Finding Ways to Better School African American Boys

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007

A new report by a statewide task force that paints a grim picture of how African American male students are faring in Maryland's public schools and universities recommends strengthening mentor programs, encouraging more black men to be teachers and providing more academic support for those who need it.

Two of the more controversial proposals are suggestions to place troubled students at black-majority high schools into single-sex classes and to encourage nonviolent offenders to be mentors to students.

Black students make up 38 percent of the state's public school population, with the percentage much higher in some regions. In Prince George's County, for example, the amount is more than 75 percent, and in Charles County, it's about 46 percent.

The Task Force on the Education of Maryland's African-American Males found that 10 years after a similar group chaired by then-Del. Elijah E. Cummings (D) studied the issue and offered recommendations for change, little progress has been made.

"We acknowledge that at every level, there's been a fundamental failure on behalf of our African-American male students and a persistent bias against them. These recommendations are intended to rectify both," the report says.

Dunbar Brooks, a Maryland State Board of Education member who co-chaired the task force, said it is also important to understand that the recommendations could help all groups of students who are struggling.

The report cites several statistics to bolster the contention that more needs to be done. Of the 32,000 African American boys in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades eligible to take an Advanced Placement exam in 2005, the report says, only 1,229 did so. The report also notes that in 2004-05, six of every 10 suspensions involved a black student.

The 49-member panel offers 18 recommendations, including taking steps to reduce the number of African American boys in special education programs; creating mentorship and health programs for children; and offering more academic support.

The report acknowledges that placing some students in single-sex classes many seem harmful but argues that many African American boys are already segregated because they are disproportionately placed in special education and non-college preparatory courses.

"For historically disadvantaged students, single-sex classes have shown a consistently positive effect on academic outcomes," the report says. "In classes where gender and racial differences are suppressed -- rather than served -- it's almost always the African-American male who loses out."

On the recommendation to encourage ex-offenders convicted of nonviolent felonies to serve as mentors, the report says: "Maybe it's counterintuitive to put children and ex-offenders together. And maybe it's exactly what each one needs. Life's lessons aren't always learned from those who lived it flawlessly."

But the report notes likely community concerns about such a venture. "Obviously, the program would require strict eligibility restrictions, extensive background checks, and close and continued monitoring," it says.


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