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TitleProviding Solutions for Black Male Achievement 2
LanguageEnglish
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The situation confronting Black males is particularly critical in the criminal justice system. As legal scholar Michelle Alexander has noted, since
the 1970s the United States has pursued a policy of “mass incarceration.” Imprisonment is occurring on a scale that is almost unparalleled in
human history (Alexander 2010). As prison populations throughout the United States have increased dramatically over the last thirty years,
overwhelmingly, Black men have borne the brunt of the drive to incarcerate. There are now more Black men ensnared by the criminal justice system
—in prison, on probation, in county jails, or on parole—than any other racial or ethnic group, and more than all others combined. Of the more than
six million persons across the United States held in prison, more than 50 percent are Black men, and in several states, the Black male
incarceration rate is substantially higher (Alexander 2010).

Equally troubling is that prisons have literally become a growth industry, and with many prisons now managed by private firms, there are clear
financial incentives to sustain mass incarceration. In 1980 there were approximately 220 people incarcerated for every 100,000 Americans. By
2010 the incarceration rate had more than tripled (Gopnik 2012). Today there are more than 700 prisoners for every 100,000 Americans. In almost
all states, public funding for prisons has come at the expense of funding for health, transportation, and, most significantly, education. On average,
state governments now spend six times as much on prisons as they do on higher education. In New York City, the hub of the prison system is on
Rikers Island, located adjacent to LaGuardia Airport. With ten separate jails, a budget of $860 million a year, an inmate population of 14,000, and a
staff of 8,500, Rikers Island is one of the largest penal institutions in the world. The overwhelming majority of those held on Rikers Island are Black
and Latino males, and of that population, most are between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. An estimated 90 percent of the youth held at Rikers
Island today will be rearrested by the time they are twenty-eight years old.

Given the dire situation confronting African American (and in many cases Latino) males in health, the criminal justice system, and the labor
market, it would be a mistake to focus intervention efforts on education alone. Education is clearly an important arena for interventions because
there is ample evidence that individuals with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to be employed, to earn higher salaries, to live
longer, healthier lives, and to stay out of prison (Carnoy 1997). However, even as we focus on addressing the educational needs of African
American males, we must recognize that factors that are external to schools, namely parental support, peer influences, housing, crime, and public
health, also have an impact on the development and academic success of African American males. Hence, what is needed is an integrated and
holistic policy approach that aims at erecting a safety net through a system of buffers and supports, a system that would make success for Black
males more likely.

Elsewhere, I have written that although the problems confronting Black and Latino males are stunning in their magnitude and in their dire
consequences, it would be a mistake to characterize them as a “crisis” (Noguera 2008). Indeed, if in fact these problems were recognized as a
crisis, we would by now have witnessed an urgent and concerted response. After all, a crisis is by definition a temporary condition. The array of
problems confronting Black and Latino males in American society is by no means temporary, and despite several policy reports issued by private
foundations, governmental agencies, and community groups, there has in fact been no urgent response to these problems. Rather, throughout
American society these patterns have become so common, widespread, and entrenched that a recitation of the dismal statistics no longer
generates surprise or even alarm. The Black and Latino male problem has been normalized, and like other unpleasant social conditions—drug
trafficking and addiction, homelessness, child abuse—there is a widespread sense that it will always be with us.

However, the killing of Trayvon Martin and the massive amount of media attention it generated may have created an opportunity and an
opening for a more constructive approach to addressing the larger set of social and economic problems facing Black males. Perhaps Martin’s
death will compel us to realize that new policies must be formulated to respond to the challenges confronting vulnerable populations. The present
approach, which could be characterized as reactive, narrow in scope, and too focused on symptoms rather than on the underlying systemic causes,
is far too costly and ineffective to be sustained. It is with this hope that I offer the following recommendations.

The following recommendations for restructuring social institutions and redesigning public policy are necessarily framed in general terms—in order
to be effective, they would have to be modified to meet the needs of particular communities and regions. Despite their obvious limitations, these
recommendations are offered in recognition that actions can be taken now to address the needs of Black and Latino men.

