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Mixed Report on Black Males' Progress
By: Lorinda Bullock
NNPA National Correspondent
Originally posted 7/6/2006

WASHINGTON ( NNPA) – Amid all of the gloomy news about the plight of Black males, there are some bright spots, according to a recent study, “The Truth About Boys and Girls.”

Although the statistics from the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) used in the study show Black boys are still disproportionately behind their White counterparts and Black girls, the report notes that there is some improvement among Black males in reading, math and geography.

“While academic performance for minority boys is often shockingly low, it’s not getting worse. The average fourth-grade NAEP reading scores of Black boys improved more from 1995 to 2005 than those of White and Hispanic boys or girls of any race,” the study said.

In math, the study presented a similar picture. “As in reading, White boys score much better on the main NAEP in math than do Black and Hispanic boys, but all three groups of boys are improving their math performance in the elementary and middle school grades.”

Even those bright spots almost get lost under a pile of more staggering statistics.

“There’s no doubt that some groups of boys—particularly Hispanic and Black boys and boys from low-income homes—are in real trouble,” wrote the study’s lead researcher Sara Mead.

Rosa Smith, president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education in Cambridge, Mass., said “trouble” barely captures what’s happening with Black boys academically.

“There is no other group of students as vulnerable as the Black male students,” Smith said.

She said one key indicator of this is the national Black male high school graduation rate of only 52 percent.

The Schott Foundation’s 2006 State Report Card on America’s Public Education Results for Black Male Students shows graduation rates are even worse in America’s major cities with large Black populations. The foundation reported that Baltimore and New York City schools had a Black male graduation rate of 31 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Smith says to add to the mix the fact that Black boys are more likely to be expelled, go to jail or placed in special education.

“Nobody has that combination like our Black male students,” Smith said.

The Schott Foundation, citing the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights 2002 Survey, said nationally, “There are as many as 20,000 Black male students who are inappropriately classified as Mentally Retarded.”

Researcher Walter S. Gilliam from the Yale University Child Study Center revealed in his study “Pre Kindergarteners Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Pre-Kindergarten Systems,” that Black boys accounted for 91 percent of expulsions.

None of this comes as news to Jawanza Kunjufu, an educational consultant with Chicago-based African-American Images.

“All is definitely not well as it relates to African-American males and the authors just kind of glossed over that but at least they mentioned it,” he said.

Kunjufu has been consulting with school districts since the early 1970s and has written a number of books, including “Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys” and “Keeping Black Boys out of Special Education.”

Other Black educators were equally cautious.

“I don’t think we should be excited right now. We can be encouraged,” said Jonathan Foy, principal of the Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship for Young Men.

“If you have a knife six inches in your back and you pull it out three inches, is that progress? That’s kind of where we are.”

Foy’s Bronx, N.Y,.all-male school of about 200 Black and Latino ninth and 10th graders has produced some promising results.

“We’ve actually shown through data that we’re improving students’ academic skills, reading level, math level, but many of them came to us so far below that they’re still not at a standard where they can compete,” Foy says.

“It’s (the study) definitely something to build on, but we’re not close to where we need to be to really allow them to compete on a global level.”

This fall, the school that prides itself on its stringent rules, culturally-inspired field trips and specialized classes such as the one that allows the “scholars” to run a mock record label, will expand to the 11th grade—increasing the student population to around 300. Next year, the 12th grade will be added.

While the recent study explained that things were getting better for all younger boys, the gaps between boys of all races and girls in high school widen between the eighth and 12th grades, experts say the gap is even bigger between Black boys and girls in that age group.

Fast forward a few years to when it’s time for Black boys and girls to enter college. Then, Kunjufu said, the gap is further reflected in Black male and female college enrollment.

He said there are 609,000 Black men in college and more than 1 million Black women currently enrolled.

“No group has a wider disparity,” he said.

Kunjufu, like many experts, considers the eighth grade pivotal.

“Our boys are not dropping out in 12th grade, they’re dropping out in ninth grade. We need to focus on that particular population,” he said.

Kunjufo explains that a number of things happen between the fourth and eighth grades.

“When children move from the smaller elementary schools that could be 300-500 to the high school that’s 2,000-4,000, they get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

“As the age increases, teacher expectations unfortunately decrease, the teaching style changes it moves from a right brain, or whole brain teaching style to more of a left brain teaching style, peer pressure increases, parental involvement decreases. Probably the most significant one of all is that as they matriculated from kindergarten through the seventh grade in many cases they have yet to experience a male teacher, specifically a Black, male teacher so they begin to think that academics are for females.”

Smith, the foundation president, cites several factors in improving Black male achievement.

“For Black boys to be successful, there actually has to be a culture at the school that believes in Black boys,” she explains.

“There has to be a culture in the school where they’re not afraid of Black boys, there has to be a culture in the school which says we’re going to make you successful whether you want to be or not.”

Society also plays an important role, says Foy, who has spent time teaching in Harlem and in suburban New York schools.

“Our society teaches boys can either be an athlete, a rapper, a player or a pimp,” he says.

“They need to see the accountants, the lawyers, the bus drivers--every hue of what men can be--boys need to see it.”

Smith says the plight of Black males has reached a critical stage.

“This situation with our Black male students is so serious is so critical, so life-threatening to us as a race of people that I cannot understand the difficulty of getting African- American adults to be enraged about this, to hold schools more accountable, to hold professionals more accountable, to hold school boards more accountable. This is not something we can allow to continue the way it is,” she said.

There are recent signs that elements in the Black community are stepping up to address the crisis.

At its annual music festival in Houston over the weekend, Essence magazine announced an “Essence Cares” campaign to address the needs of Black children, especially males.

Writing about the campaign on, Susan L. Taylor, editorial director of the magazine, said: “Every able Black person must have her or his hand on a challenged youngster’s shoulder.”

Essence expects the campaign focus on mentoring, helping improve the plight of children, increasing voter participation and expanding educational opportunities. Among the organizations already signed up as partners in the campaign are: 100 Black Men, Big Brothers and Sisters, the National Urban League, the NAACP, Rainbow/PUSH, National Action Network, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the United Negro College Fund.

Smith said, “We know that when schools get to a place where they can educate Black boys well that the school is better for all children.”

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