Black Male Success: Forget What You Know

A new report busts myths about African-American men and education.

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(The Root) Have you ever felt frustrated when so-called experts blame bad parenting, societal breakdowns and the inexplicable whims of a troubled generation for the racial achievement gap in education? Ever have the sense that explanations for problems faced by black males in particular call for more fact-based and thoughtful analysis than head shaking over things like "babies having babies" and sagging pants

If so, you're not alone. And according to Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., contributing editor at The Root and a senior research analyst at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, as well as associate professor at Howard University's School of Education, you're not wrong, either.

Co-author of a new report (pdf), "Challenge the Status Quo: Academic Success Among School-Age African American Males," Toldson says that the most recent analysis of the available data proves that "the problem with black male achievement is institutionalized and cannot be fixed with empty rhetoric."

The report, which Toldson authored with Chance W. Lewis, Ph.D., was released this week at the Democratic National Convention at an event attended by members of Congress, school superintendents, academics and conventional delegates. It's one part of an effort by the Congressional Black Caucus' Black Male Achievement Research Collective to share research that "provides social contest and counter-narratives to the pervasively negative statistics used to characterize black men and boys in the United States," by fact-checking popular reports about black male failures, placing them in context and redirecting the focus of discussion about them from problems to solutions.

Toldson says that this particular project was inspired in part by 2012 Department of Education CRDC data (PowerPoint) showing staggering opportunity gaps between black and white children in American schools. He calls the "Challenge the Status Quo" content -- analysis of national data, versus speculation, about black male achievement, plus concrete proposals for solutions -- "a challenge to all who care about black children to take an active role in resolving the very specific problems with the way education is delivered to them."

Just one example of those specific problems has to do with minority kids’ preparedness for college. According to the CRDC report, 40 percent of the public schools with the highest black and Latino enrollment in Prince George's County, Md., do not offer algebra II. Meanwhile, the University of Maryland-College Park requires not only algebra II but also at least one year of mathematics education beyond it. 

That, Toldson says, means "some public institutions in Maryland, through omission and negligence, collude to deny thousands of black, Latino and some white students the right to attend the state's flagship university."

He says that the institutional problem with race and college preparedness hit home for him when he realized that his own high school eliminated its physics course offering shortly after he graduated, meaning that had he been just a couple of years younger, he wouldn't have qualified to attend his alma mater, Louisiana State University.

That, like many elements of the problems with black male achievement, has nothing to do with individual motivation, home life or cultural norms. The data, Toldson explains, "clearly demonstrate that the problem is institutionalized," making the DNC -- packed with policymakers whose collaboration will be needed to address the issues uncovered in the reports -- an appropriate place to unveil this new analysis of it.

Additional issues raised by the report include race-related gaps in teacher preparation, compensation and discipline, as well as how black boys without disabilities end up in special education classes.