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Black-teachers

The Keys for Empowering Black Male Learners

How to make the best use of the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

 By Baruti Kafele

Whatever other gains have been made in American education in the past decade or two, there is a continuing crisis when it comes to young black males, who graduate at a rate of just 47 percent. I believe the biggest challenge for American education is motivating and inspiring black males to strive for academic excellence. I also believe this is attainable, and the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative is one step toward this vision. Below, I’ll outline how a Young Men’s Empowerment Program, such as ones I’ve created in previous schools, must be a key component of My Brother’s Keeper initiatives.

For readers unfamiliar with My Brother’s Keeper, it is a White House initiative to “address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.” The President’s Task Force is working to identify programs and policies that work in our communities to help young people reach the following six milestones:

  • Entering school ready to learn
  • Reading at grade level by third grade
  • Graduating from high school ready for college or career
  • Completing post-secondary education or training
  • Entering the workforce
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance

The reality is that in the academic realm, we typically discuss the plight of black males within the context of the overall achievement gap. In doing so, we’re addressing this as an academic problem, which it is not. When we analyze the national achievement data of black males, it becomes glaringly clear that this gap in achievement occurs in virtually every district in the country and across rural, suburban, and urban areas. There are deeper issues that often go unaddressed in schools.

Peer pressure and gangs are the two biggest challenges I’ve witnessed affecting my students (and these are by no means unique to the communities I’ve served). The feeling among so many black males is that it is uncool to be smart and that succeeding in school means they’re “acting white.” This results in black males coming to school wearing invisible masks and thereby adhering to this black male code of conduct, academically speaking. Teachers all too often attempt to teach to the mask rather than the student because they do not realize that he is wearing a mask.

I have contended for many years, based on national data that shows upwards of 70 percent of black children are born into a household where there is no father present, that this is a crisis. We are asking black males to perform proficiently in the classroom when far too many of them are struggling with home issues that start them off on unequal footing. Due to the lack of male role models in their homes, schools, communities, and even the media, they are confused about their roles as young men.

To address the challenges that arise from a lack of black male role models and to help young black males gain an understanding of who they are, I launched the Young Men’s Empowerment Program in a middle school where I was principal, and then brought it with me to Newark Tech High School when I became principal there.

The purpose of the YMEP is to teach my male students about both manhood and their history. The overall development and leadership of the program was, and is, a sustained collaboration between my staff, community partners, and me. The community partners contributed greatly to the overall climate and culture of the school and to the academic, social, and emotional growth and development of not only my black male students but to all of my male students. The YMEP components include:

  • All-male empowerment assemblies/meetings with black guest speakers (Power Mondays)
  • All-male empowerment classroom meetings with black guest speakers
  • Small-group and one-on-one mentoring sessions led by men of color
  • Opportunities to meet and spend time with black male college students, successful black males in their work environments, and men of color in political leadership roles
  • Dress for Success days
  • Father-son programs
  • Positive Rites of Passage programs

School counselors play a crucial role in making this program work. They identify and locate the role models who come to the school to work with students. Staff members can reach out to local organizations, neighborhood associations, religious institutions, and even individual community members—we have found that there are many men who would love to come into their local schools to speak to or mentor students but have never been approached. Before this occurs, however, a committee of staff members should conduct a needs assessment of their male population. The following questions should be raised:

  • How will we go about bringing men into our school to speak at our empowerment meetings?
  • What kind of follow-up will we have for the speakers to engage in?
  • Will the meetings be comprised of single grade levels or will grade levels be combined?
  • How frequently will the meetings occur, during what time of day, and how long will they last?
  • What do the girls do during the male empowerment meetings?
  • Which staff members should be involved?
  • What topics will be discussed and what activities will we engage students in?
  • What are the goals of the male empowerment meetings?
  • How will we measure the success of the program?
  • What are the possibilities of partnering with corporations, businesses, and other agencies?

Our YMEP was rooted in what we coined “Power Monday”—a day to focus on empowerment. All male students were required to wear a shirt, tie, slacks, shoes, and a belt. The intent was for them to look empowered and ultimately to feel empowered. For the actual empowerment program, we had a meeting with one grade level on the morning of each Power Monday. These meetings typically lasted for two hours. I, along with other male staff members and men from the community, would engage the students in a wide variety of discussions pertaining to the many facets of manhood. I wanted the students to be exposed to men from all walks of life, so I went into the community and literally recruited men to be a part of what we wanted to accomplish with our male students.  

As our test scores began to rise to a level of national recognition over the six years that I was principal of Newark Tech, it was clear and evident that our YMEP, with a concentration on Power Monday, was making a tremendous difference in the lives of our young men. If similar programs become a part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative across the nation, more schools can experience this success.

For more information on the public and private sector groups that have pledged time and money to recruit mentors, share information, and more, look at the My Brother’s Keeper Fact Sheet. To find out more about becoming a mentor and bringing change to your community, check out serve.org.

Baruti Kafele is an award-winning educator and best-selling author of Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success (ASCD, 2013) and Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life (ASCD, 2009). Under his leadership, Newark Tech High School in New Jersey went from a low-performing school in need of improvement to being recognized as one of America's best high schools in U.S. News & World Report.

On this new episode of ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast, Baruti Kafele and ASCD’s Sean Slade discuss how knowing your students, intentionally creating a positive school climate and culture, and making learning relevant set the stage for student motivation and achievement. They’ll pay attention to how making meaning for students is an underutilized, but effective, strategy.

Listen to the episode:

 

Image: Blend/ MediaBakery

Canada_top

Debating Race in School

How race affects tracking, placement, and more in public schools.
By Wayne D'Orio

Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, race remains a huge factor in education, affecting tracking, who gets suspended, and where the best teachers teach, said Geoffrey Canada during a panel discussion at a recent Broad Foundation awards event in New York City.

