Black Boys, the Achievement Gap and ‘Bargain’ Educations

Crossposted from SOH.

Flickr / Kevin Coles

Kristina Rizga at Mother Jones writes about a new report that concludes that middle class black boys still perform worse than their white counterparts, and that “race still matters,” even for the nonpoor. According to the study:

[…]black boys face more obstacles to graduating high school than any other subgroup, from living in a household without a male guardian, to more frequent encounters with overzealous cops, to higher dropout rates and more suspensions.

The study’s authors suggest that targeted efforts are the solution: Task forces, White House conferences, and after school programs all directed at black males. But Rizga is skeptical that we’ll see anything more than the already popular education reform programs — things like more funding for charter schools and merit pay for teachers — and writes, “We definitely won’t see are new federal programs that anyone could brand as affirmative action.”

The issue I have with the suggestions is that while they would address the more immediate threats to young black men, they miss something that seems pretty obvious to me. Middle-class black people exist in much closer proximity to poor black people than middle-class whites do to poor whites. And I’m not just talking about physical proximity — although it’s pretty common to see mixed income all-black neighborhoods — but also emotional proximity. Middle-class blacks are often first- or second-generation college graduates, and they’re maybe just a generation or two out of the South, or the inner city. That means that a middle-class black person likely has less wealth than a white person of similar income; it means that she has many close relatives who are working class; it means that she has immediate family members who have been through the criminal justice system and who are now unable to find jobs to support themselves or their families.

All of these systemic issues have a destabilizing effect on middle-class black families that won’t be erased by after-school programs and White House conferences on black males.

And relatedly: Howard University, my alma mater, just touted on Twitter that it’s listed as a ‘bargain college’ by CNN. That’s all very well and good. And at just over $18K a year, it certainly is a bargain in comparison to schools of similar size, rank and resources. (Four of the 12 schools on the list are HBCUs.) But is it really a bargain for the students who attend? I’d argue no. Anecdotally, while I graduated debt-free due to the generosity of a relative, I have many friends who are paying hundreds of dollars a month in student loans, and will be for years to come. This suggests to me that if a large proportion of Howard’s students come from working- and middle-class backgrounds where family wealth is nonexistent, then it doesn’t matter if the price of matriculating there is cheaper than at schools whose students can afford to pay out-of-pocket.

Latest posts by Shani (see all)

  • Wow, these are really crucial insights, shani-o. really appreciate you sharing!

  • DK

    Very interesting.

    An individual’s exposure to success and the varied nature of his or her experiences tend to play a significant role personal growth. Under the Council’s “Recommendations” I believe that #5, with the inclusion of social experiences, will provide the most significant value to enriching the lives of black males and therefore encourage greater achievement. Sadly, I have seen firsthand how babies are “broken” before they even reach school age because of poor parental discipline. However, most of the smart, successful people that I know, and have known, have surrounded themselves with smart, successful people. Perhaps that can buck sub par parenting. Kid’s need to be around people whom they can look up to, who challenge them, who give them insights into a world that is outside of their own, and who provide them guidance. People need to step up and take interest.

    I feel like a lot of emphasis is placed the teachers and the counselors, which is important, but their needs to be more. Educational budgets are barely enough to sustain even the base educational needs of students in general, let alone developing programs that are tailored to a particular race.

    What absolutely floors me is that people will band together to “restore sanity” and see celebrities talk politics, provide help in food kitchens, pass out condoms, canvas to provide microfinancing to women in emerging nations, and rally against government-sponsored health care.. not to mention write about all the issues America’s youth are facing.. but, there’s not enough done to actually enrich children’s lives (most of that’s left to the schools and the ill-equipped parents): hosting a group for team-building exercises, providing workshops where children can learn from professionals, cooking classes, reading groups, going to sporting events, recreational activities.. everything’s always left for someone else, while we read the statistics. More puzzling (to me, at least) is once we are able to organize resources, get people involved, and get to a point to where we can actually DO SOMETHING, how do we get the children (and their caregivers) interested in participating?

    Is anyone in this feed interested in getting something started? All it will take to start something is a meeting ground and some open minded conversation.