By Matthew Lynch
Most people like to think that American K-12 schools, workplaces and courthouses are pillars of fairness, but statistic after statistic all point to a crisis among the young, Black men of the nation. This crisis begins in homes, stretches to K-12 educational experiences, and leads straight to the cycle of incarceration in increasingly high numbers. In America’s prison systems, black citizens are incarcerated at six times the rates of white ones – and the NAACP predicts that one in three of this generation of Black men will spend some time locked up.
While there are many areas of improvement that we could look at changing for more successful outcomes for black men, I will discuss just four indicators that illustrate the current situation for black boys in the U.S., with the hope of starting a conversation about what we can do to produce a stronger generation of Black young men in our society.
1. Black boys are more likely to be placed in special education.
While it is true that Black boys often arrive in Kindergarten classrooms with inherent disadvantages, they continue to experience a “behind the 8-ball” mentality as their school careers progress. Black boys are more likely than any other group to be placed in special education classes, with 80 percent of all special education students being Black or Hispanic males.
2. Black boys are more likely to attend schools without the adequate resources to educate them.
Schools with majority Black students tend to have lower amounts of teachers who are certified in their degree areas. A U.S. Department of Education report found that in schools with at least 50 percent Black students, only 48 percent were certified in the subject, compared with 65 percent in majority white schools. In English, the numbers were 59 and 68 percent, respectively and in science, they were 57 percent and 73 percent.
3. Black boys are not reading at an adequate level.
In 2014, the Black Star Project published findings that just 10 percent of eighth-grade Black boys in the U.S. are considered “proficient” in reading. In urban areas like Chicago and Detroit, that number was even lower. By contrast, the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress found that 46 percent of white students are adequate readers by eighth grade, and 17 percent of Black students as a whole are too. The achievement gap between the two races is startling, but the difference between the NAEP report on Black students as a whole and the Black Star findings of just Black boys is troubling too. It is not simply Black children in general who appear to be failing in the basics – like literacy; it is the boys.
4. Punishment for black boys is harsher than for any other demographic.
Punishment for Black boys – even first-time offenders – in schools is harsher than any other demographic. Consider these facts:
• Black students make up just 18 percent of children in U.S. preschools, but make up half of those youngsters who are suspended.
• Black boys receive two-thirds of all school suspensions nationwide – all demographics and both genders considered.
• In Chicago, 75 percent of all students arrested in public schools are Black.
These trends are not conducive to improving the numbers of young black men who are able to attend college. In fact, the numbers are dismal when it comes to black young men who attend and graduate from colleges in the U.S. Statistically speaking, black men have the lowest test scores, the worst grades and the highest dropout rates – in K-12 education, and in college too.
This is why college motivation within and outside the black community is so vital for these young men. But in order to get there, black boys must experience the motivation to succeed well before college.
Matthew Lynch is the Dean of the School of Education, Psychology, and Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Union University, in Richmond, VA. He is a former K-12 social studies and special education teacher who researches policy and education reform.