“Recently I was ‘caught’ reading at McDonald’s by a group of kids at my school. I say ‘caught’ because many of my peers consider reading to be a lame activity. They think it’s something that only geeks do.”
Anthony went on to share the encounter with one of the students:
“One girl name Tiffany walked up and said ‘Is that a…’ she rubbed her eyes and acted like she couldn’t believe what I was doing…book?’ she finished in a sarcastic, incredulous way.”
Anthony provides a critique as to why developing high levels of literacy is important and goes on to provide insight into a common cultural construct among urban youth in general and African-American youth in particular:
“Black youth culture prizes guys who play ball, bag girls, dance, and rap. Simply reading a book is considered passive or introverted. Or it’s considered a ‘white thing’—something black kids, especially black boys, shouldn’t be caught doing if they want to be popular.”
In would be enough to applaud Anthony for his brilliant critique on youth culture, however, Anthony provides insight into current research:
“I think some kids hold themselves back academically for those reasons. I know I feel slightly wary in school after hearing my peers say that people who read have no lives.
African-American and Hispanic males have the lowest high school graduation rates in the U.S. We need to step up our performance in order to compete. With the economy the way it is, the chances for black youth to succeed can look pretty slim, and if we don’t like to read, those chances get even slimmer. So, the next time you’re killing time by updating your status on Facebook or watching TV, think about reading a book instead. It helps more than you know.”
For those youth, parents, and educators who might consider Anthony a nerd, consider the following questions:
- How many college scholarship opportunities are there for students who play sports, watch hours of television, play hours of video games, or accumulate hundreds of hours updating their Facebook or other social media pages?
- How many college scholarship opportunities are there for students based on the high school GPA, course taking, SAT/ACT scores, and AP exam scores?
Despite the national hype and highly publicized athletic scholarships, few students receive such scholarships and the amount of such scholarships pale in comparison to the amount of private scholarships and institutional grants (both merit- and need-based) available to students as a result of their GPA; SAT, ACT, PSAT, and AP exam scores as outlined in my book, “Show Me the Money: A Quick Guide to Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Making the Right College Choice.” However, as you ponder these questions, consider the following research from the U.S. Department of Education’s report, “The Condition of Education: 2012.”
Black students have comparable postsecondary aspirations as students from other racial groups (Figure 35-1):
- 61 percent of White students have plans to graduate from a 4-year college
- 59 percent of Black students have plans to graduate from a 4-year college
- 50 percent of Hispanic students have plans to graduate from a 4-year college
However, despite such aspirations, there is a huge gap in the graduation rates for Black students from 4-year colleges and universities when compared to the graduation rates of other racial groups (Figure 45-2):
- 62 percent of White students receive their 4-year degree in 6 years
- 50 percent of Hispanic students receive their 4-year degree in 6 years
- 39 percent of Black students receive their 4-year degree in 6 years
Clearly, Anthony’s focus on reading and literacy will better prepare him to achieve the aspirations that he shares with 59 percent of his peers. Perhaps, if you are a student who is being accused of being a nerd, you might share these statistics with your peers so that they might consider whether their current attitude toward education and learning is consistent with their future aspirations. Anthony’s classmates might also be interested in knowing that only 10 percent of Black males are proficient in reading by eighth grade suggesting that Anthony’s peers might view him as doing what 9 out of 10 of them should be doing. His peers might also like to know how they compare to other college-bound students who took the ACT in 2012. If the students are not interested then certainly their parents, coaches, teachers, and counselors should be!
Finally, the last table, “Probability of Competing Beyond High School” shows that those students who are developing their, “Athletic SWAG” are likely to have far fewer college/career options and opportunities than those students, like Anthony, who are developing their “Academic SWAG!”
Why focus on demographically identifiable subgroups?
