New Report Puts the Black Male Achievement Crisis in the Spotlight

The latest study on urban black male academic achievement is out, and the data is pretty grim.

The latest study on urban black male academic achievement is out, and the news isn't good. In fact, it's downright depressing.

A 120-page report titled A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools shines a light on six key areas affecting black males, including achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, college and career readiness, and school experiences.

The report is produced by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 66 of the nation's largest urban public school systems. One superintendent and one school board member from each member city sits on the Council's board.

According to the report's findings, in 2009, a national average of 51 percent of black male eighth graders scored below the basic level in reading on the NAEP test. The lowest performing cities? In Detroit, 70 percent are below the basic level, and in Fresno, California, 72 percent are below basic.

Mathematics results are even worse. Nationally, 58 percent of black male eighth graders scored below basic in math. Again, black males in Detroit perform the worst with 80 percent of black males scoring below basic. Los Angeles and Cleveland aren't doing much better—78 percent of black males in both cities score below basic.

These low achievement levels aren't just the result of poverty. The average black fourth and eighth grade male who is not poor doesn't do any better on the NAEP than white males who come from low-income backgrounds. The data also shows that black males without special education challenges also don't score any higher than white males with special needs.

When it comes to school experience factors like suspension, black males are, "three times more likely than white students, two times more likely than Hispanic and American Indian students, and five times more likely than Asian students to be suspended from school."

Black males who make it to college are half as likely as their white male peers to graduate within four years. And, according to the report, in 2008, black males over 18 accounted for 5 percent of the college population but were 36 percent of the prison population.

Michael Casserly, the Executive Director of CGCS, says in the report's preface that, "this report is likely to make people angry, and it should." He adds that the data, "calls into question the nation's ability to harness all of its talent to maintain a leadership footing in the world."

As a counter to all the crisis-indicating statistics, the CGCS report also refreshingly contains something you don't usually see in reports about black males, a section called "Profiles of Excellence." The profiles tell the stories of seven black males who've overcome the odds, like Atlanta's Deonte Bridges who is the first black male valedictorian in a decade from Booker T. Washington High School.

Eleven solutions to the black male achievement crisis are also offered in the final pages of the report, including expanding the number of black male counselors in high schools, and a recommendation that school district's develop targeted initiatives to address the academic and social needs of black males.

The number one recommendation on the list is a call to, "convene a White House conference on the status of black males and develop an overall call to action and strategic direction for improvement."

However, Casserly doesn't seem to be waiting for Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama to take action. "We are not interested in reflecting and perpetuating society’s larger inequities. Instead, we are committed to overcoming them," he says. To that end, the CGCS plans to bring together education leaders to advise the Council on how to execute their recommendations.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user KzAkabueze

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