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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

Broad prize pulse

Broad Prize: Two for One

A pair of finalists take home foundation’s top prize.
By Wayne D'Orio

When the finalists were announced for this year’s Broad Prize, it was somewhat of a letdown. Instead of the typical four or five districts battling for the unofficial title of best urban district, there were only two: Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and Orange County Public Schools in Florida.

That mood shifted when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the announcement in New York Monday, saying, “I feel like Santa Claus. We have two winners.”

The tie was a first in the foundation’s 13-year history; the two districts will split the $1 million award. And it was Gwinnett’s second victory, newly eligible again after winning the prize in 2010.

Interestingly, while the districts have similar profiles, they took different paths to success.

Gwinnett has some of the most stable leadership in the country. Not only has superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks led the district for 18 years, but the most junior member on the district’s five-person board has nine years experience. The tenure of the longest-serving board member even predates Wilbanks, stretching back to the 1970s. The district’s steady progress netted it the highest SAT participation rate among the 75 Broad Prize-eligible districts, and its students had one of the top AP participation rates.

Orange County’s progress has been more dramatic. The district’s low-income middle school students showed improvement in reaching the highest achievement levels in state tests. In reading, student scores rose 6 percentage points at the highest levels, compared to 1 percentage point of growth for the rest of the state. The district also narrowed the achievement gap between Hispanic students and white students in elementary, middle, and high schools in both math and science.

“We wrestled with performance versus improvement,” said former Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell, a member of the prize’s selection jury. “We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly.”

Gwinnett has about 170,000 students and spends $7,548 per pupil. The district has 55 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 16 percent English language learners. Orange County has 187,000 students and spends $7,965 per student. Sixty percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while 13 percent are designated as English language learners.

Advice from Tony Blair, Arne Duncan

Held at Time Warner in New York’s Columbus Circle, the Broad Prize event drew a large crowd of top education leaders, including former education secretary Rod Paige, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Philadelphia superintendent William Hite, and Teach For America’s Wendy Kopp.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair kicked off the event by remembering the struggles he faced when he started to reform Britain’s worst-performing schools. “I think the toughest thing you can do in life is to take a system in the public sector and make the changes and improve it.”

“When you first propose change, people resist it,” he said. “When you are doing it, it's hell, and when you are through doing it, you wish you did more of it.”

Blair joked that Britain and the United States had “a disagreement a couple of hundred of years ago,” but added that both countries “learn best when we learn from each other.”

Duncan spoke next, and he recounted vignettes from his recent three-day bus tour through the South. The secretary marveled at the hardships some children overcome to continue their education. He spoke of children fighting to be the first in their family to graduate high school. “They have amazing potential to do well if we meet them halfway,” Duncan said, praising the teachers, principals, and counselors he has met.

“I’m hopeful about where we are going. Graduation rates are at an all-time high, half a million more African-Americans are in college—we’ve made huge amounts of progress. Yet we come to work every single day because we are not getting good enough fast enough.”

Publicly available data from 2009 to 2013 was used to screen districts this year. Districts can’t apply or be nominated for the award; the 75 largest districts that serve significant percentages of low-income students are automatically considered.

Photos (from left): Invision for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation/AP Images; John Raoux/AP Photo

Top_PD mistakes

PD Mistakes to Avoid in the New School Year

By Alvin Crawford

This summer at the NEA Representative Assembly in Denver, we met a lot of teachers—representing the 3 million educators nationwide. We asked them, “How many hours of professional development does it take to change your practice?” Staying true to the rampant culture of testing we live in, we offered multiple-choice answers:

a. 1 hour
b. 8 hours
c. 50 hours

Among the responses: “If it’s good PD, one hour.” Or, “I’m guessing eight hours.” 

Quite a few of the more experienced teachers nodded and said, “Of course, 50 hours.” They’re right; according to the research it takes 50 hours of PD to change practice. And, according to Teaching the Teachers from the Center for Public Education, it takes, on average, “twenty…separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill, and this number may increase if a skill is exceptionally complex.”

College- and career-ready standards, like the Common Core, are challenging the status quo in the U.S. We hear the frustration of parents who struggle to help their second graders with math homework. We hear from teachers about the lack of training they’ve received on implementing these standards. Now more than ever, professional development is critical to achieve a transformation in teaching and learning.

How do we make the seismic shift needed for change when teachers feel the intense pressure in this era of accountability and testing? 

To start, there are a few PD mistakes we can avoid going into this school year:

  1. Reconsider the One- to Two-Day Workshop: These workshops are easy to plan and great for filling seats during in-service days, but PD experts suggest they have little to no impact on teacher practice. Think about ways to engage teachers in more active, collegial learning that goes deeper than traditional butts-in-seats practice.

    Solution: Think about approaches like lesson study or intensive PD initiatives supported by ongoing coaching.

  2. Reset Your PD Approach and Go Deep: As referenced in Elizabeth Green’s New York Times Magazine article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?,” we have a habit of not prioritizing PD time. Research says it takes 50 hours or more on a specific content or pedagogy to change teacher practice, so we actually need to plan to respect and value time for ongoing PD. This is critical if we are to see students succeed.

    Solution: Allocate time each week for ongoing professional learning for your teachers. Get creative with how you do it—lesson study meets virtual community of practice meets online courses; 1:1 coaching over extended periods of time.