One of the challenges in my work with schools, faith-based organizations, and community agencies is to get them to take a holistic view of student achievement within the context of demographically identifiable subgroups. By this, I mean raising the question, “How are students from our ‘demographic group’ faring in their journey from kindergarten through college?” The question itself provides a much more salient focus than does national high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student loan rates, and student performance. As Ministry Leaders for the Education Ministry at the Turner Chapel AME Churchin Marietta, Georgia, my wife and I must concern ourselves with how students like the students who attend our church are doing in their journey from kindergarten into college and careers. To do anything else would cloud our judgment and shift our focus from the challenges that are unique to their demographic group.
From the ACT report, “African American Students, The Condition of College & Career Readiness: Class of 2012” we learn that among 2012 high school graduates who took the ACT college entrance examination, the following reflected the percentage of all students who met the ACT college readiness benchmarks in the four subject-areas tested:
- 67 percent of all students met the benchmark in English
- 52 percent of all students met the benchmark in Reading
- 46 percent of all students met the benchmark in Mathematics
- 31 percent of all students met the benchmark in Science
While the percentage of all students meeting the college-readiness benchmarks may be disappointing, the percentage of African American meeting the benchmarks is tragic. Of the 222,237 African American high school seniors taking the ACT, there was as much as a three-fold gap in their performance and that of students from other demographic groups with only 5 percent of African American students meeting the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas. As evidenced by the illustration below, it is critically important for students, parents, teachers, institutions, and organizations to take demographic subgroup performance data into consideration when determining the scope of what must be done (whether as an individual student choosing to participate in a study group, a parent choosing to enroll their child in tutoring, or an organization choosing to initiate a college/career readiness program).
What it Means and What We Must Do
Demographic subgroup data should:
- Sensitize students to how students from their demographic subgroup are performing in comparison to other students
- Provide a catalyst for conversations between teachers and parents concerned with intervention
- Guide organizations concerned with subgroup performance (i.e., faith-based institutions, sororities, fraternities, and community-based organizations) in developing initiatives and focusing their outreach efforts
A Working Model
National and local subgroup performance data (i.e., SAT/ACT scores, high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, AP course enrollment, performance on state testing and end-of-course exams, and student loan debt) have been the driving force behind our work in the Turner Chapel AME Church’s Education Ministry. The types of initiatives we have implemented in response to such demographic subgroup data provides a model for other institutions and organizations concerned with the plight of the students and families they serve.
The workshops that we provide sensitize students and parents to the tragically low K-12 student performance of African American students. Through the plethora of published research, we are able to paint a clear picture of performance outcomes for African American students during their P-16 journey from elementary school through college graduation. While the data is tragic for the entire group, only 10 percent of African American males are proficient in reading by 8th grade.
Beyond the raw data are research studies pertaining to the “anti-intellectual” peer culture many African American students find themselves confronted with where it is not cool to be black and smart. However, with over 60 percent of African American ACT-test takers enrolling into a postsecondary institution following their high school graduation, there is a very important context to frame all of this data in discussions with parents and their children,
“Only 5 percent of African American students are college-ready,
while 60 percent of African American students are pursuing college!
Subsequently, rather than languishing over the 95 percent
who are not college-ready at the end of 12th grade,
let’s focus on what we must do for the 60 percent
who are going to enter college! Placing the data into
such a context can lead to some very remarkable initiatives.”
While the information workshops serve as a catalyst for parents and students to accept a proactive role in closing the gap between African American students and other subgroups, the training workshops provide the necessary guidance in closing the gap and expanding students’ college options. By drawing on the immense college knowledge and professional capacity of our church members, we offer workshops in essay writing, résumé development, interviewing, course planning, leadership, community service, choosing right summer camps, marketing students to top colleges, college and scholarship research, and college application packaging.
In much the way as other communities make a big deal about athletic competitions, we make a big deal about academic achievement. We publicly acknowledge students in grades K – 12 who earn a 3.0 GPA or higher through 2 bi-annual academic celebrations. Students earn an academic achievement medal, their names are printed in the church bulletin, they are publicly acknowledged via a PowerPoint presentation, their names are publicly called before the entire congregation, and they are publicly celebrated in a reception held in their honor.
To ensure that students who are inspired to do better can, and students who are doing well have the opportunity to pursue even more rigorous course work, we offer tutoring in math and reading.
