Male students who are members of minority groups continue to face overwhelming obstacles to pursuing their academic aspirations, according to a report from the College Board. The result, it says, is a little-talked-about “third America” that is predominantly male, largely incapable of contributing to society, and often destined to be incarcerated.
Members of Congress and educators warned of the consequences of failing to address those obstacles at a Capitol Hill forum last week, held in conjunction with the release of “The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color.”
The report includes testimony from more than 60 scholars, practitioners, and activists convened by the New York City-based sponsor of the sat college-admissions test at four seminars called “dialogue days.” Each day was devoted to experiences of a particular group: African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and American Indians.
The report emphasizes that the nation is approaching a point in the future—estimated to be 2050—when minorities will constitute a collective majority. While its findings about the educational plight of minority males aren’t particularly surprising, commentators said, the moment in history makes them particularly troubling.
“It’s gotten to the point where we’re talking about, almost, a permanent underclass in this country, and that is a very, very dangerous development,” said U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which partnered with the Asian Pacific American and black caucuses to sponsor the Jan. 26 briefing. “And it comes at a time … when the hues and the tones and the colors of this nation’s face are changing. That population merits more attention now because of that demographic shift that is happening across this nation.”
The College Board report says the crisis it explores has been overlooked by much of society, but is shared by male students across minority backgrounds. Its common themes include a lack of male role models, a search for respect outside of education, the sense of a failing education system, poverty, language barriers, community pressures, and a loss of cultural memory.
“We have studied it exhaustively, the challenges facing black males and males of color in general, but we’ve been unable to execute a plan that changes the results,” said Sidney Ribeau, the president of Howard University, a historically black institution in Washington. “That’s what I think we need to be doing, and I think the College Board by convening individuals here has taken a very important step.”
Declining Educational Levels
The report notes that the U.S. Census Bureau projects that more than half the nation’s children will be members of minorities by 2023, and that members of minority groups are expected to make up 54 percent of the nation’s population by 2050.
Noting that only 26 percent of blacks, 18 percent of Hispanics, and 26 percent of American Indians complete postsecondary degrees—with the percentages even lower among men—the report warns that “the overall educational level of the overall American workforce will probably decline” into the foreseeable future.
“Sometimes we need to sort of revisit our own experiences and say, what was it that exempted us from that and helped me be here today?” said U.S. Rep Mike Honda, D-Calif., the chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “Looking at the exceptions and those kinds of things, maybe we ought to pay attention to that. And I think [President Barack Obama] has something to say about that, too.”
The report points to programs it says have helped create such exceptions, including the Harlem Children’s Zone, which couples child and family services in that New York City neighborhood.
Roy Jones, the project manager of the Call Me mister program at Clemson University, in Clemson, S.C., sat in on a panel discussion and detailed his program, which recruits high school males from underprivileged communities to study education and return to teach at underprivileged schools.
Educators hoped the findings from the College Board report and their discussion would be a step toward fighting a crisis they say is largely overlooked for a variety of reasons. Those include a presumption that the educational process is tilted in favor of all males, or that issues facing each minority group are independent of each other. They also include, said several panelists, inadequate data for student achievement broken down along race and gender lines.
“Not only are we having trouble finding gender differences, or gender and race differences, and getting that information together,” said Luis Ponjuan, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, “but we even have trouble finding more specific information regarding subgroups within the ethnic groups.”
Then there’s the perception that not all minority groups face disadvantages. For example, said Robert Teranishi, an associate professor of higher education at New York University, Asian-American students could be categorized as a “model minority” because of their academic achievement.
“That’s inaccurate, misleading, and damaging,” Mr. Teranishi said, pointing to studies that find Asian-American students have high rates of academic dissatisfaction and depression, as well as the huge swath of ethnic variety within the term “Asian.”
“If there’s any conclusion that can be drawn about the population,” he said, “it’s that they’re an incredibly heterogeneous group, and there’s really no single narrative that can capture their range of educational experiences.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Report Examines Obstacles for Minority Male Students