D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced a plan Wednesday to invest $20 million in new support programs for black and Latino male students in the District, including opening an all-boys college preparatory high school east of the Anacostia River.
Henderson said her decision to invest heavily in the specific needs of boys of color has everything to do with “mathematics.” Black and Latino boys make up 43 percent of the students enrolled in D.C. public schools. By almost any measure — reading and math scores, attendance and graduation rates — their performance is lagging.
“Far too many students are not benefiting from the progress we are making,” Henderson said at a news conference at the remodeled Ballou High School in Ward 8. “It’s a very real, very urgent problem.”
The push is part of a citywide effort under Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who took office this month, to improve equity and increase opportunities for young men of color. The effort also reflects work by President Obama to secure private funding to help keep male minority youths in the classroom and out of prison.
Other urban districts also have begun to focus on minority males to reduce the achievement gap or address skewed discipline statistics or stereotypes, all issues that have been magnified since the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August. School districts in Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif., have offices dedicated to black male achievement.
Under the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative, the District plans to open an all-boys college preparatory high school in the heavily minority area east of the Anacostia in 2017. Henderson has enlisted the help of Tim King, a former classmate at Georgetown University and the founder of a high-performing Chicago all-boys school, Urban Prep Academies, to open the school.
For the next three years, Henderson also will focus funds from the Proving What’s Possible grant program on individual schools’ efforts to enhance the academic, social or emotional development of black and Latino male students and to work to engage their families.
The District plans to recruit more minority teachers and has put out a call for 500 new volunteers by the end of this school year to tutor individual students in reading and to serve as mentors. By fourth grade, nearly half of the city’s black and Latino male students are reading below grade level, and officials hope that an army of volunteers can help improve their performance.
Progress for these students will be tracked in a “score card,” which will be published for the District and each school over time.
The plan was spelled out by Robert Simmons, an urban education professor whom Henderson hired last year to become the school system’s chief of innovation and research.
Simmons said his plan emerged from school visits, conversations with school and community leaders and students, as well as his own research focused on the experiences of young male African Americans.
In the District, 48 percent of black male students and 57 percent of Hispanic male students graduate in four years, compared with 66 percent of their classmates. Only about a third of black male students are proficient in reading and math, according to the DC CAS scores, compared with almost 60 percent of students who are not black or Latino males.
Simmons told the audience at Ballou that the school district is approaching the project with a focus on the strengths and potential of every student, rather than seeing a series of bleak data points.
“The boys are not the problem,” he said. “We are not doing enough to empower them, support and engage them.”
The funding will come from private and public sources. Henderson said she and the D.C. Public Education Fund are working to raise money outside the operating budget.
Bowser has made young minority men a priority at the start of her administration. She gave more than 100 boys Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” to read over the winter break, and she hosted two Google Hangouts to hear their thoughts on the book and their ideas for change.
She said at the event Wednesday that mentoring programs were high on the boys’ wish list.
DeAndré Sellars, 16, was one of dozens of young black students dressed in suit coats and ties who attended. The junior at Phelps ACE High School said he would like to be paired with a mentor.
He and his siblings live with their great-grandmother, and he said that he has never had a father figure at home. “My principal is the first male role model I’ve had,” he said.