The Urban Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to informing the public debate on social and economic policy, has released a report titled “Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color.”
The institute’s report outlines what educators, policymakers, and communities can do to help boys and young men of color overcome the systemic impediments to their success in American schools. Young men of color are far less represented among students who excel in school and are grossly overrepresented among those with low grades, low test scores, and disciplinary problems.
While individuals can sometimes avoid or mitigate these predicaments, no single person can unravel the system holding these students back. The report details ways in which society can help dismantle these structural inequities in American schools.
The discrepancies between students of color and their higher-achieving peers begin at birth, the report contends. Students of color lag in their cognitive skills by age 2; then, three years later, the skill set with which one enters kindergarten can predict one’s education placement level through fifth grade. Thus, the report urges communities to develop robust universal preschool programs and paid parental leave to somewhat level the playing field among children of all socioeconomic groups.
Furthermore, once young students of color enter a lower position in the academic hierarchy, they exhibit defensive and exaggerated behavior to compensate for their lesser status. The high levels misbehavior demonstrated by students of color is not attributable to a lack of motivation or interest in succeeding; rather, misbehavior is a reaction to a sense of social vulnerability. Students must learn how to resist negative stereotypes and peer influences; educators must work to provide coping mechanisms.
Other significant impediments to students of color are teachers who have low expectations of them and limited access to orderly classrooms. The report cites evidence that teachers are more likely to approach students of colors more aggressively with lower expectations, both attitudes that decrease these students’ self-esteem and chances of success.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has identified orderly classrooms as one of the strongest predictors of learning gains. The report finds that there is a strong correlation between the percentage of students of color in a classroom and students who report signifiant mismanaged, disruptive, and chaotic classroom environments. Educators must be given the tools to facilitate respectful and controlled learning atmospheres.
The paper also presents a whole host of other variables that contribute to minority students’ social and academic. In summary, it argues that our challenges as a society is to foster the conditions in our homes, peer groups, and communities that “enable instead of stifle” minority students’ achievement. These changes will require both financial resources and cultural revaluations, but the effort to dismantle a system impediments must begin as early as birth.
The researchers also laud the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative created by President Obama, which works to provide mentors, guidance, and motivation to marginalized students who might have otherwise fell through the cracks of the United States education system.