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The Main Scoop

Black and Latino boys disrespected, task force finds

By by Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 2, 2010 11:01 AM

Calling the dropout rate of African American and Latino males in Philadelphia “an alarming crisis,” a School Reform Commission task force on the issue is recommending amending the zero-tolerance discipline policy and overhauling classroom approaches that leave most of these students disaffected and disengaged.

The report  concluded – based on interviews and focus groups with young people both in and out of school – that many Black and Latino boys feel “pushed out” and disrespected. The task formally presented its findings and recommendations to Mayor Nutter and Superintendent Ackerman Thursday at a public event at School District headquarters.

“I don’t think the District is succeeding in engaging these young people,” said Johnny Irizarry, the SRC member who convened the task force with SRC chairman Robert Archie, at an August 31 press briefing. “Let me put it this way, engaging education looks different than what we have today.”

He called the task force report “a template for activism and transformation.” 

Both the mayor and superintendent welcomed the report. Ackerman said it would help the District "accelerate our efforts" to eliminate "an inequitable allocation of resources and opportunities for young people." Neither spoke to the report's specific recommendations for change in areas such as zero-tolerance discipline policies or problematic curriculum .

Irizarry discussed the substance of the report for an hour at a press briefing on Tuesday with Bill McKinney, who is president of the task force. McKinney is the director of the Howard Samuels Center at the City University of New York, a research center that specializes in looking at issues affecting traditionally marginalized groups and studies the effects of community organizing. Archie had a last-minute obligation and did not appear.

“Violence, housing, employment, all these things are affected by the dropout crisis,” said McKinney, who lives in Philadelphia.

The report noted that the four-year graduation rate for African American males is 45 percent, and for Latino males is 43 percent. That “is staggering,” Irizarry said. It drew heavily on data compiled by Project U-Turn, the city’s major anti-dropout initiative, and worked with the Philadelphia Youth Network to organize groups of students and disengaged youth for focus groups.

The task force recommended establishing an oversight group to implement a range of reform strategies, including some single-sex classrooms, more evening school, and more paid, credit-bearing internships that connect students with real job possibilities. The oversight committee would also try to promote “a comprehensive approach, collaboration, partnerships.”

“As we consider the many strategies that can be employed to re-engage students, attention must be paid to how these strategies embrace youth development principles and address the different ethnic and cultural values held by African American and Latino men,” the report said. “Programs should account for the cultural context, historical backgrounds, family differences, language barriers, immigrant/migrant experiences and other issues,” it said.

It said that most teachers are not specifically trained to work with African American and Latino males and understand them. They need more training to be culturally sensitive, the report said.

“Strategies must take asset-based approaches, and focus on students’ skills and abilities instead of perceived deficits or shortcomings,” the report said. And it said the adults need to pay more attention to the students themselves.

“This approach also requires that student voices be incorporated into the design of district policy and school programs that aim to curb the dropout problem.”

The report said that in the focus groups, students said it was important for adults in schools to “earn” their respect.

“Students claim that they are much more likely to engage in class if they felt as though they are part of the conversation and not simply being ‘talked at’….several of the formerly out-of-school youth interviewed said the schools that they left failed to keep them engaged or prepare them for college or careers,” the task force wrote. It recommended more access to Advanced Placement courses, career and technical education options, and an array of enrichment activities.

“Hiring practices that reflect the need for adults who are able to relate to the various life circumstances of young people are of the utmost importance,” the report said.

In addition, it called for increased peer mentoring and changing the approach to discipline to one that focuses more on restorative practices and less on punishment. African American and Latino male students are suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.

In feedback sessions, students said that zero-tolerance policies were “ineffective, and in many cases even counterproductive to their learning. In fact, some students felt that zero tolerance kept students from learning from their mistakes…Males in urban school environments often find that teachers focus more on their behavior than academic achievement, or even potential.”

The District is expanding an in-school suspension policy this year as an alternative to the primary mode of punishment for breaking the code of conduct, which is suspension from school for one or two weeks.

At the press briefing, Irizarry said that “we need to look at subgroups and how education reform is leaving them behind.” For instance, he said there is more need for flexibility, including programs that allow students to work and earn money while earning credits toward graduation. The report calls for a single-sex annual dropout prevent conference that focuses on the middle years.

“In designing interventions, it is necessary for the School District and its many partners to address differences between groups that are being served,” the report said. “Curriculum and teaching, for instance, must be tailored to young urban males. Male students in urban environments respond most to classroom activities that are energetic, hands-on, and varied rather than routine whole-class instruction.”

