Equity & Diversity

African-American Males in Policy Spotlight

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 29, 2012 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated the membership and mission of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. The organization represents both coed and single-gender schools and promotes a range of strategies for improving achievement of African-American and Latino males.

An African-American teenager recently told William R. Hite, Jr., the incoming schools superintendent in Philadelphia, that there are more adults working in his high school who could arrest him than could help him fill out applications for college financial aid.

That story, shared recently with an audience of educators, advocates, and state and federal policymakers, punctuated an issue of increasing concern: the persistent vulnerability of black boys.

In America’s public schools, African-American males are the least likely to read on grade level, most likely to be suspended or expelled, most likely to be referred to special education, and most likely to drop out, numerous studies have shown. This bleak portrait of black boys’ chances for future success came into sharp relief as educators and advocates met in Washington to look for solutions and capitalize on the momentum created by President Barack Obama’s establishment in July of a White House initiative on the educational achievement of African-Americans. The Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based advocacy group for the nation’s urban school systems, and the U.S. Department of Education co-hosted a daylong national summit last month to highlight solutions to black boys’ high dropout and suspension rates, low grades and test scores, and lackluster college-going and completion rates.

“On every indicator of progress, black males are underrepresented,” said Mr. Hite, who is wrapping up his tenure as superintendent in Maryland’s Prince George’s County schools before taking the helm of Philadelphia’s schools Oct. 1. “And on every indicator that suggests a problem, black males are overrepresented.” Mr. Hite was among more than a dozen educators and scholars who spoke at the summit.

Solution Oriented

The council commissioned a series of “solutions briefs” from prominent scholars with expertise spanning from early childhood to higher education, and drafted a “blueprint” that outlines concrete policies and action steps for school districts to take to improve outcomes for black boys. Those range from creating interventions for black boys who show early signs of academic troubles and closely monitoring the rigor of instruction and content they receive to using aggressive recruitment strategies to hire more African-American males as teachers.

The plight of African-American boys in schools has, in the last decade, sparked an impassioned group of advocates to push for solutions. For example, the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color—a group of educators working in both coed and single-gender schools—formed four years ago to promote a range of practices and strategies related to assessment, parents and community, curriculum and instruction, school culture, and other facets of school life that are designed to improve achievement for African-American and Latino males. The Council of the Great City Schools brought attention to the issue in 2010 when it issued a report documenting the grim educational attainment of black boys in urban schools and called for a White House summit.

The creation of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans earlier this summer, though, is bringing an even higher profile to the struggles of black boys, advocates say. The Congressional Black Caucus has pushed for such an effort for more than a decade, said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, an Illinois Democrat.

“This has to be a national priority,” he said.

But with the presidential election just two months away, it’s not clear that the effort will even have much opportunity to get under way. The White House has not yet named an executive director. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the chairman of a presidential advisory commission on African-American educational opportunities, said during the Aug. 28 summit that staff members would not be selected until later this year or early next year. That timing raises questions about the initiative’s longevity if President Obama is not re-elected.

But the summit focused tightly on solutions that would not be contingent on the outcome of a presidential election. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan moderated a panel in which educators talked about strategies they are using to help black boys.

Mary Skipper, the principal of TechBoston Academy in the Dorchester section of Boston, said her school has aggressively sought out African-American male teachers to teach Advanced Placement and other high-level courses, among several other strategies.

BRIC ARCHIVE

“Having black males in front of the classroom matters,” she said. Ms. Skipper also said that simply having higher expectations for black boys is “useless” without highly effective supports for them. TechBoston uses peer tutors, small classes with multiple opportunities to do group work, and a discipline policy that uses out-of-school suspension in rare cases.

Peer mentoring is also essential, said Randolph Scott, an 18-year-old freshman at Fayetteville State University, a historically black institution in North Carolina. “To be a young black male, there is no one else who can understand me like another young black male,” he said.

Mr. Hite said breaking down school system barriers is also critical. Just six years ago, Prince George’s, where 80 percent of the enrollment is African-American, only 15 percent of the students enrolled in Advanced Placement and other high-level, college-preparatory courses were black.

“What message does that send to our young people about our expectations for them?” Mr. Hite said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2012 edition of Education Week as Summit Puts African-American Males in Spotlight

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Anti-LBGTQ Hate Online Rose Sharply After Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Law Passed
The rhetoric centered on false accusations about the "grooming" of young children, a study finds.
4 min read
Collage with an androgynous person covering their face and surrounded by screaming mouths.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Equity & Diversity Wisconsin District Bans Pride Flags From Classrooms, Pronouns in Emails
The superintendent said the decision, which is facing pushback, was reaffirming a policy that was already in place.
2 min read
Flags are displayed as the Newberg Education Association gathers with community members ahead of the Newberg School Board vote on whether to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride flags at the school, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, in Newberg, Ore.
Flags are displayed at a community gathering in Newberg, Ore.<br/>
Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP
Equity & Diversity Two Okla. Districts Get Downgraded Accreditations for Violating State's Anti-CRT Law
The Tulsa and Mustang public school systems are the first to feel the sting of a state law that restricts discussion of race and racism in schools.
8 min read
Superintendent Deborah Gist speaks during a Tulsa Public Schools board meeting in Tulsa, Okla. on March 5, 2018.
Superintendent Deborah Gist speaks during a Tulsa Public Schools board meeting in Tulsa, Okla., in March 2018.<br/>
Joey Johnson/Tulsa World via AP
Equity & Diversity Florida to Schools: Don't Follow Federal LGBTQ Protections
Florida advised school districts to ignore protections for LGBTQ students the Biden administration is trying to implement.
1 min read
Participants with the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth march at the annual Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade in Miami Beach, Fla.
Participants with the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth march at the annual Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade in Miami Beach, Fla.
Lynne Sladky/AP