary School:
How does home and school discipline impact urban, African-American males; why is there a disparity between home and school rules?
There is a disparity between home and school rules in most groups and cultures. That disparity is a measure of the differing purposes of home and school. A goal of good schools is to facilitate the development of children so that they appreciate those differences and act in ways appropriate to each.
Question from Jennifer Charles, Ed.D, Educational Technology Consultant, New York City:
How has American society and history shaped the cultural behavior and academic problems of black boys? Do we need to address these factors as we attempt to help black boys to succeed academically?
Henry M. Levin:
I find this question to be broader than I can handle. Surely American society and history has shaped cultural behavior which may be related to the academic problems of black boys. As I mentioned in a previous question, if so many black men are incarcerated and lack educational credentials, they are not available to bring up and support families. Without fathers present, mothers have to undertake a very difficult burden including earning a living, obtaining decent housing, keeping children safe, and competing for influence with gangs and other destructive aspect of peer culture. In my view we all need to work on improving this situation. Most of the incarceration of young men is for possession and sale, not for violent offenses. These young men should be provided with rehab, training, and other kinds of assistance where they can be a constructive part of society rather than being exposed to the negative influence of incarceration and its “negative” education.
Question from Karen Washington, Character Education Manager:
I would like to know what other school districts are doing to address the issue. Houstin Independent School District has assembled a task force to address the issue, right now we are compiling research.
The best district-wide plans I know of are in Maryland: The Baltimore COUNTY Public Schools and the Montgomery County Public Schools.
Question from Alberta English, Educator:
What can we as educators do to encourage are young people to learn in and outside the classroom?
Comment: As a teacher I have noticed that students do not encourage the peers to achieve in the classroom. Why?
I would hazard that peer encouragement of classroom achievement is fairly rare among any group of students. Forstering that peer value and encouraging the achivement of individual students is a key teacher skill. Here, again, we need high expectations, challenging curriculum, care.
Question from Melvin Lars/CEO Brighter Futures Academic, VIolence intervention/Prevention, Academic Enhamcement Company:
When are we going to step up to the plate and stop allowing our “Black” boys from making excuses as to why they do not succeed?
Single mom, Rap about what I live, etc.
I am from a single parent/HS dropout mom’s home and can sight person after successful “Black” person form my neighbor hood that lived the same plight. Yes it was difficult but not impossible...
Fostering the success of male African-American students is the job of educators and includes high expectations, a challenging curriculum, individualized teaching styles, an atmosphere of caring for each student.
Question from Jill Hunter-Williams, Legislative Director, Congressman Danny K. Davis:
Based on the research regarding what works, what are the top changes needed during the reauthorization of NCLB to help African American boys succeed?
Henry M. Levin:
NCLB focuses primarily on test results rather than on building capacity to get good educational results overall. This means that it promotes instrumental ways of raising test scores to meet the targets as opposed to a focus on the broader issue of educational development. Many of our schools have become test preparation institutions as opposed to educational institutions. It would be useful to develop a broader set of educational indicators along with the test scores to assess school success. These could build on the “Opportunity to Learn” criteria that have been developed in recent years. Only the OTL criteria should be substantive rather than superficial. Now NCLB requires a “highly qualified teacher” when it really means a “minimally qualified teacher”. Perhaps states should be rewarded by setting cut scores on Praxis II at meaningful levels rather than the typical 25th percentile. Using a broader range of educational criteria and providing meaningful incentives to build capacity would be prime. Also, I would focus more heavily on middle and high school where new reforms of promise are available, but need to be supported. I have also mentioned these in a previous response. Finally, high school graduation for black males is absolutely key. It shows a much closer relation to economic and labor market outcomes for black males than does test scores.
Question from Jeanne Surface, Project Director, AIM Institute, Omaha NE:
Are there any programs that recruit young African-American males to the teaching profession? IF so, has this made an impact on the graduation rate?
The graduation rate for male African-American students is under 50%. Given that enormous problem, the “low-hanging fruit,” includes equitable funding for schools enrolling high percentages of African-American students, African-American student achievement linked evaluation criteria for admnistrators, schools offering extended opening hours and programs, etc.
Question from John DeVleming, Mercer Island school board director:
I am a school board director in a high performing suburban school district with less than 2% African-American enrollment. We intend to open enrollment to out of district students and one objection offered has been that we will get inner city kids who will be unable to keep up in class and disruptive to boot. We think we do a great job of teaching all the students who enroll here and welcome the challenge of teaching ambitious children from a somewhat different cultural background. Can you offer me any advice on how to deal with skeptical current parents or how to deal with the culture shock our new students may feel?
