To make a difference in the lives of young men of color, urban school boards need to review the policies and priorities directed at the needs of this population—but they also need to make certain that these policies and priorities are reality at the school level.
That was the advice offered by a panel of educators speaking at the 45th Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Conference in Atlanta last weekend.
Discussing possible school board strategies to help these students, panelist Carl Harris, a one-time superintendent and former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, suggested conference attendees begin by taking a closer look at what was happening in their schools.
“In too many settings, we have a beautiful mission, a beautiful vision of where we want to take our schools, but when we look at how we operate day to day as a school or district, there’s a disconnect,” he said.
An example of this disconnect might be the difference between a school board’s academic hopes for minority male students and the disproportionate number of these students assigned to special education. The panel’s facilitator, Kendall Lee, a board services consultant with the Ohio School Boards Association, asked panelists how to address the issue.
Look at the data—and ask tough questions about why the district’s outcomes aren’t aligned with the district’s goals, Harris said. “My experiences working with school boards across the country is that, in many case, the data is not put directly in front of school boards as much as it should be.”
The answer is no different when examining a district’s disciplinary policies, panelists said. Statistics show that young black males are suspended or expelled at far greater rates than other students, a practice that forces students out of the classroom and discourages their interest in school.
“It’s an American shame,” said panelist Van Henri White, a school board member in Rochester, N.Y., and a member of the CUBE Steering Committee. “Our leaders aren’t treating our people right.”
Inappropriately assigning students to special education classes or disciplining them excessively undermines students’ hopes and risks putting them into the school-to-prison pipeline, panelists said. These are messages that only heighten the negative and hope-deflating experiences, such as police harassment, that these students face on the streets.
Indeed, talking to jailed young men, White said, he’s seen “the frustration of young men of color who do not believe they have an honest shot at the American Dream. They believe the deck is stacked against them, and they do not have a chance to succeed in the classroom, the courtroom, or in the boardroom.”
That reality puts school boards in the “business of saving and rescuing” these students, said panelist Ron Walker, executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color said. “It’s non-negotiable to stand up and save our sons.”
It would help if schools had more black and Latino male role models in the schools—to show young students that academic success is possible, suggested Lee, and the panel talked of the challenges of recruiting and retaining such hard-to-find teachers.
Yet, Walker noted that the demographics are not in school boards’ favor, and, ultimately, there was no guarantee that simply having male teachers will allow schools to reach out successfully to students.
“It’s not a forgone conclusion that if, you have black male teachers, that they’ll be culturally proficient,” he said. “Some of us, who look like me, are as close to culturally proficient as I am to the moon.”
What’s needed, Walker suggested, is better recruitment and professional development to ensure that more teachers understand the needs of young men of color.
“We’re not going to get the influx of black and brown teachers we’re going to need,” he said. “So everyone needs to be culturally proficient.”