Canada, the president of Harlem Children’s Zone, drew on his career in teaching, and his own childhood, to articulate the many ways race continues to influence education. He spoke on the panel Race in America’s Public Schools with former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Russlynn Ali, a former assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education.

Canada spoke most passionately about how schools continue to track students, even if that word never gets uttered. “The data is very clear—the darker you are, the poorer you are, the less of a chance that people are going to believe that you are going to be successful,” he told a crowd of more than 100.

“Adults assume they can tell whether a 7-year-old is ever going to amount to anything,” he said, referring to experiences during his childhood. While he was tracked in a high-performing class, he said, his brother wasn’t. “My mother freaked out. She went to the school, used some bad words, and got him in a better class.” His brother recently retired as an engineer for a nuclear power plant.

Today’s system is less overt, Canada said. Many students of color don’t take high-level courses in middle school, and are thus unable to qualify for or keep up with advanced placement courses in high school. “If you start worrying about AP in high school, it’s too late,” he warned. At Harlem Children’s Zone, he fixed this by upping the rigor of classes offered to seventh and eighth graders.

The panel turned to a discussion on discipline discrepancies, and Ali explained how data proves that black and brown students are disciplined much more severely, even as early as in kindergarten. “This problem has been pervasive for a long time,” she said. Black girls are disciplined more harshly than boys of every race except boys of color, said Ali, now the managing director of the education fund for the Emerson Collective, an organization concerned with social entrepreneurism.

Canada agreed, saying, “We’ve allowed a set of behaviors to become criminal. Kids are tossed out in the blink of an eye. They don’t learn how to manage their behavior.”

Villaraigosa addressed the thorny issue of tenure, arguing strenuously against it, while maintaining that he’s not anti-union, “What if I ran [for office] and said, ‘Vote for me, I’ve been here the longest,’” he said, to laughter. “We can’t have every decision made on how long you’ve been there.” He said that teachers instead should be paid based on their performance.

Canada agreed, noting that without merit pay, good teachers are often tempted to flock to better schools. This leaves students in inner-city schools with the newest or weakest teachers, he added. “You can’t teach AP classes if you yourself barely know geometry.”

In one area, however, Canada said race is not a factor. “Great teaching has no color,” he proclaimed. He argued for teachers who have both passion and knowledge. “People give up on these kids too quickly. Loving your students isn’t a prerequisite for great teaching, but it certainly helps.”

Image: Linda Rosier/New York Daily News via Getty Images

Top Stories for Wednesday 10/1

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Randi Reacts to Vergara Decision

Statement from AFT President Weingarten on Vergara Decision

WASHINGTON— Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on today’s Vergara v. California decision.

“Today, as the Vergara decision was rendered, thousands of California classrooms were brimming with teachers teaching and students learning. They see themselves as a team, but sadly, this case now stoops to pitting students against their teachers. The other side wanted a headline that reads: “Students win, teachers lose.” This is a sad day for public education.

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing.  For example, the judge believes that due process is essential, but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation.  He argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that.  But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.  In focusing on who should be laid off in times of budget crises, he omits the larger problem at play: full and fair funding of our schools so all kids have access to the classes—like music, art and physical education—and opportunities they need.

“It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.

“Sadly, there is nothing in this opinion that suggests a thoughtful analysis of how these statutes should work.  There is very little that lays groundwork for a path forward.  Other states have determined better ways—ways that don’t pit teachers against students, but lift up entire communities.  Every child is entitled to a high-quality education regardless of his or her ZIP code. And no parent should have to rely on a lottery system to get his or her child into a good school.

“This will not be the last word. As this case makes it through an appeal, we will continue to do what we’ve done in state after state. We will continue to work with parents and communities to fight for safe and welcoming neighborhood public schools that value both kids and the women and men who work with them. No wealthy benefactor with an extreme agenda will detour us from our path to reclaim the promise of public education.”

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Top Stories for Thursday 4/17

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Common Core Aligned With Cognitive Issues
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Indiana Rushes to Make New Deadline
First state to drop Common Core to approve new standards. The Huffington Post

Pay It Forward Tuition
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Obama Announces Grant Winners
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Do Students Still Have Free Speech in School?
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Top Stories for Wednesday 3/12

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NYC Building Collapses
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Charter School Supporters Aren't Giving Up
Thousands protested De Blasio’s decision in Albany. Education Week

Foreign Students Struggle in Universities
American colleges try to keep foreign students enrolled. The New York Times

Are For-Profit Schools Taking Advantage of Students?
States work to correct for-profit school oversights. Hechinger Report

Top Stories for Tuesday 2/25

Is Your Data Protected?
Group works to establish best practices for student data. Hechinger Report

Why One Mother Took the SAT 7 Times
What does it take to get a perfect score—and is it worth it? The Atlantic

Should Elementary School Teachers Specialize?
Departmentalization on the rise in younger grades. Education Week

Minnesota Takes on the Achievement Gap
The surprising ways the state is using their NCLB waiver. Education Week

 

Top Stories for Tuesday 1/28

State of the Union: Obama Expected to Address PreK
Expansion of PreK programs will be part of “year of action.” NPR

Do Tenure Laws Fail Students?
California’s landmark teacher tenure trial begins. Hechinger Report

Should the Federal Govt. Fund School Choice?
GOP proposal positions choice as answer to inequality. The Washington Post

Student-Date Breaches Raise Alarm
Recent trouble and public outrage have led to action. Education Week

D.C. Teacher of the Year to Attend State of the Union
Kathy Hollowell-Makle will be Michelle Obama’s guest. The Washington Post

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.