Few black male students are proficient

Black male students are doing very poorly in school, concludes a report by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools. From the New York Times:

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

In addition to low test scores, black male students drop out of high school at nearly twice the rate of white males. SAT scores for black males who remain in school average 104 points lower than white males.

Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, calls for “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” such as “how much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

Black girls are much more likely to complete high school and go on to college than their brothers. The culture for girls is less toxic than the culture for boys, most of whom are growing up without their fathers.

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers.

The report did not go down this road because “there’s not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results,” (Michael) Casserly said.

And what’s the evidence that spending money improves results? Or holding a White House conference for that matter.

In Baltimore, the dropout rate for African-American boys declined to 4.9 percent during the last academic year, down from 11.9 percent three years earlier, the Times reports.

Andres A. Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said the improvement had little to do with changes at the margins, like lengthening the school day or adding mentors. Rather, Mr. Alonso cited aggressively closing failing schools, knocking on the doors of dropouts’ homes to lure them back and creating real-time alerts — “almost like an electrical charge” — when a student misses several days of school.

Baltimore also opened alternative schools to help students complete a diploma.

About Joanne


  1. Amy from Texas says:

    Sadly, the underachievement perfect storm seems to be : male, poor, fatherless, African American, raised by a depressed mother.

    I’m studying to be a speech pathologist, and this is everywhere in the data for language disorders.

    It’s much easier to just stick with the idea that “teacher quality” is key and money will fix it.

  2. palisadesk says:

    Interesting that the UK data are different. The lowest achievers there are working-class white males. Obviously factors other than race play a significant role.

  3. It’s strictly a question of whether or not the culture a person grows up in values those factors (personal responsibility, hard work, self-improvement) which contribute to educational success.

    It’s long been known that there are a few simple steps to avoid poverty: Finish high school, don’t have kids until you’re married, get a job, don’t break the law. Unfortunately, most young black males grow up in a culture which is, in many cases, downright hostile to those ideas.

    After WWII, we knew that the only way to secure peace was to destroy the imperialistic culture of Japan and the Nazified culture of Germany. The result is that both nations are now peaceful and successful, but still kept most of their heritage. Perhaps a de-ghettoification needs to be done in our cities to eliminate the cultural factors which hold back so many with such a great potential. Of course that probably makes me a racist in many people’s view for suggesting.

  4. Punishing unwed parenthood instead of rewarding it is one of the few steps that would reverse those trends.  Anyone who has a baby without being able to provide support is doing something wrong, and should be treated as such.  Schools (everywhere, not just the ghetto) need to work on essential skills and grade students realistically; a kid should know if they’ve got the skills for college, not for college but for a job, or not even what it takes to hold a job based on their report cards and evaluations.

    If kids who made babies without any prospects for supporting them had to spend their afternoons and weekends in jumpsuits pushing brooms and picking up trash in front of their more-responsible neighbors, it just might shift the culture toward where it needs to go.

  5. Mike Curtis says:

    It’s not racial, it’s cultural….But, cultural conflicts don’t make money for winners or losers of the battle. Racial demographics still have dollar signs attached to them. If race ceases to be the problem, then a lot of people will not get paid for keeping imaginary foes at bay. Ergo, don’t let facts get in the way of your paycheck.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    I believe there was some cultural/race issue discussed on this board sometime back courtesy of the Seattle school board. Long time orientation was white, or racist, or something. At UNLV, talking about gays and time orientation was a firing offense.

  7. I think you mean this, Richard:

    Cultural Racism:
    Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology….

    (emphasis added)

  8. Not for Attribution says:

    I was just thinking… speculating, really. I not only don’t know if this is the case, but I would hope in my heart of hearts that it isn’t the case.


    Has anyone ever done any studies to see if there are adrenaline-based impulse control differences between racial groups? Obviously there wouldn’t be clean results — but there might — *MIGHT* — be a general trend which could actually explain some of this. I know I’ve read studies about prison inmates having adrenal anomalies in greater quantity than the general population.

    It might explain some of the achievement gap: just as our school system isn’t really set up to deal as well with male testosterone levels, it might have a similar problem with adrenaline levels.

  9. Dads of all races need to be involved and spend quality time with their kids. They need to read books, take them places, and love them.

    It’s not brain surgery, people.

  10. dprosenthal says:

    The answer is very likely ‘cultural environment’,meaning inside the home, and to a lesser extent, the neighborhood. Many fine Black men have been reared by single, ghetto moms. The difference is that they provide a safe home, read to their kids from the earliest ages, take an interest in and encourage school and home work, and teach and demand respect for others.
    In addition, they know where their sons are at all times, set curfews, try to ban the popular rap music and explain why they denounce those lyrics, don’t allow their boys to dress like prison inmates, and move heaven and earth to keep them away from gangs and drugs.
    Finally, they teach and guide by example, by the way they conduct themselves and the things they value.

  11. Could someone explain what “having a future time orientation” means? Planning for the future? Thinking that your actions have consequences? Am I racist for asking?

