KARL A. Racine, the District’s attorney general, has issued an opinion that a D.C. Public Schools initiative to help boys of color is lawful because it advances an important public objective without undermining equal-education opportunities. The opinion is in keeping with a separate analysis by school officials, and it ought to bring to an end the legal sniping aimed at a worthy program. While education for girls must not be given short shrift, there is no evidence of that occurring, and denying help to students who are most in need benefits no one.
Mr. Racine undertook a review of the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative after D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) raised questions about the legality of spending $20 million on extra support programs for minority, male students. A key component of the initiative, unveiled in January by Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, would be an all-boys college preparatory high school, open to all races, east of the Anacostia River that would operate in partnership with Chicago’s successful Urban Prep Academies.
This week Mr. Racine said the plans do not violate Title IX, equal-protection laws or the D.C. Human Rights Act. He detailed how far boys of color lag behind their white and female counterparts. “Addressing this achievement gap that has tragically come to define the District’s least academically successful students is without question an important District of Columbia government objective for purposes of an equal protection analysis,” Mr. Racine wrote. He pointed out that opening an all-boys high school would not interfere with similar educational opportunities that already exist for girls, including an all-girls public charter school, an alternative program for expectant and parenting students that mostly enrolls females, and existing coed, application-based high schools that offer college preparatory courses.
The need for new strategies focused on boys of color was clear in a memo from Ms. Henderson that accompanied Mr. Racine’s opinion. It reported that, while student performance has improved during the past seven years, male students of color have largely been left out of the growth. For example, even as graduation rates have risen, African American and Hispanic boys still complete high school at a lower rate today than did black and Hispanic girls in 2010.
That’s not to suggest that anyone should be satisfied with current educational outcomes, or that there aren’t girls who also are at risk. Only 58 percent of D.C. students graduate high school within four years, and only about half of students are proficient in reading and math. But rather than mounting a court challenge that would sap time and resources, those who are skeptical of the males-of-color initiative should give it a chance in the hope it produces practices that will prove beneficial in helping all children.