Henry M. Levin:
I recommend that you check with the Palo Alto Unified School District that has had voluntary transfers from what has been traditionally an African-American community (more recently Latino) for almost 30 years. There is a culture and knowledge clash initially. Palo Alto has provided intensive summer classes to the transferees, counseling, and other activities with good results.
Question from George Guy, assistant principal Hartford Upper Elementary School:
How do building level administrators get teachers to “buy into” the fact that they have to differentiate how they “connect” with African American males in order to get greater soci-emotive and academic results in our schools?
Perhaps we could try the business model and link pay increments for administrators to the educational success of their male African American students. The building level administrators might then be strongly motivated to support their teachers in that work.
Question from Ricardo Cooke, Teacher, Capuchino High School:
How do we create a learning environment where African American Boys feel that academics are worthwhile and will not have to face social scrutiny from their peers for striving for academic success?
Isn’t the peer pressure theory over-done? There isn’t a lot of peer pressure for academic success in the all White schools that I have visited (and attended).
The creation of learning environments is the essence of the responsibility of teachers and administrators.
Question from Cynthia Battle, Outreach Specialist, Beginning with Books:
What age do you see African-American boys starting to struggle in school, and how can earily educators help prevent poor performance in school?
Henry M. Levin:
In my experience I have seen some challenges arising in the elementary grades, less so if the students have had good preschool experiences. But, the more serious problems seem to emerge in fourth grade and beyond, often reaching a peak in middle school followed by a feeling of defeat and failure for many students (and teachers) by eighth grade and then a holding operation after that. Quality pre-school is very important with supportive elementary schooling. But, many of the major changes have to be made in middle and high schools to make them supportive institutions that are attractive enough to compete with the less desirable impacts of street culture.
Question from Education researcher:
In addition to working on all the systemic problems that African-American boys face, how can we help them overcome the peer pressure they sometimes face that discourages achievement (i.e., being accused of “acting white”)?
I believe that this is similar to the peer pressure faced by many, if not most, American students. If the systemic problems are overcome, the field will at least be level.
Question from Moira Cameron, Teacher, Rochester City Shool District,:
What documented evidence exists that an African-Centered pedagogy is effective with African-American boys? In which U.S. urban districts has it been either been ‘launched’ or attempted?
Henry M. Levin:
I am not an expert on this subject and have seen virtually no systematic evaluations of these schools. Detroit and Milwaukee have a number of them, so it might be worthwhile to check with these districts. Also, ask the people at the Schott Foundation for information.
Question from Marion Smith Jr.,English Teacher & Curriculum Specialist, Clark County School District:
Too many American public schools fail to confront the racial, class, gender, and language biases woven into our social fabric, so where do K-12 teachers begin to enable students that look like me (Black males) to transgress boundaries and institutionalized limits?
Henry M. Levin:
I would contact Professor Ronald Ferguson at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University who has studied issues of black education carefully. He is African-American and has some very thoughtful insights. Professor James Comer at Yale University might also be a good source. Finally, the Schott Foundation has relations with a number of experts on this topic.
Question from Shanickwa Spencer, parent:
How successful are African American boys in private schools?
Henry M. Levin:
In general the private schools require both parental and student commitments that cannot be mandated in public schools. For those students and parents who can meet these commitments (and get scholarships or have resources for tuition), the results appear to be better than in public schools. However, the controversy seems to be over whether these requirements in themselves provide the success rather than the school effectiveness. That is, do private schools attract students whose families are most educationally motivated? The answer is that we do not know for sure. Also, there are some public schools that seem to do much better than private schools and vice versa, so the average difference doesn’t say much. Finally, there are some very good (and also very weak) charter schools that seem to have good results. Whether public, charter, or private school, the choice of the individual school is key.
Question from Rebecca Rumsey, Consultant, IER @ JCU:
Please comment on the recent report from PolicyBridge, a Cleveland-based think-tank, regarding the influence of the media, parents and culture (i.e., influence other than just schools) on the attitude toward education held by African American boys.
I haven’t seen that report. I’ll look for it.
Question from Janet Riley, Principal, Elkhart, Indiana Evening High School:
How can an alternative type of school be structured to meet the needs of African-American boys? How can we give a different spin to the importance of education to let Black males know it is cool to be smart?
I have tried to respond to this in other questions. Such a school must build student experience into the curriculum so that students can see how the power to understand the world can be used to satisfy their curiosity and address the things that they are concerned about. The teaching and learning of all subjects can embody this principle rather than emphasizing the abstract nature of learning. Building confidence in skills is important so that as children succeed they view themselves as successful learners. Both emotional and personal support and academic support are important in the form of tutoring, special workshops, and so on. Assistance can be sought from community members, religious organizations, service organizations, and so on to make it possible to provide such support. Celebrations and rewards are an important ritual that can motivate learning. Role models of color from the community should appear at the school regularly to emphasize that real success must include education. These are ideas that one can find in many schools, often individually. In tandem they are particularly powerful.
