STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Schools aren't making the grade when it comes to black male student achievement

Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio

Just when you thought the Republican and Democratic national conventions were over...

I'm here to talk about an event that took place behind the scenes at one of the conventions -- specifically the DNC in Charlotte, NC. Between all the speeches and sound bites and people in funny hats mugging for the camera, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundationheld a symposium in Charlotte, where they released a 47-page report on the profound achievement and opportunity gaps that African American males face.

The "Challenge the Status Quo" report looks at not only those factors that impede academic progress for black male students, but also what can be done about it. 

You can check out the full report here, which is packed with data and research from a wide range of studies. Meantime, here are a few highlights:

  • For U.S. public schools serving the most African-American and Hispanic students, 65 percent offer Algebra II, 40 percent offer Physics and only 29 percent offer Calculus (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2012), which immediately disqualifies this population from entry into the states’ flagship universities.
  • When examining differences between genders, Black (male and female) students comprise nearly 50 percent of the school population, but nearly 3 out of 4 (74 percent) expelled were males. 

  • Black boys are the most likely to receive special education services and the least likely to be enrolled in honors classes. 

  • Although 45 percent of Black males who are 25 and older have attempted college, only 16 percent have a four-year degree, which is half the percentage of White males who have a four-year degree (Ruggles, et al., 2010; Toldson & Esters, 2012). 

  • In high-poverty and minority schools, students are 70 percent more likely (than their affluent and White peers) to have a teacher teaching them four subjects (math, English, social studies, and science) who is not certified in these subjects or does not have a college major or minor in the subject.

The report doesn't just provide statistics, though. Authors Ivory A. Toldson and Chance W. Lewis also suggest specific ways to hold states accountable for equalizing educational opportunities for all students, including Black males -- everything from ensuring all schools teach a curriculum that meets admission requirements for the country's most rigorous schools to offering better support to disengaged students to monitoring and reducing suspensions.
Black Male Achievement also took center stage at the Children's Defense Fund conference this summer. The Harlem Children's Zone's Geoffrey Canada moderated a discussion about the importance of the middle school for Black boys.

I had a chance to sit down with Canada to talk about his work with the Harlem Children's Zone, as well as his focus on what he calls "the most vulnerable time" for African American males: the middle school years. 

"If you keep a nine-year old on the right path through [age] 15, the likelihood that that kid is going to be OK rises dramatically," explains Canada. "If you let that nine-year old start heading down the wrong path, at [age] 12 you've created a very tough situation to try to remedy when that kid is 15."

Canada went on to say that middle school is when Black boys are "most susceptible" to outside influences, which are often very negative. Things like gangs, drugs, alcohol, and a general sense that academics aren't important. Canada says it's very easy for Black boys to "fall off the cliff" at that period of time. And when they do, getting them back up again and on a path toward success is hard to do.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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