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A CALL FOR CHANGE: New Report Finds that, from Cradle to Career, Black Males Fall Behind

“How can you narrow or close the country’s black-white achievement gap when African American males are not getting the attention and support they need to succeed?”

Only 9 percent of black male eighth graders are proficient in reading, compared to 33 percent of white male eighth graders nationwide, according to a new report from the Council of the Great City Schools (Council). A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools documents the challenges that black children face from an early age through adulthood in obtaining an adequate education and calls the achievement gap between black males and their white peers “a national catastrophe.”

The report examines student achievement levels as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In fourth grade, only 12 percent of black males are proficient in reading, compared to 38 percent of white males nationwide. The results were very similar for fourth- and eighth-grade math proficiency. In large cities, black students in grades four and eight scored significantly lower than Hispanic students; however, both of these student groups scored lower than white students.

According to the study, poverty does not explain the differences because the data shows that black males ineligible for free or reduced-price lunch have reading and math skills equal or lower to white males who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Additionally, black males without disabilities performed no better than white males with disabilities.

“The issues that emerge from the data are both moral and economic, calling into question the nation’s ability to harness all of its talent to maintain a leadership footing in the world,” says Council Executive Director and Report Coauthor Michael Casserly. “How can you narrow or close the country’s black-white achievement gap when African American males are not getting the attention and support they need to succeed?”

In addition to examining student achievement levels, the report looks at the crisis through the lens of readiness to learn. From the very outset, black children are at a disadvantage, compared to their white peers. Black mothers have infant mortality rates twice as high as white mothers, and black children are more likely to be without health insurance, live in a single-parent household, live in a household where a parent is unemployed, and live in poverty. Educational attainment data shows that in 2008, one third of black children had a parent with a high school diploma, 24 percent had a parent with at least some college experience, and less than 15 percent had a parent with a bachelor’s degree.

Looking at 2008 high school graduation rates, A Call for Change reports that 9 percent of black males dropped out of high school, compared to almost half as many (5 percent) white male students. Compared to white students, black students were less likely to graduate high school on time or within a four-year period. On college entrance exams, such as the SAT and ACT, the average scores of black students were below those of white students. And while three out of ten black males enrolled in four-year institutions in 2009, four out of ten white males did.

The report finds that these trends continue through the college years, with black students less likely than their white peers to participate in academic clubs, more likely to be suspended from school, and more likely to be retained in grades. In 2001, college graduation rates for white males were at least 50 percent higher than those of black males with about 15 percent of black males graduating in four years, compared to 33 percent of white males. In 2008, black males ages eighteen and over accounted for 5 percent of the total college student population and 36 percent of the total prison population. The report also finds that black males, as compared to their white counterparts, are more likely to be unemployed and earn lower incomes.

In the preface of the report, the Council readily admits that “much of this story has been told before,” but by compiling this data in one place, the organization hopes to sound a new alarm and coordinate national attention to correct the situation.

“The nation’s urban public schools see this issue as national in scale but are eager to take the lead on addressing these challenges because of the large numbers of black male young people who live and attend schools in our major cities,” said Casserly. “We are not interested in reflecting and perpetuating society’s larger inequities; instead, we are committed to overcoming them.”

The Council calls for Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and establish a program and financial aid for closing the achievement gap. The report also recommends the following: build a nationwide network of support to mentor black young people and their families; expand the number of black male counselors in the nation’s urban schools; encourage local, state, and national educators to disaggregate academic and nonacademic data by gender and race or ethnicity; and work with higher education institutes to ensure academic and social support for black males in higher education.

Read the full report at

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