The students interviewed said that the main reason they stayed in school was the presence of “caring adults” who have high expectations for them and help them develop high expectations for themselves.

The report’s authors broke the recommendations into categories that are aligned with Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 blueprint, those that are directly connected, and those that are not “but we think are important.”

The list of recommendations not directly addressed by Ackerman’s blueprint include:

  • a need to use innovative approaches in classroom instruction;
  • a differentiation between dropout prevention and addressing the needs of students who have dropped out;
  • better communication with various communities;
  • peer mentoring opportunities; and
  • building curricula “that consider all aspects of a young person’s life.

“Social will is probably the most critical point,” Irizarry said. “We need to create a social urgency in the city.”

About the Author

Dale Mezzacappa is the Notebook's contributing editor.

Comments (25)

Submitted by Herb (not verified) on September 2, 2010 2:48 pm

What a crock. Did the task force speak with teachers, principals and/or other school-based administrators? This is so one-sided it borders on the ridiculous. If I read this correctly, teachers are supposed to earn the student's respect. I can agree with that if the student works just as hard to respect the teachers and administrators. I teach in a school which is 100% African-American and I have to tell you showing repect to a teacher or administrator is not flipping them the bird and cursing out those whom you want respect from.
I could go on but my frustration level has grown to an all-time high after reading this tripe.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 14, 2010 10:28 pm

Maybe if the district would bring back/add interesting expressive arts/prep classes like dance, music, performing arts, shop classes, and sports for ALL, more students would remain in school. What extra curricular activities are 9th through 12th grade students scheduled to take DURING THE SCHOOL DAY???????????????????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 15, 2010 5:19 am

Let's get real and think about men in general...inside the school setting and outside the school setting. Men want to be IN CHARGE of everything 24/7! Even the adult males cringe when females or anyone else tells them what to do. I am African American. I have two brothers who are basically mentally gifted (one received a full academic scholarship to Drexel for engineering...NOT sports!!!!). They graduated from high school but BOTH dropped out of college - not because it was too hard......but because they were not IN CONTROL. Exact words from one of my brothers..."Women are more docile and cut out for that kind of thing." All of the 3 girls in my family graduated from college. I think my brothers may regret dropping out but still did not return. My most radical brother has a wife that, of course, is extremely meek! I believe that many minority men only want to be in situations where they are in control of the majority of things around them. So much so, that they can't even finish high school, or college because they are not "calling the shots". They can handle directives from others when they are younger, but learn to break away from authority very early because they want to be their own leaders. They feel disrespected when they are not in charge!!!!!!! They fail to see that an education would help them to be more in control of their own lives. They fail to see that EVERYONE can take turns being leaders. I also think they believe that they have less of a chance at succeeding in America in general. I think that we need to connect MAJOR discussions on leadership, respect, succeeding in America, and anything else that would help, into education, especially for minority males. They need support groups EARLY!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2010 3:40 pm

Herb-The Taskforce was made up of school based staff (including teachers) University professors and researchers, community based organizations, employers, lawyers, youth, and so on. Please read the report to see that additional support for teachers and admin is a major piece of the puzzle.

Submitted by anonymous teacher (not verified) on September 2, 2010 3:52 pm

Now will Dr. Ackerman reconsider scripted curriculum? These recommendations from the Task Force don't sound like one-size fits-all instruction:

"Strategies must take asset-based approaches, and focus on students’ skills and abilities instead of perceived deficits or shortcomings..... Students claim that they are much more likely to engage in class if they felt as though they are part of the conversation and not simply being ‘talked at'....
Curriculum and teaching, for instance, must be tailored to young urban males. Male students in urban environments respond most to classroom activities that are energetic, hands-on, and varied rather than routine whole-class instruction.”

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on September 2, 2010 5:06 pm

I agree that all students should be respected, and teachers should convey high expectations for all of their students.

However, from my experience, I know that a lot of kids will feel "disrespected" no matter what you do or say. All it takes for them to feel "disrespected" is the fact that you are an adult / authority figure. They think that "respect" means that they get to do and say whatever they want, and NOT do anything they don't want to do.

The zero tolerance policy is not the problem....part of the problem is that this policy is not implemented consistently and a student has to send another student or a teacher to the hospital before they are expelled.

Another part of the problem is that many people do not actually know what respect means. This goes for students, parents, teachers, and admin.

