American Promise

American Promise follows two black boys from kindergarten at an elite private school to their high school graduation. Both Brooklyn boys struggle academically at the Dalton School in Manhattan. One transfers to public school after 8th grade. The filmmakers’ son, Idris, sticks it out at Dalton, but is disappointed when he applies to college. (Mom is unsympathetic. Dad tells him he’s lazy.)

The documentary is “perfectly watchable,” “increasingly exasperating” and “intellectually murky,” concludes a New York Times review.

California: Black boys expect to fail

By kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African American boys in California is convinced he will fail in school, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, citing a report by an Assembly select committee. By fourth grade, 60 percent of black and Latino children score below proficient on reading tests; by eighth grade, 1 in 4 are chronically absent.

Oakland Unified is implementing many of the report’s recommendations, including “full-service schools with health centers, discipline policies that keep students in school and programs to support at-risk youth,” reports the Chronicle.

For example, the district has an Office of African-American Male Achievement, which supports manhood development classes at middle and high schools and other programs for black males.

The manhood classes offer black male students positive African American male role models who encourage the young men to focus on their education and future and offer a curriculum that includes everything from how to tie a tie to an analysis of historical black figures.

So far, black male students are doing very, very badly in Oakland Unified.

Feds will monitor suspensions for racial bias

Federal officials will monitor 38 Oakland schools charged with suspending too many black male students, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Almost 20 percent of the district’s African American males were suspended at least once last year, six times the rate of white boys.

In middle school, 1 out of every 3 black boys was suspended at least once.

The board approved a five-year plan that includes mentoring, teacher training, parent education and programs to address the impact of trauma and community violence on student behavior. In addition, the plan calls for “restorative justice” as an alternative to suspension. Students, parents and school officials meet to encourage  “the offender taking responsibility and making amends.”

The district already has an Office of African-American Male Achievement, which has created programs such as a daily after-school “manhood development” class at Edna Brewer Middle School for 24 black males.

As the boys built drums out of wood and tape, their instructor, who goes only by Jahi, described the benefit of working with the boys, giving them help with their homework and encouragement to focus on school and their futures.

“We try to create this culture of success,” he said. “We can’t change what’s happening outside in the world.”

Eighth-grader William Bolanos, 13, said he’d had some trouble in the past at school, with a few suspensions on his record.

But that won’t happen this year, with help from Jahi’s class.

“It just shows you how to be a man, a leader, a big brother to people,” he said. “I’m just going to try to get honor roll this year.”

Brewer Middle, a relatively high-scoring school, is 34 percent Asian, 31 percent black, 16 percent Latino and 13 percent white. And, no, the district doesn’t have a special office for any other racial or ethnic group.

Implementing the plan — including  “comprehensive and frequent documentation to prove compliance with the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964” — will cost the district “millions,” according to the Chronicle.

Almost a magic bullet

New social psychology research “may bring us as close to a magic bullet” in education as we’re likely to get,” writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham on The Answer Sheet. When students are worried about fulfilling a stereotype — women can’t do physics, for example — their anxiety hurts their performance, he writes.

In a recent experiment, introductory physics students selected from a list the value that meant the most to them, and wrote for 15 minutes about why it was so important. Students in the control group were told to pick their least important value and write  about why it might be important to others.

This brief writing exercise occurred once during the first week of classes and again in the fourth week. (The physics professor and teaching assistants did not know which students were in the experimental or control groups.)

When scores on class tests (three midterms and a final examination) were examined, there was a gender gap, but it had been reduced in the values-affirmation group by about 60%.

At the end of the semester, researchers also administered a standardized test of conceptual ideas in physics. For this test the gender gap disappeared altogether.

In another study, black middle-school boys who wrote about their values raised their grades significantly over a two-year period.

Too good to be true?

Can Obama help black boys?

Black male students are lagging behind every other group, including their black sisters, writes Richard Whitmire in his farewell USA Today column.  President Barack Obama will be a symbol of success, but will that be enough to help black boys succeed?

It’s not just about race or poverty: Black female students are much more likely to earn good grades, complete high school and go on to college, he writes.  “Many colleges report that black women have higher graduation rates than white men.”

This gender gap has many causes, starting with the fact that 70% of black children are born into single-parent families. The girls have mothers for role models; the boys lack fathers. Then, ladle on daily doses of inner-city crime, violence, drugs and toxic popular culture, which disproportionately affect boys.

Now black boys have a role model of success, but that’s not enough.

As Obama often says, success begins with parents willing to take responsibility, set limits and turn off the TV. But successful education reforms have shown that the right academic atmosphere can help overcome dysfunctional family situations.

Whitmire suggests learning from schools that are succeeding with black male students and focusing on teaching reading effectively in elementary school — and, if necessary, in middle school. He thinks high-quality preschools could help black boys significantly, while mentors could keep more from dropping out of college.

Most important, Obama has resisted calls from the teachers’ unions to dismantle President Bush’s No Child Left Behind school-reform law. Whatever the law’s shortcomings, No Child’s relentless emphasis on data forces school districts to come clean about the poor job they have done with black boys.

Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, took a buy-out from USA Today.  Welcome to freelance life, Richard.

Via Core Knowledge Blog.