As a child, I remember thinking that school was the same for everyone. The teachers at all schools were just as good as the ones that I had. Every school had the same supplies as I did. Every child could grasp the information in class unless they chose to be lazy. Every student’s parents would make sure they finished their homework before going to school the next day. As I grew older, I learned that my situation was not the same as everyone else’s… I was privileged.
For thirteen years of my life, my parents put me through Catholic Schools (elementary and high school) even when times were tough. The teacher quality at these schools was superb. My parents could provide me with the supplies that the teachers asked for. My mom was, and still is, a Special Needs Coordinator at the Catholic elementary school that I attended. She helped me realize that learning in the classroom was not the same for everyone. Common learning disorders such as Dyslexia and ADHD could truly inhibit a child’s ability to comprehend what’s going on in the classroom. I also learned that some peers did not have parents who were as supportive as mine were. They didn’t get to play organized sports. Their parents didn’t make sure they finished their homework every evening.
Recently, while working at the Prescott-Joseph Center, I realized that I had another privilege – my skin color. I am a Portuguese (Caucasian) male from a middle class background. Throughout my life, I had convinced myself that my skin color didn’t have anything to do with my success in school. I was wrong. In my Middle Childhood Psychology course, I learned that our school system was designed for white, middle class children. If you don’t fall into any of these groups, being successful in school can be much more difficult for you. I didn’t fully believe this until Dr. Burns, my supervisor at PJC, asked me to do research on the African American male achievement gap.
In my research, I found the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and Urban Strategies Council’s African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI). This initiative hopes to end the African American Male (AAM) achievement gap in Oakland by the conclusion of the 2014-2015 school year. In its research, the Urban Strategies Council researched 3 topics – attendance, suspension and whether AAM are on course to graduate. What they found was shocking…
This one ethnic-gender group had higher rates of absence than any other in the OUSD. 20% of AAM were chronically absent (missed 10% of school days or more) during the 2010-2011 school year. Of this group, the highest rates of chronic absence for AAM were seen among kindergarteners and 1st graders, children who do not have control over whether or not they made it to school. Even higher than average chronic absence rates were seen in several West Oakland schools (Prescott and Lafayette Elementary). Despite these alarming statistics, the OUSD and Education Code still decides to use the method of truancy, unexcused and unverified absences, as a measure of attendance problems.
Suspensions were also seen at high levels among African American Males in the Oakland Unified School District. Though AAM make up only 17% of the OUSD school population, this ethnic-gender group received 42% of the suspensions given during the 2010-2011 school year. Suspension rates are highest for AAM in middle school. West Oakland Middle School’s rate suspension rate for AAM students was 60% in 2010-2011. Many believe that this is because a portion of the African American Males in school dropout before entering high school.
The Urban Strategies Council research on graduation pointed out how chronic absence and suspension in schools are warning signs that a child will not graduate. I encourage all of you to review their research by clicking HERE
The question remains, why is the African American Male population experiencing such disparities in attendance, suspension and graduation rates in Oakland? Will the strategies and recommendations of the research truly address the issue? The only thing I can do is be hopeful. Although the data presented in the AAMAI was appalling, it also pointed out that the OUSD and Urban Strategies Council are aware of the problem. Acknowledgment is the first step in making change.