Question from Judy Beemer, Literacy Coach, Junction City (KS) High School:
How can we help African-American boys over-ride the peer attitude that says doing well in school or reading is not important or socially acceptable?
What I would do is to work with the “natural” leaders to both make them successful individually and to seek their support to be part of the solution. If these leaders --who are often the problem initially--can see themselves as educational successes, that will have a large effect on their fellow students. If you can even get them to take leadership positions in the school, that will be more powerful. This should be combined with bringing African-American men into the school on a regular basis (not just black history month) to sponsor individual classrooms and to work with some of the student leaders as role models.
Question from Sam SMith, School COunselor, University High School:
What are the differences in working with African AMerican boys in remedial, mainstream and gifted and talented programs? Same approach?
The area of gifted and talented education has two major components: sorting and selection (who is g & t) and teaching and learning (enrichment approaches to learning). The teaching and learning component provides an enriched approach and works for all students. To be gifted and talented is to have strengths. All students have strengths. The enrichment response is to build on strengths which can be done for all children through getting them actively involved in research, the arts, debate, projects, and addressing those topics on which they are curious. This is at the heart of the Accelerated Schools Project in which we have had success by treating all students with an enriched approach. (It also works for adults.)
Question from Stephanie Nimene, Mathematic Teacher at a Detroit, Michigan Charter School:
How do we as educators get parents of young black males involved in their children’s education? What kind of programs do you know work in schools to pull young black males and their parents into educational success?
There are many programs that do this. Check Family Math and Family Science at the Lawrence Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley. Also check the programs and research results of Professor Joyce Epstein at the Johns Hopkins University. Epstein’s work also includes bibliographies and other sources.
Question from Matt Skoczen, Teacher, St. Gabriel’s Hall School:
I teach at a boys juvenile residential placement facility. The majority of the boys are African American and many are struggling readers/learners. What, if any, strategies seem to work to improve African American boys’ reading processes?... and how does a teacher “fight” their deep-rooted thinking on things that music videos and the like are the “dream” to be chasing rather than a good education?
Within your question are the seeds of an answer. Kid want to be able to learn and communicate in the areas of their interest. Get the kids reading about hip hop artists because they will be motivated to do so. But, find out which sports they like (they often adore the main athletes) and get them that kind of popular literature. Get them to write about the challenges that these athletes faced and where they were educated. Get them to do research reports using the internet on the institutions that the athletes attended. Seek out other sources of interest and capitalize on them by basing literacy assignments on their interests.
Question from M. Wong, Parent, San Diego:
What percentage of male African-American dropouts come from families with substance abuse problems?
I don’t think that we have an answer to that question.
Question from :
Will you address special considerations for African American boys who are incarcerated? Specifically, violent felons who are in a treatment facility with an educational component? How to best serve?
It is very difficult to provide a program on anger-management or how to resolve conflict in an institution where survival is based upon violence and conflict. So, first, I would consider how conflict and violence might be reduced, by creating rewards for non-violent behavior. Beyond that there are many approaches for teaching cooperative behavior and conflict resolution. Unfortunately, sometimes prison personnel thrive on the violence and conflict among individuals and ethnic/racial groups because this keeps them under control in coping with each other rather than the authorities who run the prison. I hope that you are not in one of these institutions.
Question from Jesse Willard, Education Advocate, Modesto, Ca.:
We recently attended a conference in Milwauke for the NEA. Most of what was discussed centered around NCLB and the major changes needed to the law. As parent advocates we are concerned that not enough attention is given to the horrendous disciplinary policies that exist in most districts.(Zero Tolerance) These policies are a large contributer to the achievement gap. What can be done nationally to convince the Teachers and Administrators that these policies have to go?
Henry M. Levin:
Unfortunately, this is a larger problem than just the classroom, and teachers have to cope with problems that often arise outside of the school. Many students live in neighborhoods where “unacceptable responses to conflict in schools” are not adequate for survival. Being tough and talking back to authority are necessary for esteem and being left alone in such neighborhoods. Also, conflict in the home is often resolve by violent language and physical threats or worse. Thus, the question is not just a school question, but much of it must be resolved in school.
