Benjamin Banneker Academic High School has an abundance of college-level classes and one of the highest graduation rates in the District. It’s also overwhelming female. Three out of four Banneker students last school year were girls.
Banneker is not the only high-performing District high school that serves mostly girls. Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which offers both arts and academic enrichment, was 67 percent female in 2014-2015, according to school data. And School Without Walls, where some students take classes at nearby George Washington University, was 60 percent female.
An academic gender gap — with women outperforming men — is increasingly defining education nationwide. Young women are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. Female students began to outnumber males on college campuses in 1979, and now account for about 57 percent of college enrollment, according to federal data. An annual abundance of female applicants has led many private colleges to offer affirmative action for male applicants.
Disparities in educational attainment and performance are particularly acute for minority boys. In the District, 48 percent of black male students and 57 percent of Hispanic male students graduate in four years, compared with 62 percent of black girls and 66 percent of Hispanic girls and 82 percent of white boys and 91 percent of white girls.
Only about a third of the city’s black male students were proficient in reading in 2014, according to the DC CAS scores, compared with 46 percent of black girls and 94 percent of white girls. And while black boys made up 34 percent of all students in the D.C. Public Schools system in 2013-2014, they were 58 percent of those who had been suspended.
“Black males are always at the top of any negative list. It’s not just that young black males have the highest dropout rate, the lowest college completion rate or the highest rates of unemployment, it’s literally life-and-death stuff — black males live shorter lives,” said Tim King, the founder of Urban Prep Academies, an all-boys charter school organization in Chicago that has sent hundreds of African American males to college in the past decade. “It all points to the fact that you have this particular population that is in crisis and needs some help and needs some intervention.”
Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson launched an effort this past winter to concentrate resources on mentoring programs and other supports for black and Hispanic males in city schools. She hopes to raise $20 million in private funds to support the Empowering Males of Color initiative.
The centerpiece of her plan is an all-male college prep school — modeled after Urban Prep and being created with help from King — that is scheduled to open in 2016 in a heavily minority neighborhood east of the Anacostia River. The District already has a public charter school, Excel Academy in Anacostia, that serves only girls.
Michelle Lerner, a D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman, said officials are “confident that building up mentorships, providing schools with additional funding, and opening an all-male college prep high school will make a big impact in the lives and education of males of color in D.C.”
Banneker Principal Anita Berger, who has worked at the school since 1993, called the low number of male students at Banneker a “disappointing trend” that has held steady throughout the time that she’s been there, with boys rarely surpassing 30 percent of the student body.
Imani Hopper, a 2015 graduate of the school, said she thinks a lot of boys in the District aren’t interested in Banneker because it’s so challenging and because it doesn’t have a football team.
“A lot of males in D.C. want to play sports, so when it’s time to go to college, they get recruited,” she said.
Berger said she has reached out to potential male applicants over the years, letting them know that they are welcome and that they can play on sports teams at neighborhood schools. “We want to make sure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to come.”
But she said few boys apply and are accepted. Banneker requires applicants to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.0, teacher recommendations and an interview.
Some of the city’s highest-performing charter high schools, including Thurgood Marshall and KIPP DC College Prep, also enrolled majority-girl classes in 2014-2015, with 60 percent and 62 percent of their respective enrollments female that year.
Conversely some of the city’s comprehensive high schools, which admit students year round and have low test scores and high dropout rates, served a majority-male student population. Cardozo Education Campus was 62 percent male, and Roosevelt High School was 63 percent male.
Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, noted the “missing young men” in Washington’s top high schools in a blog post Thursday. He suggested that the imbalance could warrant a policy response, such as extra funding for schools that serve more male students or affirmative action for boys applying to competitive application schools.
“I continue to stand with the strivers, the low-income kids who are most dedicated to learning and willing to work hard,” Petrilli wrote. “But the notion that male strivers are few and far between leaves me despondent.”
Keith Thomas, a 2015 graduate of Banneker, said he enjoyed going to a “mostly girls” school, where he made a lot of friends, including a close group of male friends who supported one another.
This fall, he’s a freshman at Old Dominion University in Virginia, where he said he feels well prepared academically.
“It’s like I’m in high school, but with more boys,” he said.