To ensure that students in grades 3 – 8 are able to perform successfully on Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Content Tests, we offer two months of test prep sessions in reading and math.
The Next Episode
In response to well publicized research pertaining to the “college knowledge gap,” which indicates that many African American students and families lack sufficient information pertaining to college planning, college readiness, and college access, we work monthly with high school juniors and seniors guiding them through the college planning and financial aid processes. Through these efforts we have students who have been recognized as Gates Millennium Scholars, Posse Foundation Scholars, and have received full need-based and merit-based scholarships to some of America’s best colleges and universities.
To ensure that students are exposed to the full spectrum of colleges and universities, we host an annual college fair where some 50 colleges and universities from local technical schools to some of the country’s most highly selective colleges and universities are represented. Over 2500 students and parents annually have the opportunity to expand their understanding of what it takes to be admitted and what level of student performance is required to be college ready.
College Panel Discussion
We host an annual college discussion panel of current college students from a broad range of public, private, technical schools, military service academies, selective, and highly selective colleges and universities who provide candid insight into how they got admitted, what they have to do to be successful, how much support their institution provide, the differences between PWIs and HBCUs, and what they wish they had done differently while attending high school.
Beyond the college fair where students see brochures and listen to recruiters, we ensure that students are able to visit campuses and speak to admission officers face-to-face to further assist students in understanding what is required to be college ready and to be competitive in the college admissions process.
11th and 12th Grade College and Financial Aid Planning Cohorts
Our newest initiative is to work hands-on with 11th and 12th grade students and their parents to ensure that students are college ready, understand the many financial aid options and opportunities, and guided toward the right college choices based on each student’s unique need, gifts, talents, and circumstances.
High School Graduation Celebration
The annual high school graduation celebration provides a formal and very public opportunity to highlight where students have been accepted into college, how much money students have received in scholarships and institutional grants, and how successful students have been in their K-12 performance to ensure they are college ready.
All of these initiatives are in response to demographic subgroup data. Each initiative is led by a parent, educator, counselor, minister, or student who has accepted a role in increasing student outcomes. While anyone can look at student performance data and point the blame at schools, teachers, students, or families—it takes very special people to accept a personal role in changing outcomes. I believe that such special people exist within each church, fraternity, sorority, school, and community. Please contact us if you would like us to show you how to get started.
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit our Facebook Page: Turner Chapel AME Education Ministry
Although STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related careers are considered to represent the most important employment and highest paying job/career opportunities of the future, the recent report by the Fordham Institute, “The State of State Science Standards,” reports that most states are not preparing students for these type of jobs or careers.
24 states received a grade of ‘D’ or ‘F’: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Only six states received a grade of ‘A’ or ‘A-‘: California, District of Columbia, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Unfortunately, this lack of preparation in school districts is reflected in student ACT performance. Following is student performance data on the 2011 ACT in the areas of math and science as it relates to the percentage of students from each demographic group considered to be “college ready”:
- 71 percent of Asian students were considered college ready in math and 46 percent were considered college ready in science
- 54 percent of White students were considered college ready in math and 37 percent were considered college ready in science
- 30 percent of Hispanic students were considered college ready in math and 15 percent were considered college ready in science
- 14 percent of Black students were considered college ready in math and 6 percent were considered college ready in science
The documentary, “2 Million Minutes” provides an important, if not ominous look into how STEM education in the U.S. is losing ground to such countries as China and India—countries where U.S. companies are actively recruiting to fill STEM-related jobs. The movie examines how students allocate their 2 million minutes of time over the course of four years of high school. While U.S. students allocate their time across a wide range of extracurricular activities, video game playing, and social interests, their Indian and Chinese counterparts are allocating their 2 million minutes to a much deeper range of scholarly and intellectual pursuits. In those countries, extracurricular activities and social time are not totally absent, they merely represent less of a priority.