First, I would make the school a much more personalized environment for these children so that they realize that the people around them care about their success. Second, I would be relentless about helping them achieve success in their work and seeing that “acting out” is not part of educational success. I think that kindness and support go farther than punishment in this regard. I think that they must recognize that for learning to take place, the classroom has to be a calm place where the excitement is vested in meaningful learning in areas that they care about. Adequate opportunities to vent about issues and injustice must be provided in student “advisories” where other students can also share and provide insights that might be helpful, guided by a trusted counselor or teachers. Bringing all of these together in a school can reduce inappropriate behavior. Finally, the school should not over-react. Students are very sensitive to fairness. If a student has been provoked into acting out, other students will be sympathetic and resent school authority. Schools need to find constructive ways of dealing with minor infractions that do not provide disciplinary over-reaction.
Question from Sarah, Social Studies teacher:
What can teachers do on the high school level to help African American boys, many who have been passed through the system due to behavioral issues, when they enter high school to ensure that they will stay until 12th grade and graduate?
Henry M. Levin:
I would look carefully at some of the recent high school reforms that personalize and create caring relationships for students with high academic expectations. These generally create small learning units or houses of schools with no more than 300-350 students; specially selected teachers who establish personal relations with students and work with them over several years; smaller classes and more counselors; and opportunities to work in small groups that address personal challenges (advisories). Look at First Things First in Kansas City, Institute for Student Achievement and what it is doing in the New York area, Talent Development High Schools, and the many variants of this type of model.
Question from Beverly Moore, Parent Support Coordinator, East New York Prep Charter School:
We hear alot that if there were more male teachers in the schools, then black boys would be better equipped socially and academically. The reality is, there are not more male teachers. So what approach should female teachers take to help with this problem that we’re facing?
Henry M. Levin:
Get African American volunteers to adopt specific classrooms where they will come at least twice a month to engage in activities with the boys (and girls too). Sources are parents, churches, and community organizations who might undertake this as a cooperative activity.
Question from Joel White, Guidance, Cobb County School System:
What difference will it make for African American boys to have an african american teacher in his classroom?
Henry M. Levin:
The answers to this question are not clear. Surely good role identies help in development, but that can be addressed through getting successful black males to volunteer in the school and mentor youth. I think that it is agreed that the most important quality of a teacher is teaching effectiveness of which ethnic identify may be a part, but not the only part. A diverse teaching staff is highly desirable for all children.
Question from David Grant, doctoral student, University of Central Florida:
In your opinion how accurate is Jason Osborn’s and Claude Steele’s theories of stereotype threat and academic disidentification among African American males?
Henry M. Levin:
I think that there is some validity to these theories. The way that groups are treated and viewed outside of classroom and testing situations can affect the way they perform in those situations. However, this is not the sole cause of underperformance, but one that we need to pay attention to along with other concerns (e.g. good teaching, good parenting, adequate school resources, supportive school environments).
Question from Barry Golden, Ed. Consultant Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction:
To what extent would project based learning and technology integration increase Black male engagement in school?
Henry M. Levin:
I think that these approachs, if done well, would provide much greater engagement for black males and all students. All students have curiosity. Project based learning and technology integration give them powerful tools to whet that curiosity as well as applied outlets to develop their writing, reasoning, gathering of facts, persuasive and other communicative skills, and application of the subjects that they are asked to address. My only concern is that this be done thoughtfully in a highly personalized way to capture the interests of students. When done mechanically, it will not do much.
Question from Inas EL-Sabban, Program Specialist, U.S. Dept. of Education:
Are there any particular U.S. regions, states, and/or school districts in which this problem is more prevalent? If so, why?
Henry M. Levin:
States show somewhat different educational results for African American males as your NCES data demonstrate. However, we don’t know how much this is due to differences in population features such as socio-economic backgrounds and how much this is do to schools and communities. Reputedly, there are some districts that are more successful than others. Professor Ronald Ferguson at Harvard has studied some of this.
Question from Vincent Watts, President, AdVance Diversity Services:
The statistics have been quoted over and over, causes and effects are the subject of countless writings. Why isn’t someone advocating for best practices that have produced more positive outcomes, i.e. charters that focus on the unique needs of this target demographic?
Henry M. Levin:
I think that there are many answers to these questions. One is that not much of the information on practices that work has gotten around. Moreover, schools have a great deal of difficulty in changing practices, and many teachers believe in what they have always done. I think that we are seeing some progress on this, for example in high schools of the Institute for Student Achievement, First Things First, Talent Development, National Academies, and some charter schools. Somehow we need to be able to identify these successful practices and initiate their transfer elsewhere in meaningful ways. I mention meaningful ways because schools have often implemented reforms mechanically with little effect.
Bess Keller (Moderator):
Thank you for participating in this online chat and thanks especially to our hardworking experts, who have thoughtfully fielded so many questions. We didn’t get to every one, but our time is up. This chat is now over. A transcript of this discussion will be on edweek.org shortly.
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