When the Status Quo Is Not Good Enough

Show Me the Numbers: Challenging current academic standards can ensure black achievement in schools.

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Eliminate biases, stereotypes and misinformation from school staff: Many will say that these benchmarks are unrealistic for urban schools in impoverished communities. Those who take this position have often accepted a notion that perennial failure is endemic in the black community. Sadly, many people who hold this view are working directly with black children. This includes assumptions about black males being disaffected or socially marginalized.

Schools should operate under the philosophy that all black students are capable of the highest levels of academic achievement. To that end, I recommend having school staff view the documentary Hoodwinked, read Black People Don't Read and follow "Show Me the Numbers."

Provide trainings and resources to teachers: Understand that black males are the most likely to have teachers that are of a different race and gender, receive less pay and have fewer years teaching. As we reveal in CTSQ, the nation's teaching force is 63 percent white female, 80 percent white and less than 2 percent black male.

The federal government should provide funding to supplement teacher salaries in poor communities. Many districts have a tax structure that makes it difficult to recruit experienced and qualified teachers to poorer areas. In many districts, public school teachers in affluent areas make more than $10,000 more per year. Finally, the federal government needs to make district funding to Teach for America contingent upon them expanding the diversity of the core.

Parents also have a role to play: For their part, parents should alert local school board members, superintendents and principals of unfair treatment of their children. Such inequities might include discrepancies between college admissions criteria and high school class offerings; unfair tests or testing conditions; unreasonably harsh or inappropriate punishment; inadequate advisement of postsecondary options; denial of access to honors or Advanced Placement classes; and/or having unqualified personnel, such as a teacher, suggesting that the child has a behavior disability, might need medication or should be placed in special education. According to NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Damon Hewitt, concerns should be expressed around the issue of fundamental fairness and opportunities to learn within school districts.

Overall, parents should have the vigilance described in The Warrior Method, a book that explores how to aid black boys in becoming self-sufficient men, in today's often hostile educational climate. In addition, parents should strive to be present at the school. A recent study I completed with one of my graduate students, Brianna Lemmon, found that parents of high-achieving students visit the school at least eight times for meetings or to participate in activities throughout each academic year. Our article will be published in the next issue of the Journal of Human Behavior and the Social Environment.

Policy Advocacy

Members of the Black Male Achievement Research Collaborative and I will continue our dialogue at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference, which takes place Sept. 19-23 in Washington, D.C. Our dialogue is designed to dial down the "crisis" mantra and amplify research-based benchmarks for success.

The ALC will also be an opportunity to connect with members of Congress who have been instrumental in advancing an agenda consistent with the benchmarks proposed in CTSQ. CBC members Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) are currently encouraging members of Congress to sign a resolution to improve school climate and student achievement, raise awareness of school "pushout" (suspension) and promote dignity in schools. At last year's ALC, I partnered with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) to release the report Breaking Barriers 3, which built a foundation for CTSQ.

This year, with the help of the Open Society Foundation, the Target Foundation and The Root as a media partner, we will present an educational series at the 2012 ALC. Breaking Barriers 3: Government, Leadership and Sustainability for Black Male Achievement will be held on Friday, Sept. 21.