Implement educational interventions early, when warning signs are present

The longer the educational hardships experienced by Black and Latino boys are ignored, the more difficult it is to address them. In several states
and school districts, policymakers have adopted measures to end “social promotion”; however, in most cases this amounts to little more than a
requirement that students who do not meet grade-level expectations be required to repeat the grade. Rarely do such policies include a plan to
diagnose the learning needs of students who have fallen behind or to provide access to high-quality interventions, such as Reading Recovery and
other response to intervention (RTI) programs that have been shown to be effective (Slavin, Karweit, and Madden 1989). A substantial body of
research has shown that over-age students are at substantial risk of dropping out of school (Gates Foundation 2006). Moreover, in states and
school districts where grade-retention policies have been implemented, there are still large numbers of students enrolling in high school who lack
basic literacy (Mimms, Stock, and Phinizy 2001).

Instead of merely requiring students to repeat a grade in school, school districts would be better off increasing access to quality early-
childhood programs, providing expanded access to extended learning opportunities after school and during the summer, and utilizing targeted
interventions to cultivate literacy and bilingualism during the elementary years to ensure that students have the literacy skills required to succeed in
secondary school (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000). A vast body of research has shown that these types of initiatives and interventions can be effective
in improving academic outcomes for students (Fashola and Slavin 1997; Rothstein 2004; Kirp 2011). There is no reason that such interventions
would not also work for Black and Latino boys.

Design interventions to be holistic and integrated

Policy interventions must be designed in a comprehensive manner in order to respond to the broad range of individual needs—economic, social,

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Evaluate interventions regularly and modify them as necessary

Be sensitive to ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic differences

Avoid stigmatizing those in need

Consider both individual and institutional/systemic levels of change

Create a context for supportive interpersonal interactions

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In sum, these strategies need to be as comprehensive as the challenges these students face, for it is typically the joint force of multiple reforms
and how they are locked together and integrated that appears to make all the difference in improving student achievement. It will not be enough to
purchase a program stamped “Black Male” and think the issue has been solved, when the remaining levers of the school system are stacked
against these students.

As the preceding chapters of this volume discuss at considerable length, supporting African American male students will require a shift in the
approach of educators and communities alike, as well as greater collaboration between schools, families, and community-based organizations on
behalf of African American males.

Moreover, these efforts need to be rooted in a belief in the potential of our African American students, and a commitment to not only holding
students to these high standards, but holding teachers, schools, leaders, and communities accountable for the academic attainment of all of our
students.

Casserly, Michael, et al. 2011. Pieces of the Puzzle: Factors in the Improvement of Urban School Districts on the National Assessment of
Educational Progress. Washington, DC: Council of the Great City
Schools, http://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/36/Pieces%20of%20the%20Puzzle_FullReport.pdf.

Lachlan-Haché, Jonathon, Manish Naik, and Michael Casserly. 2012. The School Improvement Grant Rollout in America’s Great City Schools.
Washington, DC: Council of the Great City Schools, http://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/4/SIG%20Report.pdf.

Snipes, Jason, Fred Doolittle, and Corinne Herlihy. 2002. Foundations for Success: Case Studies of How Urban School Systems Improve
Student Achievement. MDRC for the Council of the Great City Schools, http://www.mdrc.org/publications/47/execsum.html.

[1] The achievement gap between Black and White students within each city did not necessarily narrow, however.

[2] Under the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, a Tier I school is either a Title I participating school that is identif ied for school improvement, corrective action, or restructuring under No Child Left Behind or has a graduation
rate lower than 60 percent; or is a school that is at least as low-achieving as the highest achieving of the previously described schools and has either not made adequate yearly progress for at least two consecutive years or has a reading
and math prof iciency rate in the lowest quintile of its state. A Tier II school can be any secondary school that is among the lowest f ive secondary schools that are Title I eligible or the lowest 5 percent of schools, whichever is greater; or is a
Title I-eligible (but not participating) school that has a graduation rate lower than 60 percent over a number of years.

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Thank You to Our Report Sponsor

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company is a sponsor of the Council of the Great City Schools' summit: A National Summit on Educational
Excellence and Opportunity for African American Males. As part of its sponsorship of the summit, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company is
proud to provide —a collection of essays written by leaders of large urban
school districts. The opinions and statements made in each essay are those of the individual author and in no way represent the opinions or
statements of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company or the Council of the Great City Schools.

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