Interestingly, the U.S. students profiled in the movie trailer are students in the top 5 percent of their class attending the nation’s best high schools. Panelists in the movie trailer provide some insightful comments into not only where our children place their priorities, but where parents place their priorities. High school basketball and football games have overflowing crowds, while chess competitions, science fairs, and academic celebrations are sparsely attended by parents, ineffectively promoted by schools, and little thought of by students.
The lesson for parents, students, and communities is clear, “Change your priorities and change student outcomes!”
The illustration above is from the National Black Male College Achievement Study by Penn University Professor Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D., “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education.” The study provides a different research perspective as to the plight of Black males in gaining access to, and succeeding in, higher education. As opposed to a deficit-based perspective seeking to identify all of the challenges to Black male educational attainment, Dr. Harper examines the support mechanisms and assets of Black males who have successfully navigated P-16 education into advanced degrees and a broad range of careers.
Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College, is quoted as noting the importance of the 5Ms, “Messaging, Mentoring, Monitoring, Ministering, and Money,” as representing important areas of strategic thinking for policymakers:
- What are the messages being sent to Black males as they navigate their P – 16 journey through higher education?
- What type of mentoring are they in need of as they progress through early adolescence, puberty, and into manhood?
- What monitoring mechanisms are needed to monitor their academic achievement, social development, intellectual and creative development?
- What type of ministering to their sense of social, community, spiritual, and humanitarian consciousness is needed?
- And finally, what type of financial support, i.e., money, will they need to gain access to, and support themselves, through college degree attainment?
Dr. Harper provides important insight into how reframing deficit-oriented questions such as:
- Why do so few Black male students enroll in college?
- What are Black male students’ grade point averages often the lowest among both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups on many campuses?
- How were aspirations for postsecondary education cultivated among Black male students who are currently enrolled in college?
- What resources are most effective in helping Black male achievers earn GPAs above 3.0 in a variety or majors, including STEM fields?
I was particularly pleased to note that the Pre-College Socialization and Readiness questions reflected in Dr. Harper’s Anti-Deficit Achievement Framework are being addressed through our work at the foundation and through our partnership with the Turner Chapel AME Church Education Ministry. As a result of Dr. Harper’s research, we now have plans to incorporate additional questions pertaining to college achievement and post-college success into our College Panel Discussions. Parents and students should incorporate such questions into their college research and evaluation efforts:
- What transition support does the college offer for incoming freshmen who may not have had adequate preparation in their secondary schools?
- Are class sizes, student-faculty ratios, and campus culture best suited to student needs?
- What opportunities are provided for students to foster relationships with instructors?
- What opportunities are provided for students to engage in research and internships?
- What support and encouragement is provided to stimulate and nurture students’ degrees beyond the baccalaureate?
While raising such questions is important for all students considering their many postsecondary opportunities, there is a critically important question that parents of Black males, and students themselves must consider, “How will the institution treat me while I am there and how will the institution prepare me for the type of racism I am likely to encounter as I pursue graduate or professional degrees and enter the post-college workplace?” Answering this question was important in guiding the college choice of our older son, who ultimately chose Amherst College, and in part, guided our younger son in narrowing the list of colleges to which he has applied:
- Amherst College
- University of Pennsylvania
- Northwestern University
- Washington University
Important findings for parents, educators, and policymakers to take into consideration are:
When asked, “Did you always know you were going to college?” the overwhelming majority of students responded, ‘Yes—it was never a question of if, but where.’ From boyhood through high school, parents and other family members reinforced to the achievers that college was the most viable pathway to social uplift and success. Interestingly, nearly half the participants came from homes where neither parent had attained a bachelor’s degree. Although they had little or no firsthand experience with higher education, these parents cultivated within their children a belief that college was the only allowable next step after high school.
When asked what differentiated their own paths from those of their peers who were not enrolled in college, the participants almost unanimously cited parenting practices. Their friends’ parents, the achievers believed, did not consistently maintain high expectations and were not as involved in their sons’ schooling. By contrast, most of the achievers’ parents and family members more aggressively sought out educational resources to ensure their success—tutoring and academic support programs, college preparatory initiatives, and summer academies and camps, to name a few.