I also agree that individuals have to earn respect--it's just reality. However, the fundamental rules of school should not have to earn respect; the basic rights and safety of others do not have to earn respect. These are things that have to be in place so that the teacher can teach and do what it takes to personally earn the respect of their students.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on September 3, 2010 10:18 am

I think just bringing up the idea of needing to earn respect is a really important first step. When I tutored in a D.C. public middle school it was really interesting to see how differently students responded to tutors. Some tutors had the "I'm the adult, you're gonna listen to me" attitude and that's just not going to fly--particularly in a chaotic environment where the student could just get up, walk down the hall, and wander into another room and there was basically no way to stop him/her.

Just approaching the student as someone whose respect you need to earn, who you actually need to build a relationship with is essential. Clearly, this is what effective teachers have been doing all along, but always good to have a reminder.

Submitted by anonymous teacher (not verified) on September 5, 2010 1:25 pm

I agree. Approach the student as you would approach any other human being whom you encounter in life. But understand that whatever frustrations they have with other adults, they are going to take them out on you. At first. Don't take it personally. You're the grown-up. Remember that. Let it roll by. Continue to speak with them (not to or at them), as you would any other human being, as if they were not behaving abnormally. Expect the behavior you want. When you don't get it, continue to expect it. When you still don't get it, CONTINUE to expect it. Does it make you feel stupid? Maybe for a little while. But it will pay off. And you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you are on the right track. Roll with the figurative punches for a little while. A human is just an animal, with the same basic needs and instincts. When an animal is cornered or hurt, yes that animal with lash out, hiss, bite, take a swing. As the responsible party, you don't conclude that that animal is "disrespectful." You understand that they are hurt and cornered. You act with patience and understanding. You earn their trust. Any of us would do this for an injured cat, dog, or cute woodland animal whom we found in our back yard. Why wouldn't we do the same for an adolescent human being?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 15, 2010 5:45 am

RESPECT????? I think it IS very, very, very important for adults and students to define what respect means and what it looks like and does not look like IN THE SCHOOL SETTING. Many students think differently than adults. Some students think the same as adults depending on how they were raised. Males think different from females. Summary - Respect needs to be clarified to all involved through discussion which will probably end up being more of a debate; possibly an argument.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2010 2:42 pm

Zero tolerance is a major problem. School administrators and many teachers like it because it requires no thinking, but it has very little evidence to support it and much to oppose it. See the article in the American Psychologists, and the ABA analysis of the issue.

Furthermore, this policy has a lot to do with the lack of respect. Even if the student comes in with respect for faculty, it doesn't mean it can not be lost. Letting a policy override your brain and judgment will make the punishment seem arbitrary, and will certainly not build any impress the students. This includes not just the one being punished, but his or her associates, who will hear the unfairness of the punishment. And lets be honest, if you were disciplined harshly regardless of mitigating circumstances, simply because the school chose to implement a zero-tolerance policy (despite the lack of supporting evidence for the policy), would you not lose respect for the personnel at the school. It is easy to blame the students, but I highly doubt the students are inherently different here than in many districts including low-income ones that boast far superior outcomes.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2010 7:23 pm

Do you think that Johnny Iziarry will lead a task force on whether Asian boys down at Southern feel disrespected? This sounds like another smokescreen to deflect attention from that incident and the SRC's constant bumbling on school issues.

Submitted by JustAnotherAmerican (not verified) on September 2, 2010 10:46 pm

Respect is a two-way street...I teach in an urban district and I can tell you flat out that the males of both groups have a plethora of positive role models that they have no respect for because it means they have to take responsibility for their actions. How many children get fathered and then grow up with no father out of these groups...how many domestic violence problems are there...just look at the prisons...why so many of these groups are in there...lack of responsibility...always blaming someone else...it's not my fault...you don't respect me...well, I'll tell you, few people of little respect for people who don't respect themselves...end of the story...you can't fix this social in the schools until their cultures have the fortitude to fix their own problems outside of school. We have to deal with what gets brought into the schools off the street and then we are told we are accountable/responsible for their actions. This is the main cause for urban schools being in such turmoil. Gangs, drugs, alcohol, single-mother families, teenage pregnancy, etc., etc. These are not school problems, but we are the ones that have to fix them because society does not want to hurt their self-esteem. Fix that problem first then come talk to us in the schools, who manage to get a job done with both hands and feet tied behind us.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2010 1:25 am

While I recognize the focus of the task force is on male African American and Latino students, the drop out rate for European American students is also grim -

"in the 2007-08 school year, only 28 percent of black males graduated on time in Philadelphia public schools, according to the study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. But the rate for white males was only 33 percent."
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/101280814.html

Why are female students finding "success" in school more than male students? What is it about school that is more aligned with the needs of girls versus boys?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2010 6:20 am

"Students claim that they are much more likely to engage in class if they felt as though they are part of the conversation and not simply being ‘talked at’".

