The findings in Breaking Barriers: Plotting the Path to Academic Success for School-age African-American Males detailed the factors in underachievement and offered recommendations for initiatives to foster academic success. Organizers, including the Howard University School of Education and the Open Society Institute, brought in educators and experts to recommend policy that can be undertaken in this historic era of opportunity and funding.
“This meeting is not designed to start and end,” said Dr. Ivory Toldson, the CBC Foundation’s senior research analyst and author of Breaking Barriers, in welcoming the approximately 150 guests with a call to action.
“It is designed to start a movement. It’s going to take everyone in the administration and beyond to conceptualize policies different from the ones we saw in No Child Left Behind,” said Toldson.
Under President Obama’s administration, the budget for the Department of Education is expected to nearly double next year, leaving the question of where the money will be spent. The panels discussed new pieces of legislation as well as the revision of No Child Left Behind and how the legislation will affect young Black males in schools. Each panelist made recommendations for what should be included in these policies, as well as where the funds should be directed.
“I’m always surprised when I see young Black men about to graduate 12th grade and are reading at a third grade level, [and] I’m wondering why no one’s caught this before,” said panelist Floyd Weatherspoon, a professor of law at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. He suggested school districts spend the additional resources to track schools and their African-American male students, as well as hire a “school interventionist” to keep them on the right track.
Howard University School of Education Dean Leslie T. Fenwick stressed the importance of allocating more funding to post-secondary institutions that focus on putting teachers of color in K-12 classrooms. Black and Latino students are at a disadvantage because they are 70 percent more likely to be taught by a non-certified teacher.
Experts also called for funding to conduct more research on Black male achievement and policies that promote mentorship opportunities for Black males.
The Breaking Barriers research found that feelings of happiness about life was the strongest emotional predictor of academic success among school-age black boys; the boys who did well at school were almost twice as likely to report happiness than boys who did poorly.
Panelist Dr. James Moore, director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at Ohio State, went further into the psyche of black men by drawing comparisons to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
“There’s what I call ‘invisibility syndrome,’ where our sense of humanity is not acknowledged,” he said. “It’s a phenomenon all Black men have to deal with – there’s a stigma of inferiority that follows [them] wherever they go.”
Dr. Margaret Beale Spencer, a renowned developmental psychologist and researcher, noted that school often becomes a hostile place for young Black male students, where they are treated according to the negative perceptions placed on them.
“When teachers see little Black boys engaged in rough-and-tumble play, they then label it as aggression. You can’t embrace little Black boys if you are fundamentally in fear of them,” she illustrated, adding that teacher training needs improvement.
The study recommended that, “broadly, policies aimed at supporting the academic and emotional growth of African-American males should focus on creating healthy, safe and supportive learning environments.” Friday’s meeting was the first in a series of events organized by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to enlist educators’ help in making sure that happens.
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