Some of the key recommendations from the study are:
- Importance of consistently high parent expectations
- Equipping Families with College Knowledge
- Culturally sensitizing teachers, counselors, and postsecondary faculty to the practices and processes that are harmful to student achievement and aspirations
- Importance of college preparatory experiences
- Removal of financial barriers
- Importance of summer bridge programs
- Assuming institutional responsibility for Black males student engagement
Much of what is echoed through the reflections of the young men in the study as well as the key recommendations are reflected through our work with students and families:
- Closing the college-knowledge gap
- Assisting parents and students in identifying summer and pre-college programs
- Developing writing and communication skills
- Engaging in college research
- Identifying sources of financial aid
- Identifying the best college choice
- Preparing quality application packages to be considered for admissions into highly-selective colleges and universities
- Providing academic tutorial support
- Developing a sense of social and community consciousness
Perhaps most importantly, reinforcing the message, “It is not if you are going to college, only where are you going to college!” We are eagerly anticipating Dr. Harper’s forthcoming book, “Exceeding Expectations: How Black male Students Succeed in College.”
Many of the factors articulated as having contributed to the success of the Black men interviewed in Dr. Harper’s research are reflected in research findings from Ivory Toldson, Ph.D., in, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males” and in The Journal of Negro Education issue, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males”:
- Importance of parents and family as an important contributor to Black male achievement
- Importance of educational institutions in involving parents in school readiness and collaborating with parents to ensure nurturing and supportive actualizing school-based experiences for Black youth
- Benefits of an authoritative parenting style on Black male behavior and academic achievement
- Impact of after-school programs, tutoring, social skills training/group counseling, recreational, and cultural activities on strengthening Black male academic achievement
- Types of classroom environment and learning experiences cultivated by classroom teachers
- Impact of race-related experiences on Black male achievement
Another important recommendation is:
“Religiously affiliated institutions should provide tutoring, mentoring, preparatory workshops for college entrance tests, scholarship for the talented but underprivileged, assistance with college applications, youth summer jobs/programs, assistance to poor families, and spirual services and assistance to Black male inmates and to former inmates who have transitioned back to the community.”
There is clearly a role that faith-based and community organizations must accept if we are to increase the numbers of academically successful Black males.
Wake County Public Schools’ Saturday Speaker Institute
I was honored at having been invited to speak at the distinguished Wake County Public Schools’ Saturday Speaker Institute. I was equally gratified to have so many educators set aside their Saturday to engage in discussions with colleagues around the very important issue of Increasing Black Male Achievement.
Some of the important information shared was:
- Disaggregated student performance and college enrollment data and how it should be used to drive strategic discussions
- The importance of identifying successful Black males at the secondary school and postsecondary school level to engage in conversations with Black males in elementary, middle, and high school
- How to develop strategies that are “Research-Responsive”
- The importance of understanding your personal journey and how it can connect you to the challenges, experiences, hopes, and dreams of your students
- Why you must focus your strategic discussions on those areas that you believe to be the greatest contributing factors to the low performance of Black males within your school community
- The importance of identifying and supporting the “Champions” within your school community as exemplified by such champions as Marva Collins, Urban Prep Charter High School, and Morehouse College
From the table discussions and the commitment that many in attendance made to immediately implementing strategies provides us with hope. The personal responsibility that many accepted to implement strategies within their personal sphere of influence provides an example—we need not wait on new programs, a new curriculum, or new policy. We can make a difference in the academic outcomes and shape a more positive future for children today. We can make a difference through the relationships that we cultivate and strategies that we implement.
As we approach the winter break, after the first of the year, most students will be receiving their first semester report cards. Parents should sit down with their children and carefully review their grades and the type of classes that students are taking. For example an ‘A’ in an AP class is not the same as an ‘A’ in an on-level class, just as an ‘A’ in PE is not the same as an ‘A’ in Calculus. As parents, we must not only encourage, support, and celebrate our children’s grades, we must ensure that they are learning. The failure to ensure that our children are developing the proper foundation in reading and math can lead to dire results when, as high school seniors, they find themselves neither college ready nor college bound.
