Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Who Cares If Tyrone Can't Read. Jacob Can!

Since I've been entrusted by God to rear a young black man (AverageToddler is 21 months going on 21 years right about now), much of my time is spent pondering ways to ensure he doesn't end up on the bad end of some random statistic. One such statistic would be the awful academic performance of black boys, who seem to universally trail every other demographic category in nearly all standardized tests. The achievement gap between blacks and whites is most often cited as a troubling issue in public education. Perhaps less analyzed is the perceived longstanding gap between males and females in general.

A recently released study seems to rebut this theory, but if you're reading with your third eye, I'm sure you wouldn't miss the underlying inference.

A new study to be released today on gender equity in education concludes that a "boys crisis" in U.S. schools is a myth and that both sexes have stayed the same or improved on standardized tests in the past decade.

The report by the nonprofit American Association of University Women, which promotes education and equity for women, reviewed nearly 40 years of data on achievement from fourth grade to college and for the first time analyzed gender differences within economic and ethnic categories.

The most important conclusion of "Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education" is that academic success is more closely associated with family income than with gender, its authors said.
Can't really knock that assertion. Most studies seem to indicate that the socioeconomic status of the child's parents is indeed a large factor in whether a kid does well in school. There are notable exceptions to this rule (ie: Paris Hilton, who never finished high school), but overall it's on point.

But here's where the whole study goes off the track and veers head first into the tackiest variety of racial politricks.
Math results from the NAEP show that white male students have an advantage over white female students, though there is less difference between Hispanic girls and boys.

From 1978 to 2004, among students age 13 and 17, white males scored higher on average than white females on 10 of 18 tests. For Hispanic students, 13- and 17-year-old males outscored females on three of the 18 tests. There was no gap among African American girls and boys

"A lot of people think it is the boys that need the help," co-author Christianne Corbett said. "The point of the report is to highlight the fact that that is not exclusively true. There is no crisis with boys. If there is a crisis, it is with African American and Hispanic students and low-income students, girls and boys."
Whoa! There is no crisis with boys, as long as they're white of course. Otherwise, who gives a sh*t?

I'm not sure if this study's co-author meant the above statement to be interpreted the way I'm taking it, but damn, what else could you possible read outta this?

I'm pretty darned sure there's indeed a crisis among young black boys (and girls for that matter) in public education. Here in Maryland, the state created a blue ribbon panel to study just exactly why black boys lag behind other groups in virtually all standardized tests. The three year study indicated that a lack of black male teachers in high poverty areas, culturally ignorant white female instructors, and the systematic tracking of black boys into special education programs were chief among several culprits. This investigative report was issued by the State of Maryland, but most of what's in there is pretty universal.

So, what did the state do with the findings of this expensive three year study? Why, they released them the week of Christmas, of course, when schools were out and the media was clearly focused elsewhere. The valuable information fell on deaf ears. Few, if any of the suggested solutions outlined there have been discussed since.

It's almost as if the state issued the report merely to say "we issued a report".

If there's any small upside of this study, it's that it lead funding for the tutor/mentor program that I spent the past academic year as a part of. The program wasn't without it's flaws, nor was I, but I think that at the end, between his parents, the program, and me, AverageMentee grew considerably. His grades improved, he passed all his standardized tests, and his reading comprehension grew by leaps and bounds. The obvious issue is, each and every kid can't have this sort of attention and these level of resources dedicated to them over a prolonged period of time. So, while he might have succeeded, his classmates who weren't a part of the program likely didn't. The cumulative effect on the school's No Child Left Behind status is probably going to be negligible at best.

I don't pretend to have the answers to all this stuff, I'm still just trying to figure out how to stop my son from putting his hand in the toilet. But in the meantime, I know that having more hands on deck sure wouldn't hurt. Our program is getting funding for next year, but without more volunteer mentors, you can't really help more kids. Recruiting black males willing and able to take an hour off work once a week to go tutor during school hours isn't as simple as it sounds.

I'll throw in the obligatory Take The AverageBro Challenge plug in here, but honestly, all this stuff is pretty discouraging, and borderline depressing if you dwell on it too long. So, I'll just run the question by you guys.

Question: Other than increased parental participation, what is the miracle cure for the crisis in urban education?

No Crisis For Boys In Schools, Study Says [WashPost]

Task Force on the Education of Maryland’s African-American Males Study [UMd Dept of Education]

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