And how is this any different, from say, the past 500 years?

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on September 3, 2010 9:40 am

This is maybe THE topic for Philadelphia, and, of course, many other SDs. Teaching is a hard job for the first 30 years or so, and most of the teachers in the district came into the system long after this performance disparity began, and in this age of "Blame the Teacher" it is hard not to feel scapegoated. Most teachers are not part of the problem that has landed so many schools in the academic toilet, indeed, they were not born yet, but unless there is a movement, as this may be, to allow them to address the presenting needs of the students they have, they cannot be blamed for its existence.

Anyway you look at district statistics for the last 40 years, boys have not achieved. They lag in graduation rates, where the focus is today, but also in attendance,promptness, promotion, grades, test scores, and passing rates. They do excel in disciplinary actions. While the district has known about this, and the curious could pull the data together, this is the first time boys' performance has been systemically targeted. Clearly, some of the initiatives/approaches being implemented are questionable in their appropriateness, and should remain part of the conversation. If you have not done so already, download & read the UTurn Report. This was greeted by SDP with the sounds of silence, but is a road map to what needs to change, and the price we are all paying for the status quo.

Defensiveness is understandable, but the problem does exist. If this tragic outcome is the result of what we are doing, how can we possibly continue in the same way? Institutional racism (or possibly class-ism?) is well understood: it does not have to be conscious, it just has to miss a specific target, in this case somewhere between 30% & 100% of the kids in your class are not getting what they need..

Submitted by Anonymous SDP teacher (not verified) on September 4, 2010 10:05 am

"Male students in urban environments respond most to classroom activities that are energetic, hands-on, and varied rather than routine whole-class instruction.” -John Irizarry

I agree with one of the previous anonymous commentators.

When will Ackerman recognize the wrong-headed approach of scripted curriculums and whole class instruction in which the 'teacher's voice' is dominant? Small group instruction, guided reading and accountable student talk are more likely to engage students. Students in the current "Empowerment" schools will be more likely to drop out in the next few years---Oh, wait, maybe that is the goal: Drive all the students out of the Public schools to create a private two tiered system of charter schools (successful college prep schools and constantly turning over holding cells that no one has to take responsibility for....).

Submitted by the Notebook on September 8, 2010 10:00 am

The Newsflash received this comment on Phillyblocks, a local list serv:

WOW...  where to start?   zero-tolerance discipline policies or problematic curriculum .

so the idiot who wrote this report thinks that bad behavior in school should NOT be punished.

It said that most teachers are not specifically trained to work with African American and Latino males and understand them

Really?   what's to understand?  they teach - you listen and do your homework and don't disrupt class with bad behavior.  This report makes young men of color out to be some sort of alien life form.  They are no different than any other kid..what "special" training do they think is necessary?  All young men and women should be treated the same.  If someone keeps perpetuating that skin is somehow some important thing that keeps them from learning then that is a disservice.  Skin color doesn't equate to brain power and black and latino kids are capable and not "different" and don't need "specially trained teachers".   This statement is insulting to them!

changing the approach to discipline to one that focuses more on restorative practices and less on punishment. African American and Latino male students are suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.

yeah right..  another way of saying they don't like being punished for bad behavior..  no one needed to pay large amounts of money to Ackerman or whoever she hired to spit out this nonsense.  You sit still in school, listen, do your homework, respect your teachers and fellow students.  If you do something so bad that you need to be expelled well..  behavior has consequences.  Why shouldn't it??  If anything I think MORE control is needed in public schools.  Report after report comes in about school violence that goes unaddressed.  Ask the Asian kids from South Philly..they probably didn't appreciate having the snot beat out of them while adults looked on and did nothing.  I'm pretty sure none of them would have appreciated those kids having to write a 100 word essay on why they shouldn't physically attack someone!

The report said that in the focus groups, students said it was important for adults in schools to “earn” their respect.

OMG.. this is the most twisted mindset and the worst  comment ever.  My parents said I had to respect my teacher and elders simply because that is what is right, that is what is polite and that is what is expected of a kid.  Those that want respect give it..... what..these kids are somehow more special than anyone else?  Teachers are supposed to bow down to 14 year old kids and BEG for their respect and attention in school?  That is part of the problem and why no one wants to send their kids to a Philadelphia public school.   These kids need to "earn" a diploma.  