Consider the following trends as they pertain to student performance in reading and math on elementary school and middle school assessments, through their performance on the ACT as potentially college-bound seniors.
The 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Math report indicates that for fourth- and eighth-graders:
- Nationally, only 33 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in math
- In many urban school districts, the percentage of fourth-grade students demonstrating math proficiency is less than 20 percent
- Nationally, only 26 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in math
- In many urban school districts, the percentage of eighth-grade students demonstrating math proficiency is less than 15 percent
Nationally, by eighth grade, many students are not only performing below proficiency, they have fallen off of the college pathway altogether into lower level math classes:
- Only 33 percent of eighth-graders are taking algebra
- 22 percent of eighth-graders are taking pre-algebra or introduction to algebra
- 26 percent of eighth-graders are taking basic or general math
- In many large urban areas, less than 20 percent of students are taking algebra by eighth grade
The 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Reading report indicates that:
- Nationally, only 34 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading (as low as 14 percent in some racial groups)
- Since 1992, the percentage of fourth-graders demonstrating proficiency in reading has only increased 5 percentage points
- Nationally, only 34 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading (as low as 14 percent in some racial groups)
- Since 1992, the percentage of eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency in reading has only increased 5 percentage points
The ACT Report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness: 2011” provides important warnings for parents of elementary school and middle school students. The percentage of students considered “college-ready” in each of the four subject-areas tested on the ACT are:
- 66 percent in English
- 52 percent in Reading
- 45 percent in Math
- 30 percent in Science
- 25 percent in all four subjects
- 28 percent of students are not ready for college in any subject-area
Student performance varied widely, with the following percentages considered college-ready in all subject-areas by racial group:
- 41 percent of Asians
- 31 percent of Whites
- 11 percent of Hispanics
- 11 percent of Native Americans
- 4 percent of Blacks
Most students’ college dreams far exceed their level of college preparation:
- 85 percent of White students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 31 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
- 84 percent of Asian students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 41 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
- 80 percent of Black students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 4 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
- 78 percent of Hispanic students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only11 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
- 78 percent of Native American students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 11 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
Although 8 out of 10 of our children aspire to go to college, less than 3 in 10 have been prepared by the 12th grade to succeed in college. We, as parents, must do more to monitor our children’s learning during the critical elementary-through-middle school years. We must look beyond their report card grades to what they have actually learned!
If parents and students are relying on their middle school and high school counselors to provide the necessary guidance for college and career preparation then they are likely to find themselves in trouble. The research has long indicated that counselors are overwork, overloaded with non-counseling responsibilities, and responsible for far too many students. The Education Week article, “Counselors See Conflicts in Carrying Out Mission” highlights the challenges facing middle school and high school counselors and provide startling news for parents and students:
- 9 out of 10 counselors believe that ensuring that all students have access to high-quality education and that they graduate well-equipped for college and careers, however, less than 4 out of 10 believe that their schools share such goals
- Less than 2 out of 10 (19 percent) counselors in high-poverty schools said their college and career readiness was part of their school’s day-to-day mission
- Counselors reported caseloads of 368 students per counselor in most schools and 427 students per counselor in high poverty schools
- Counselors reported that a disproportionate amount of their training is directed at crisis intervention, group counseling, and human growth as opposed to college and career planning
The CollegeBoard identifies 8 components of College and Career Readiness Counseling, as essential to expanding college and career preparation:
- College Aspirations: Build a college-going culture based on early college awareness by nurturing in students the confidence to aspire to college and the resilience to overcome challenges along the way.
- Academic Planning for College and Career Readiness: Advance students’ planning, preparation, participation and performance in a rigorous academic program that connects to their college and career aspirations and goals.
- Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement: Ensure equitable exposure to a wide range of extracurricular and enrichment opportunities that build leadership, nurture talents and interests, and increase engagement with school.
- College and Career Exploration and Selection Processes: Provide early and ongoing exposure to experiences and information necessary to make informed decisions when selecting a college or career that connects to academic preparation and future aspirations.
