Black males in American society are in trouble. With respect to health, education, employment, income, and overall well-being, all of the most reliable data consistently indicate that Black males constitute a segment of the population that is distinguished by hardships, disadvantages, and vulnerability.
[Introduction, Pedro Noguera, The Trouble with Black Boys and Other Reflections on the Future of Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education (2008)].
For decades social scientists and educators have struggled with a crisis that has become a pandemic, Black males are far more likely to be incarcerated than to finish college. (Black males high school dropouts are 38 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers with four year degrees).
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, in his The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern American (2010) “chronicles the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working class whites and European immigrants … the book reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.”
The images of the violent Black male have been reinforced throughout our history, as an example incarceration rates by arrest for similar crimes by race is striking (cocaine versus crack).
As we look at the data, as depressing as it is, there are Black males who succeed in schools; while the overwhelming majority falls by the wayside why do some kids succeed?
The NYC Department of Education and the Open Society Foundations commissioned the University of Pennsylvania to take a close look at 40 NYC high schools that had better data relating to Black males academic achievement. The Report, “Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study (2014) is below,
Read the Report: http://www.gse.upenn,edu/equity/nycReport
The CUNY Institute for Education Policy at the Roosevelt House hosted a panel, “Expanding the Success of Black and Latino Men,” the panel discussed, sort of, the NYC Department of Education Expanding Success Initiative (ESI), the initiatives in the forty schools.
Pedro Noguera, one of the panelists, in a cogent 6 minute presentation diverged from the ESI rhetoric – he pointed to the lack of jobs – Black males with jobs that pay reasonable wages have data indistinguishable from the general population. A surprising percentage of families living in shelters have jobs; however, they cannot afford rents, underlying the “tale of two cities” theme that has dominated the politics of the last few months.
The panel included a researcher who shuffled through her PowerPoint slides and the requisite principal who was proud of his school. I was afraid that the concluding speaker from the Department of Ed would injure herself as she vigorously patted herself on the back.
David Steiner, the moderator asked the principal, “Are you able to hire teachers who you feel are up to the challenges?” and, the principal said, “No.”
Why not? Are schools of education not producing adequately trained teachers? The ESI Report indicates the schools do not hire Teacher for America candidates, who do they hire? The research involved in-depth interviews with over 400 students and the report chronicles the data emanating from the interviews. The outcomes: students with greater social capital, with greater support from the home and/or the community have a greater chance of success.
Are the school techniques and programs scalable to other schools? Did the schools subtlety attract students more likely to succeed as do charter schools? Does the race of the teacher and/or principal matter? Does the educational background of the teachers matter?
Unfortunately, it was not the purpose of the study to explore these conundrums. The converse of the study is equally important, or, perhaps, more important. Why don’t kids succeed? Using the same program design, interview a range of kids who are not succeeding, can we look at subsets of data and predict success/lack of success based on the data? How can we intervene for kids who are not succeeding?
An issue of the moment is school suspensions – around the nation the percent of suspensions of Blacks are much higher than others for the same infractions, and, a deeper question, do suspensions change behaviors, and the counterpart, do alternatives to suspension, example, restorative justice programs, reduce bad behavior? (See AFT Conference on the topic here)
Teachers are proud of our student’s successes – to what extent is the teacher responsible for the success of the student? I agreed to teach a class made up of kids who had all failed the American History Regents but passed the course. I was teaching Economics, the next course in the sequence and preparing the kids for the next try at the American History exam. The data is poor on kids retaking exams- the failure rates are high – with one exception all my kids passed – I was proud – of the kids, and myself. I prodded, I bribed (I rewarded them with Dunkin Donuts), I nudged, and frequent “creative” test prep was the norm.
It wasn’t great instruction – Charlotte Danielson would not have applauded … the kids learned to master non-cognitive skills and working in teams can lead to academic success.
I wasn’t their friend – they didn’t call me by my first name – I said “no” to unreasonable asks, I used groups pressures against individuals, and I had been teaching for a long time.
Was there any “carryover” to other classes? Did they learn “life skills”? I have no idea.
David Steiner and the CUNY Institute deserve accolades for highlighting the topic – a topic that requires a much deeper discussion.
We all, I hope, agree, that schools matter, they matter a whole lot in the life of kids, and for kids living in fragile circumstances they matter much more – schools alone; however, cannot overcome societal obstacles,
We must view schools as part of a larger community and the school will only succeed for a few if the community is not part of the solution. Schools, the police, public health, affordable housing, jobs and the role of faith-based organizations all play a role – it is the synergy of an entire community that makes a difference.
Don’t want to unduly criticize the mayor and chancellor – but – we’re all anxious and willing to jump on board – we’re just waiting for the train.