Submitted by Christopher Paslay (not verified) on September 10, 2010 12:10 am

When it comes to dropouts, Philadelphia School District data shows that 43 percent of black boys who started 9th grade in the 2003-04 school year quit school by 2009. However, 39 percent of white males did as well. When you look at the ladies, more whites dropped out than blacks—32 percent white to 30 percent black. And when you compare both male and female, the dropout statistics of both races are identical: 36 percent of students from each group dropped out in six years.

Despite the high needs of both whites and blacks, education stakeholders around the city decided to form the African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce, an organization focused on providing interventions to only a select portion of our city’s children.

According to their September 2nd report, the purpose of the Taskforce “is to develop strategies and recommendations for African American and Latino male students considered to be at risk of dropping out or who have become disengaged from The School District of Philadelphia. These recommendations will be aligned to the School District’s Imagine 2014 strategic plan. . . . The core strategic goal of Imagine 2014 is to accelerate success for all of Philadelphia’s children so that the District is a ‘system of great schools that serves all children’.”

Obviously, the Taskforce’s definition of serving “all children” means giving resources only to black and Latino males.

All children deserve a quality education. In the 21st century, it’s unacceptable for organizations such as the Taskforce to deny students interventions because of the color of their skin.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 10, 2010 11:28 am

I agree - the "drop out" problem in Philadelphia is more social/economic and gender than ethnic/race but ethnicity/race compound the issue. Students aren't dropping out of Central - which now has more African American (33%) and Asian students (30%) than European-American students (29%). (Only 7.2% Latino/a). Males of all elasticities appear to be the most vulnerable.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 10, 2010 11:20 am

Before someone else catches the typo - it is "ethnicities" not "elasticities." Sorry.

Submitted by LANRE (not verified) on September 11, 2010 1:01 pm

My son got his PSSA 5th grade result and scored advanced in both math and reading but proficient in writing: Composition 70 out of 80 ie Narrative 30/40 while Informational was 40/40 yet strength profile = Medium, Revising and Editing was 19 out of 20, strength profile = Medium also, Total score was 1821. I want to know how 19/20 is regarded as medium and how the grading is proficient. My son took it in stride and it only helps to give him strength to work harder but I wonder how they arrived at proficient as opposed to advanced. Can anyone break it down for me?

Submitted by Paul Socolar on September 11, 2010 10:00 pm

Here are a couple of recent looks at achievement gaps, showing the persistence of wide racial gaps in student performance on top of the gender gaps. These charts and graphs also document some opportunity gaps (for example, in access to gifted classes and special admission schools).

-School District presentation from fall 2008

-Notebook data spread from winter 2008

Plenty of evidence here that might want to make one try to understand (and address) these racial disparities. As the Notebook noted in one of our 2008 graphs, when looking only at low-income students there is still a 20-point gap in reading scores between White vs Black or Latino students.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 12, 2010 5:35 pm

This was on NPR - http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129815332

Not Necessarily Black And White

Detroit had one of the worst black male graduation rates for any city: 27 percent. But the graduation rate for young white men was even worse, at 19 percent.

Jackson says those number prove that a lack of resources affects everyone — not just one racial group.

"What makes it a race and ethnicity issue is that more black males are in poorly resourced schools and have less access to the types of resources needed to learn," Jackson says.

The Trend Can Be Reversed

There's hope in the story of New Jersey. In 2003, black male students there were graduating at a rate of 48 percent. Just five years later, that rate soared to 75 percent.

Jackson attributes New Jersey's turnaround to the changes made because of a court case, Abbott v. Burke. Parents sued, and a judge found the state spent less in schools with two-thirds African American enrollment. He ordered the state to spend the same across the board.

Jackson says the state decided to fund areas that education experts have shown to be effective, such as early childhood education and hiring high-quality teachers.

Submitted by Mujahid AbdulBari,MS (not verified) on September 20, 2010 12:16 am

Everyone of your commenters would greatly benefit from looking up the work of John Tayor Gatto, the thirty year veteran New York City public school teacher named Teacher of the Year THREE TIMES by the City's students and their families. He addresses the ROOT of the problems with public education in America. It is great food for thought.

Submitted by dana (not verified) on June 3, 2014 4:28 am
We should all make an effort to be more tolerant and accepting. This is a real problem and I don't think these people deserve to go through this. Feeling pushed away is very bad.

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