When urban school leaders ask themselves why young men of color are not doing well in their schools, they may be asking the wrong question.
The real question may be why school leaders—on their watch— are allowing so many of these students to struggle in their schools.
That was the provocative beginning of the two-hour opening session of the 45th annual conference of the Council of Urban Board of Education (CUBE), which opened Thursday in Atlanta.
As she began talking of the role of school leaders in helping these students, speaker Sonya Gunnings–Moton, an assistant dean at Michigan State University’s College of Education, hammered home a series of damning facts regarding the school experience of many African-American and Latino students.
Academic performance is lower on average for minority male students compared to their white peers, she said. These students are more likely to end up suspended or expelled, assigned to a special education program, or enrolled in an under-resourced school.
They also are less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs.
This reality is disturbing enough to fuel action, Gunnings-Moton said. But, in her mind, she added, there was a more-compelling reason for her audience to return home from the conference and address the issue.
“It’s happening under our watch … this is not a history lesson,” she argued. “These are our realities today—the realities with our children.”
“One of the things I want you to be very clear about … we are responsible. This is our responsibility.”
So where to begin? Start with the research that shows that many minority male students don’t drop out of school because of poor academics, as is commonly believed, Gunnings -Moton said.
According to research, “what large populations of [these students] really did not believe, did not internalize, was the belief that going to school and being educated was going to make a difference in the outcome of their lives,” she told urban school leaders
Society, she added, has sent these students a consistent message that they will not succeed in school—and they have responded by deciding there is no need to make the attempt.
“Now that has profound implications around what we may need to think about … what it means to engage African-American males in education.”
To address this reality, urban school leaders need to go beyond the focus on instructional and management issues that has been the centerpiece of school reform efforts for the past decade, she said. Now it’s time for educators to focus on the very real social and emotional needs of young urban male students.
Efforts are needed to engage young male students in school, convince them they can succeed academically, and provide more supports to help them with the very real emotional and social issues that these students must address in a poor urban community.
Winning support to put scarce resources into such an effort can be a challenge, Gunnings-Moton agreed, but she said school leaders can argue that such efforts serve the needs of all students—and shouldn’t be looked at as an intervention solely for minority male students.
“You have a tremendous amount of data that all students who receive socio-emotional support and prevention services achieve better academically, regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” she said. “It makes sense for all students.”