When the Status Quo Is Not Good Enough

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

Getty Images/The Washington Post
Getty Images/The Washington Post

10 percent or less of black students have ever been suspended: No school can make adequate progress unless they suspend students at a rate that is less than the national average for all students. In CTSQ we calculated the national suspension rate for all students at 10 percent, and 26 percent for black males, based on the High School Longitudinal Survey.

However, I recently spoke to Dr. Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies project, and Dr. Russ Skiba, the principal investigator of the Equity Project, and they recommended that the benchmark for schools should be no more than 3 percent of students suspended. They based this number on extensive analyses that revealed that racial disparities in suspensions were so pervasive that a fair benchmark should only consider the rate of suspensions among white students.

In CTSQ, we explain that disengaged learners who lack the social acuity to manage learning environments are the students most vulnerable to suspensions, not students who pose legitimate risks to the security of the school. A focus on disciplining students often competes with learning, altering teachers’ perceptions of their responsibilities toward their students. Giving support tools to disengaged students, such as tutoring, mentoring and counseling, can reconnect them to the academic process and reduce the odds that they misbehave.

One hundred percent of students involved in extracurricular activities: Schools should work to have nearly 100 percent of their students involved in extracurricular activities. In my first Breaking Barriers report, I found that extracurricular activities promote skills and values that foster a sense of attachment, commitment and responsibility to the school. Implementing more extracurricular activities, particularly those that instill school pride, appreciation of art and culture and academic identity can increase school performance and reduce violence at the school.

Unfortunately, when I ask school leaders, “What percent of your students are involved in an extracurricular activity?” the typical response is, “I don’t know.” Every school should take a homeroom survey of their students’ participation in extracurricular activities. In cases where the participation rate is low, the school should have targeted initiatives to increase involvement. Specific examples of school activities are sports teams, band, orchestra, performing arts, debate teams, honor societies, foreign language clubs, math clubs and computers and robotics clubs.

Beyond the Numbers

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.

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