A new report was released Tuesday that made the education of black males sound even more dire than many already thought. A study commissioned by the Council of the Great City School says "Black males continue to perform lower than their peers throughout the country on almost every indicator."
The report calls the educational gap a "catastrophe" that needs intervention from the highest levels.
According to the report black males are:
■ "Twice as likely to live in a household where no parent had full-time or year-round employment in 2008," and in 2007, "one out of every three black children lived in poverty compared with one out of every 10 white children."Some of these statistics weren't particularly surprising to me. Others were, like the fact that if only 12 percent of black fourth grade boys are proficient in reading but ONLY 33 percent of white boys are too, that means the vast majority of American boys, white or black, can't read at their grade levels. Thirty-three percent should be scary to white people, although I doubt anyone will suggest that someone commission a national study about this.
■ According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2009, only 12 percent of black male fourth graders performed at or above proficient levels in reading. White males at the same grade level are at 38 percent proficiency.
■ Only 9 percent of black male eighth graders across the country perform at or above the proficient level in reading. For white males it is 33 percent nationwide.
■ The average African American fourth or eighth grade male "does no any better in reading or math on the NAEP than white males who are poor."
■ Black males are almost twice as likely to drop out of high school that white males, with 9 percent of black males dropping out of high school in 2008 compared to 5 percent of white males.
■ Black males score an average of 104 points lower than white males on the SAT in reading.
■ In general, only one-third of black students were likely to meet ACT college readiness benchmarks compared to white students.
■ Also Black students are less likely to participate in academic clubs, "more likely to be suspended from school, and more likely to be retained in grade than their white peers."
■ And in 2008, black males ages 18 and up only accounted for 5 percent of the college population, while black males make up 36 percent of the prison population.
And while I understood why the info about this report mainly compared boys to boys I really wanted to see the data on black and white girls for comparison. Black girls are coming out of those same neighborhoods and same households as black boys. The perception has been, for years, that academically black girls are out-performing black boys. At least if one is to use college enrollment as an indicator.
According to the American Council on Education, 63 percent of black college undergraduates are women. Again, these are the same black women growing up in poverty, coming from households where neither parent may hold down or job, or are likely being raised by a single parent. I once had a long talk with a male friend who was convinced that Title IX (gender parity in academics) was the reason fewer black men were enrolled in college, to which it took all my strength not to curse him out.
Like many, he focused on how Title IX has been used as an excuse to eliminate certain athletic programs, like Olympic sports, on college campuses. (I say excuse because if you have a solid football and/or basketball program those programs usually handily pay for all university sports programs, but often when it's time for budget cuts, NO ONE is EVER going to cut any money from football or basketball, so who is going to get the knife here?) He felt because many black schools had smaller sports programs or had even eliminated some sports, this was the reason fewer black men were attending. (Again, I don't think is the fault of Title IX, but an adverse affect of larger, wealthier white schools getting the best black student athletes, destroying once vibrant programs at historically black institutions.)
If Howard University is teeming with female students it is not the fault of Title IX or the female students. Most students aren't athletes. Most students are just that, students. Athletic programs don't have anything to do with the high school drop out rate, college preparedness, entrance exams and qualifying for enrollment. I don't get the impression that it's because of Title IX that Howard and other schools have so many female students, but female students are the main people applying to go there, the main one's qualifying and the main ones finishing.
Believe me, Howard and other black universities aren't lacking for male students because they're turning boys away. On the contrary, a lot of black schools would scream to the heavens if they sudden received an influx of qualified male applicants. And black males aren't refusing to go to an HCBU because the lacrosse team's budget got slashed. Black males aren't making it to college because something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
I don't think it's just one thing, but a lot of little things that all add up to academic disaster. And if Charlie LeDuff's story about the city of Detroit and the children who live there taught me one thing, your son can do all the right things -- avoid trouble, stay in school, enroll in ROTC, be a good kid, considering the military or college after graduation -- and become a statistic due to a toxic environment that didn't just start being toxic a week ago, or a year ago, but has been that way for decades.
This is why boot-strap speeches always rang so hollow for me. Just because my parents made it out isn't some indicator that any and everyone could do it. A lot of factors were at play that helped them get out of poverty. A sorority sister who worked in the financial aid office. A teacher who took a special interest. Parents, who despite not having much, set the example as hard workers and had rules and expectations for their kids. Still, one false move and you're pregnant, or you're in jail, or you're homeless. And sometimes you don't even have to do anything wrong. Just live in the wrong neighborhood or have a relative who's an ex-convict or have a parent who's abusive or an addict. Have poor access to medical care, decent food, a decent house, be exposed to lead paint, move all the time, go to a terrible school that has been terrible for so long no one remembers what a good school looks like, live in an area where it takes 12 minutes or longer for the ambulance to show up, if it shows up at all. Live in a town where 70 percent of the murders go unsolved.
Instead of monkeys on your back, these kids have 800 lbs gorillas no one wants to acknowledge. At least my parents were just poor and went to inferior schools with old books. They didn't have to worry about getting shot or grow up during the crack epidemic.
But that still doesn't quite explain why black women from the same circumstances, at least academically, appear to do better, especially when black women deal with not just the poverty, violence and inferior schools, but racism and sexism. By no means are black women living in some kind of paradise. A vast majority of African Americans, male or female, are more likely to be poor at some point in their lives (last time I checked that stat was something horrifying like 9 out of 10). Black women are less likely to get married, not because they don't want to, but because many feel they can't find suitable husbands. Both black men and women struggle more with a variety of health issues, suffer in silence from mental illness, raise kids alone, are abused or the victims of violence, etc. etc.
But that still doesn't explain the academic gap. Anyone have any theories?
Question: Why are black boys doing so terribly in the classroom? What are you personally doing to ensure that your son/nephew doesn't become a harrowing statistic?
A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools [PDF Doc]