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How Can We Boost Black Male School Performance?

A new study reminds us that we're falling behind on training young, black males for the future. How do we stay focused?


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A study released earlier this month (pdf) by the Council of Great City Schools reminded us of a continuing, disturbing trend: Black males are falling behind in our education system.

The findings are unfortunately not surprising: In fourth grade, only 12 percent of black males score proficient in reading on the National Assessment for Educational Progress test, compared to 40 percent of white males. Black males are twice as likely as white males to drop out of school, and they score more than 100 points fewer than their white peers on SAT reading tests.

In a guest post on The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, Yvette Jackson, CEO of the National Urban Alliance and a former New York City schools administrator, suggests treating black male students more like gifted ones:

Teachers and schools can create activities that identify, affirm and build on student strengths. This can be done through student surveys, honest conversations and teacher professional development. We need to shift from remediation focused on weaknesses to mediation that develops strengths.

... Making cultural connections and strengthening teacher-student relationships are critical to making learning meaningful and relevant to students.

Finally, students must be enabled to be more active in their own education. Schools should give students opportunities to participate in teachers’ professional development aimed at enriching curriculum, improving teaching and expanding the range of materials students create.

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The issue was also the topic of discussion involving two experts on Tuesday's episode of NPR's Talk of the Nation. Temple University Education Professor James Earl Davis and NYU Professor of Teaching and Learning Pedro Noguera. Both men acknowledged that the schooling of black boys is acknowledged as a weakness of our public schools, but that sustained attention is rarely given to the problem.

Davis seemed to be coming from a similar place as Jackson when he noted that black boys come to school with many strengths and assets—even if they're not those traditionally associated with what makes for success in a traditional classroom. Regardless, he noted, "We need to recognize and respect those skill sets."

How can we create a tide that will raise all boats?

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Photo (cc) via Flickr user Sugar Pond

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