- College and Career Assessments: Promote preparation, participation and performance in college and career assessments by all students.
- College Affordability Planning: Provide students and families with comprehensive information about college costs, options for paying for college, and the financial aid and scholarship processes and eligibility requirements, so they are able to plan for and afford a college education.
- College and Career Admission Processes: Ensure that students and families have an early and ongoing understanding of the college and career application and admission processes so they can find the postsecondary options that are the best fit with their aspirations and interests.
- Transition from High School Graduation to College Enrollment: Connect students to school and community resources to help the students overcome barriers and ensure the successful transition from high school to college.
Visionary Leaders Principal’s Institute (Presented at the NABSE Conference in New Orleans, LA)
At today’s Visionary Leaders Principal’s Institute participants were led through important strategic discussions as a precursor to identifying the people, programs, and practices needed to cultivate a high-performing school culture. In attendance were school board members, administrators, teachers, staff persons, and community representatives from throughout the United States and Canada.
Some of the important information shared was:
- Most children want to attend college despite the reality that few children are considered “college ready” after graduating from high school
- Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, the former Marva Collin’s Westside Preparatory School, Urban Prep Charter High School, and Morehouse College have proven that high achievement can be achieved with the nation’s lowest performing student group (i.e., African-American males)
- Each school must identify the “Champions” needed to reach students, implement programs, or transform school culture
- Each school must conceptualized the necessary strategies to support their Champions and identify the funding sources to ensure that their Champions are able to meet the needs of all students–from the highest performing to the lowest performing
During my second presentation, participants were led through some of the issues outlined in the book, “Increasing Achievement & Inspiring Parent Involvement” necessary to sensitize staff persons to the real issues confronting students and families.
Participants explored the importance of engaging staff persons, mentors, and volunteers in such conversations as:
- How a focus on learning necessitates developing an understanding of students and families
- Understanding what has shaped the world view of students of color and families living in poverty
- Understanding how to ease student anxiety
- Understanding the importance of using mistakes to learn and not to punish
- The importance of making connections to student interests and connecting students to themselves
- The importance of meeting the needs of your best parents
A report by the University of Chicago, “Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment” provides important tips for parents and teachers:
“For children, a critical transition takes place during elementary school: until the end of third grade, most student are learning to read. Beginning in fourth grade, however, students begin reading to learn. Students who are not reading at grade level by third grade begin having difficulty comprehending the written material that is a central part of the educational process in the grades that follow. Meeting increase educational demands becomes more difficult for students who struggle to read.”
The study followed student performance data from third-grade through potential college enrollment. Some of the important findings from the study were:
- The proportion of students who are below grade level is highest for male students, for African-American students, and for students who ever spent time in the foster care system.
- Students who are above grade level for reading in grade 3 graduate and enroll in college at higher rates than students who are at or below grade level.
- Third-grade reading level is a significant predictor of eighth-grade reading level.
- Eighth-grade reading achievement and the ninth-grade school that a student attends account for many of the differences in performance among the below, at, and above level groups in ninth grade.
- Eight-grade reading achievement and the ninth-grade school a student attends explain differences in graduation and college enrollment rates.
From the report, parents (and schools) should be concerned with the results—students who are below or at-grade level in third grade reading, influences their eighth-grade reading level, eighth-grade reading level influences their ninth-grade course performance, and students’ ninth-grade course performance will influence their high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates!
The results of this report are even more disturbing when considered within the context of the NAEP 2011 Reading results. Following are the percentages of students, by racial group, who are reading at or above the proficiency level:
4th-graders reading at or above the proficiency level:
- 16 percent of Blacks
- 19 percent of Hispanics
- 44 percent of Whites
- 49 percent of Asians
8th-graders reading at or above the proficiency level:
- 15 percent of Blacks
- 19 percent of Hispanics
- 43 percent of Whites
- 47 percent of Asians
Although there clearly are huge gaps between racial groups, no matter what racial group a child may belong to, over half of all children within his or her racial group are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade!