  12. Mark Roulo says:

    Could someone explain what “having a future time orientation” means?

    In this context it usually means being able to exhibit deferred gratification. Spending Wednesday night studying for a test to be given Thursday rather than going to a fun party on Wednesday night would be an example.

    It is more than planning for the future … many people do this (the plan might be to grow up and be a rock star and the implementation details might be fuzzy, but that is the plan). It is doing something non-fun when there is a fun option *NOW* because you value the benefits that the non-fun option will provide you in the long run.

    -Mark Roulo

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Rob. Yes.

    Not. Some years ago, U-Mich did an involved study something like your question.
    The methodology was to recruit test subjects and when they showed up at the appointed time, give them a hard time about getting the time and date wrong. Then, on the way out, they’d get a shove from a burly test assistant.
    After which their blood was drawn for study. Presumably, they’d have been clued in by this point, but the newspaper wasn’t clear.
    It appears that those who came from or whose ancestry was in the south had a higher and longer lasting flash of adrenalin and, among guys, testosterone.
    No idea why anybody thought that study was a good idea, but I expect publicizing it would be a Bad Idea, unless all the subjects were white, of course.

  14. “Unfortunately, most young black males grow up in a culture which is, in many cases, downright hostile to those ideas.”

    I agree with you, but I just don’t get it… WHY is the young black subculture in the U.S. hostile to those ideas? Why would ANYONE be hostile to those ideas??

    And how can planning ahead for the future and believing in individualism possibly be “white” qualities?? This all seems like insanity to me!

  15. I suspect it has to do with “social justice” types who want results equalized by identity-group, and their desire to stigmatize individualists who say that results come from personal hard work and ability as “racists”.

  16. Until the “if it feels good, do it” irresponsibility of the 60s arrived, most kids were raised in stable families, with married parents, which is a huge, positive benefit. This was as true of black kids as it was of others; neither slavery nor segregation had the destructive effect on black families that welfare did. The 60s changes to welfare essentially enabled irresponsibility for both “parents.” Instead of boys marrying and supporting the mother of their child, the government became the parent; government assistance has only grown since then.

    One of the current black writers (can’t remember who) suggested some other possible factors underlying black rejection of education as “theirs” Until schools were desegregated, black students regularly saw very successful black students. Washington DC’s Dunbar HS, for instance, had an outstanding reputation across the whole region. However, when schools were integrated, the top kids tended to be white. Some of that reflected tracking as a method of de-facto segregation and some was because there was a real academic difference. In either case, academic success often seemed to be a white “thing.” It happened simultaneously with the Black Power movement, which saw political power as the engine of advancement and academic success as a rejection of blackness. It certainly doesn’t explain everything; blacks have run DC government and schools for more decades than most residents have lived, so there is no shortage of educated blacks in positiions of authority and influence. It has failed to motivate black students, the majority in the schools, to academic achievement.

    That idea is still alive and well, among some blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans; I have seen some of my kids’ friends struggle against that attitude. The term “oreo” (and other-ethnic equivalents) is mild to some of the other terms used and threats aren’t uncommon, even in affluent suburban schools where most black and Hispanic kids are from educated backgrounds. It only takes a few “others” to cause problems for the many.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    Math Lovers.
    See Myron Magnet’s “The Dream and The Nightmare” and Dalyrmple’s “View from The Bottom” for the UK version of the answer to your question.

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    Oh, yeah. The poverty pimps and the race hustlers need cannon fodder figuratively, if not literally in some revolution yet to come.

  19. Richard Cook says:


    If it is not brain surgery why are we failing so badly? I work on the south side of chicago every day (87th and ashland) and the problem is 20 times worse than when I lived in chicago thirteen years ago. We cannot get off the tiger.

  20. Richard Cook says:

    One other thing and this is only my opinion. Race is to the african american community as isreal is to the palestinian community. the eternal scapegoat prempting honest and critical internal examination.

  21. Math Lovers asks..”WHY is the young black subculture in the U.S. hostile to those ideas? Why would ANYONE be hostile to those ideas??”

    Because our intellectual class of the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s encouraged that hostility. Western culture was going through the ultimate case of self-doubt and whites tried to exorcise their guilt by indulging in incredibly stupid ideas about race.

    Go read Radical Chic and Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe.

  22. Roger Sweeny says:


    You’re thinking of Stuart Buck’s Acting White. He’s actually a white guy, though he has two adopted black kids.

  23. Roger Sweeny says:

    Re: “having a future time orientation”

    Way back in 1970, Edward Banfield published <The Unheavenly City: The Nature and Future of Our Urban Crisis, which argued that the big difference between rich people and poor people was that rich people were more able to look to the future and defer gratification, while poor people were much more likely to live in the present. Those poor people who have a future orientation, who will sacrifice now for better things later–the striving immigrant, etc.–will cease being poor in a generation. Those who don’t, won’t.

    Banfield took a lot of crap for the book, and there are parts that are silly, but it holds up remarkably well.