Black male students enrolled in the Prince George's County schools continue to be represented in disproportionate numbers in special education classes and among school dropouts and those suspended from school, according to a report scheduled to be released today.
The report suggests that school often becomes a barrier rather than a bridge to success for black males, and recommends several possible solutions, including smaller class sizes, more minority teachers and administrators and a less Eurocentric curriculum.
But school officials have already warned that the proposals, which could cost $125 million, may be too expensive to implement in an era of budget constraints.
The report, compiled by a committee of religious, business and academic leaders in the county, found that although the Prince George's County schools had made great gains in improving overall student performance, black males as a group are still represented more than their peers in nearly every category of failure.
Paramount in the report's findings was that black males are relegated to low-level courses and special education classes in disproportionately high numbers. For instance, black males make up 33 percent of the total student population but constitute nearly half -- 47 percent -- of all special education placements, according to the report.
"It appears that we have set up a structure that puts students on two different and distinct paths very early in their lives," Superintendent John A. Murphy said. "One that has the skills to go forward and succeed in life, and the other goes into the permanent underclass. If we don't start turning that around, we, as a society, are in serious trouble."
Among the school system's 106,000 students, black males account for 59 percent of all student suspensions and almost 40 percent of dropouts.
The average black male student has a 1.89 (D+) grade point average, compared with 2.35 for white males, 2.19 for black females and 2.56 for white females. Students who fail to maintain a 2.0 (C) grade point average are barred from participating in extracurricular activities, meaning that many black male students cannot play sports, perform in school plays or the school band or join in other school activities.
"The statistics are devastating, that is to be sure, but we have to get not just the school system but society as a whole to the point where they want to change the conditions that create these statistics rather than view them as a confirmation of some myth about lagging black male achievement," said Wayne K. Curry, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Black Male Achievement, who is also chairman of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce.
"These problems are not unique to Prince George's County. What can be unique is the public's response to these problems," he said.
Concerned with the perpetual gap in achievement between black males and their peers -- a pattern mirrored nationally -- Murphy appointed a 14-member committee of civic and business leaders in December to examine ways to bolster black student performance. The committee conducted several hearings, examined school system data and interviewed hundreds of young black men, including several in area prisons, in compiling the report, titled "From Peril to Promise."
The committee's report has 10 recommendations, including increasing funding at non-magnet schools, providing more support for families and hiring more black teachers, counselors and administrators.
The committee suggests that the seeds of failure may be found in a culturally myopic curriculum that ignores the experiences and achievements of blacks, a school structure that is ill-prepared to deal with students who come from troubled home lives, and a 5,600-member teaching force that includes only 313 black male teachers.
"African American students -- especially males -- have far more opportunities to see 'themselves' as custodians, groundskeepers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers than they do as teachers, principals and central office administrators," the report said.
That absence of role models and the Eurocentric curriculum were cited as problems by students during hearings in the spring.
"We are always taught about Napoleon and Alexander the so-called Great when they are not teaching us about our own accomplishments," said Yusuf Amin-Moore, 17. "The reason that the black man is so negative is because he is never taught anything positive about himself. You have to do more than just pull out some tired old posters and tell us about Marin Luther King and the civil rights movement for one month out of the year and then forget about our contributions to history the rest of the year."
The committee said that parents must pressure the county to increase school funding and that the black community as a whole must share in the failures of black children.
"We must examine what we model and reward," the report said. "Does the child who excels in mathematics receive as much attention and as many rewards as the stellar athlete? Do we encourage youth to excel in school because of the intrinsic value of knowledge or because schooling provides credentials that bring social status and monetary gain?"
The report was released against a backdrop of national statistics that reveal troubling findings about black males, including disproportionate numbers of young black men who are unemployed, arrested, victims of homicide or in prison.
But some say there is a danger in focusing on the perils of black males rather than celebrating successes.
"I am tired of hearing that I am supposed to be dead or in jail by the time I am 25," said John Jerdine, a 17-year-old student at Suitland High School. "Is it any wonder that so many black men have problems when society is all the time telling us that we are shiftless, worthless, useless human beings? Yes, tell about the dangers we face, but also tell us about the successes in life."
From the Superintendent's Advisory Committee on Black Male Achievement:
Provide all schools with smaller classes. This would add about $100 million to the school system's $560 million budget.
Replace existing Eurocentric curriculum during the next five years with one that better reflects the experiences and perspectives of blacks, women and non-European cultural groups.
Develop a strategy by Sept. 30 for hiring more black teachers, counselors and administrators. The strategy should emphasize increasing the number of black males in the school system to better reflect the county's population, which is now about 50 percent black.
Strengthen the curriculum in basic subjects such as math, science and English and provide black males with greater access to advanced classes and specialized programs.
Create a task force immediately to examine the referral, assessment and remediation strategies used in special education programs to determine whether inappropriate placements are a factor in black males' disproportionate enrollment in such classes.
Expand the number of full-day kindergarten programs, provide more extracurricular activities for middle school students and work with other county agencies to extend health, housing and employment services to schools serving disadvantaged communities.
Develop a plan within three months to better coordinate services of counselors, school psychologists and other school employees to reach children from dysfunctional or turbulent homes.
Develop a database to provide teachers, students and parents with performance data, enrollment trends and other material to assess school performance and determine needs.
Provide students with mentors and internship programs to strengthen ties between schools and the business community and better prepare students for success in the changing labor market.
Extend the school year by one month for teachers by adding two weeks to the beginning and end of the school calendar for teacher training and development of new programs and teaching strategies.