The recent report by the Center for American Progress,, “Teacher Diversity Matters: A State-by-State Analysis of Teachers of Color,” students of color are unlikely to have classroom teachers who look like them or who share their life experiences. More than simply an issue of racial differences between teachers and students, there are a broad range of issues that both teachers, administrators, students, and parents must understand if we are to do a better job preventing more students from falling off of the primary to postsecondary pathway to college.
The introduction to the report notes:
“At some point over the next 10 – 12 years, the nation’s public school student body will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. In other words, students of color—students who are not classified as non-Hispanic whites—will constitute more than half of our primary and secondary students. This demographic trend is already manifest in some of the nation’s most populous states, including California and Texas, where the majority of students are students of color.
But the makeup of the nation’s teacher workforce force has not kept up with these changing demographics. At the national level, students of color make up more than 40 percent of the public school population. In contrast, teachers of color—teachers who are not non-Hispanic white—are only 17 percent of the teaching force.”
As an African-American parent and product of urban schools where nearly all of my teachers were teachers of color, my two sons have had few such teachers. With my older son now in his third year at Amherst College and my younger son in his final year of high school, my wife developed strategies that were largely successful in bridging the socio-cultural gaps between our family and our sons’ teachers and dispelling the many stereotypes that teachers have of children and families who do not look like them and who do not share their set of life experiences.
Some of the important questions to be raised are:
- How will teachers raised in predominately white suburban communities understand students and families of color, and particularly who are living in poverty?
- How will such teachers overcome the many stereotypes they were indoctrinated with during their upbringing about “those people?”
- How will such teachers overcome racial, cultural, gender, generational, and socioeconomic gaps to build relationships with students and families?
- What must teachers to do overcome the inherent distrust that many students and families have of teachers and schools?
Share the blog entry, “It Happened to Them” with teachers who may need to be reminded of how important it is to overcome the deeply embedded institutional stereotypes regarding children of color and children living in poverty.
While there is much that teachers and schools must do to address these important issues, some of the important things that we had to do that parents and students of color might consider:
- At the beginning of each school year, we send in a package of information about our family, our expectations for our children (academic and behavior), the aspirations that our children have for themselves, and our contact information (phone, email, and fax).
- We express to teachers that if there are academic honors, e.g., Honor Roll, National Honor Society, etc., that we expect our children to qualify.
- We make it a point to express to teachers that we are expecting “A’s” and not just passing grades!
- We contact teachers on a regular basis as a means of keeping in touch to ensure that our children are doing well academically and behaving as expected.
- We reaffirm our expectations each morning with our children and ask the question each day after school, “Tell me what happened today at school.”
- We make it a point to meet with the school’s counselor, principal, safety officer, custodians, cafeteria workers, and anyone at the school who will come into contact with our children.
- At the end of the school approaches we attempt to identify the best teachers for our children for the next school year and we send a letter to the principal asking for such teachers as the best match to the needs of our children (easier in elementary school, more difficult in middle school, and nearly impossible in high school)
- We express to our sons the importance of sitting in the front of the class, participating in class discussions, and avoiding the stereotypes that are typically directed at boys and particularly boys of color.
- Whenever there are teachers of color, or men, on staff we lobby the principal to assign our sons to their classrooms (provided that they are good teachers).
- We identify programs run by teachers of color, or men, for our sons to participant in, e.g., athletics, martial arts, music, chorus, JROTC, clubs, etc.
Keep in mind that there are many gaps to overcome, e.g., socioeconomic, cultural, educational, gender, and many stereotypes to be dispelled when teachers are racially and culturally different from the students whom they teacher and families whom they must interact with. My wife and I are well aware at how exhausting it is to cultivate the necessary relationship with our sons’ teachers so that they are vested in our sons’ success. However, we have found that identifying teachers who are vested in student success is not function of race, but one of the heart.
As a result of our proactive approach to building relationships with our sons’ teachers we have, more often than not, been successful in cultivating the necessary relationships to ensure our sons’ social and academic success during their K – 12 schooling.