  3. Scale Your Initiatives for Impact: Districts struggle with scaling professional development for big initiatives. If you do only face-to-face PD, think about how long it will take to establish a common language and understanding for all the teachers in your district. This poses a challenge for ensuring every child is getting the same quality of education.

    Solution: Consider online and blended PD and virtual communities of practice to scale PD district-wide. If other industries can do it, so can we.

  4. Create Real PLCs: If you have professional learning communities in your district—congratulations! This is a major step toward a change in practice. Unfortunately, many districts don’t, or they have a PLC in name only. Train your principals and coaches how to lead PLCs and get started immediately. It’s important that teachers engage in ongoing, collaborative professional learning that creates meaningful approaches to solving the needs of each school.

    Solution: Empower your teachers to learn from one another. They are your greatest resource, your most valued asset.

  5. Avoid Test Prep: We focus too much on evaluation and accountability in the U.S. with very little actual support for teachers. In our culture of testing, we tend to put an emphasis on test prep, rather than on developing teachers for teaching more effectively.

    Solution: Rethink the goal of this year’s assessment results. In light of transition to college and career standards, like the Common Core, use this year’s results as a benchmark for your PD efforts, rather than as solely an evaluative measure of your teachers. This will take the pressure off teachers when it comes to test results and will allow them to focus on how to more effectively support student learning—and that’s something we can all get behind.

Alvin Crawford is president and CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), a leading provider of blended and online professional learning solutions for K–12 school districts and educators. With more than 20 years of experience in education and media, he is dedicated to building innovative, transformative professional development solutions that support teachers and districts.

Creating On Demand PD

One of the biggest trends in education the last few years has been the push to differentiate learning for the various students in each classroom. With technology’s help, teachers are now able to more easily assign tasks that challenge each student to do his or her best, no matter the student’s level of proficiency. School Improvement Network thought so much of this trend that it is trying to bring it to teachers’ professional learning.

SIN’s new service, Edivation, includes videos, courses, and lesson plans that teachers or administrators can review on their own, creating personal learning plans that cater to specific skills. Educators can access content from any computer or mobile device.

“Since launching on-demand video resources in 2007, our offerings have expanded to include management tools, online groups and communities, lesson plans and comprehensive implementation support,” says Chet D. Linton, CEO and president of School Improvement Network. “Edivation was created as a new technology platform to support these resources and to help educators become as effective as possible.”

The service is available for $4,995 for one year, or for $3,995 per year with a five-year contract.

 

-Kim Greene

Top Stories for Friday 11/22

A Third of Schools Saw Scores Fall After Getting Federal Grants
But is it too soon to draw conclusions from the numbers? The Huffington Post

Say Goodbye to Algebra II
Why Texas is dropping the graduation requirement. Education Week

Competition in the Classroom May Not Be a Good Thing
How Japan’s school system could serve as a cautionary tale. The Atlantic

Who Controls U.S. Textbooks?
Why special interest groups are being accused of interference. The Huffington Post

California Concedes to Education Department
Agrees to move forward with new standardized tests. SCPR

Top Stories for Tuesday 10/29

Are America’s Copyright Laws Holding Students Back?
Why reading textbooks are so out-of-date. The Atlantic

LA Wants Deasy to Stay
LA Unified Board says Deasy’s upcoming evaluation will be positive. LA School Report

Teaching in Memphis: Is Memphis the Best City in America to Teach In?
That depends on who you talk to. Hechinger Report

New Jersey Exams Leaked
District cancels testing after anonymous  online leak. The New York Times

What Color Is a Great School?
States experiment with new school grading systems. The Washington Post 

Top Stories for Tuesday 10/22

Nevada Teacher to Be Remembered As a Hero
Middle-school math teacher killed in tragic school shooting. NPR 

Texas Textbooks Boot Creationism
Textbook publishers ignore Texas review panel's suggestions. The Huffington Post

NEW Language-Gap Study Bolsters Push for Pre-K
Follow-up to groundbreaking study shows widening gap. The New York Times

Should Affirmative Action Be Class-Based?
Why schools should consider a shift in policy. The Atlantic

How To: Raise College-Attendance Rates for Low-Income Students
Free resource provides key information on financing for higher ed.

Top Stories for Friday 10/18

Do Charter Schools Need More Oversight?
D.C. funding scandal leads to proposed regulations. The Washington Post

Study: Almost Half of Public School Students Are Now Low-Income
What does this mean for schools? The Atlantic

Faulty Logic Behind New School Rating Systems?
New report on A-F system sparks concerns over reforms. Education Week

Testing the Common Core in Tennessee
The struggle to reconcile old and new standards before tests. Hechinger Report

Top Stories for Monday 10/7

What Does School-Safety Training for Cops Look Like?
What you can expect from new security plans for elementary schools.  Huffington Post

Arne Duncan Money Troubles
Will shrinking funds force Duncan to reexamine policies? Education Week

One City’s $88 Million Plan to Send More Kids to College
The city rising above national averages for college enrollment. What's their secret? The Atlantic

Who Should See Student Data?
Superintendent Cynthia Stevenson talks data storage systems, parental concerns. New York Times

LAUSD's Firing Spree
Scandal triggers firing of 127 educators (and 110 resignations). Huffington Post

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