Policy supports such as universal preschool, paid parental leave, and home-based early childhood learning activities can help address the achievement gap for boys and young men of color, a report commissioned by the Urban Institute finds.
Based in part on surveys of twenty-seven hundred classrooms, the report, Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color (93 pages, HTML or PDF), found that while boys and young men who are identified or self-identify as African Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans are overrepresented among students with low grades, low test scores, and disciplinary problems, they aspire to succeed academically as much as any other group. Because they tend to start kindergarten lagging their white peers in school readiness, however, boys and young men of color often are vulnerable to social pressure to misbehave and not do their best academically, which in turn often reinforces teachers' perceptions of prevailing stereotypes.
The study also found that young males of color face disparities in access to orderly classrooms — one of the strongest predictors of annual learning gains, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Project on Measures of Effective Teaching has found — and are overrepresented in schools where suspensions for misbehavior leads to missed opportunities for learning. Similarly, compared with their white peers, BYMOC students have limited access to effective teacher support, components of which includes teachers developing a supportive relationship with their students, stimulating students' interest, and insisting that they work hard and persist in the face of difficulty.
To foster conditions in homes, schools, peer groups, and communities that enable boys and young men of color to succeed academically, the report calls for more investment in preparing infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for the first day of school; providing teachers with the skills and supports they need to manage diverse classrooms and students at every skill level; teaching boys and young men of color to resist negative peer pressure and not put pressure on others; instituting classroom, school, and district guidelines for empathetic and developmentally supportive discipline; and helping boys and young men of color develop inspiring and achievable goals.
"Access to an orderly classroom may be the biggest form of inequity," report author and Harvard University lecturer Ronald F. Ferguson told National Public Radio. "At the same time that we work to desegregate, we also need to work to prepare the teachers and the administrators who work in the school to really cope effectively with the conditions they face....We can begin in early childhood, making sure that parents have a rich menu of ways of interacting with children to lay those early foundations for cognitive development. And to understand that it really matters."