Read an Excerpt
Reducing the Black Male Dropout Rate
By Jawanza Kunjufu
African American ImagesCopyright © 2010 Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu
All rights reserved.
I wrote this book because I am concerned about the high dropout rate of Black males in America. We will explore the many reasons for this crisis, but first I want you to understand the hearts and minds of young Black males who have just entered ninth grade. The fourth and ninth grades are the make-or-break years for Black boys. If they don't do well in those years, they are at risk of failing academically and dropping out.
Before arming you with the latest research and strategies that you can implement in your school, home, church, and community to rescue this troubled generation, consider the following stories and challenges facing young Black males in America.
My name is Kevin. I'm a ninth grader in one of the largest Black high schools in the city. There's almost 1,000 students in my freshman class. This is very different from when I was in eighth grade. In my elementary school, everybody knew me. We only had 22 students in my eighth grade class. It felt like home. It felt like family. I feel like a drop in the bucket at this high school. I would like to talk to one of the freshman girls, but they only seem interested in the junior and senior males. I would like to get closer to my teachers, but it's almost 35 students in a class, and I have seven different classes. It's the third week of school, and most of them still do not know my name. Can someone please help me graduate?
My name is Willie. I'm 16 years of age, and I finally made it to high school. I'm in the ninth grade. They held me back in third grade and fifth grade. I guess you could say I'm lucky to be here, but it's not easy being in ninth grade with only a fourth grade reading level, and I can barely do third grade math. I don't know how long I'm going to be able to stay here. Even if I make it to the 12 grade, I'll be 20 years of age when (if) I graduate. I wonder what my reading score will be then? I wonder what my math score will be? Can someone please help me graduate?
My name is Ricky. My greatest challenge as a ninth grader is not algebra, geometry, or trig, biology, chemistry, or physics. My greatest challenge is the eight-block walk from home to school. I'm happy every time I make it to school. No one, especially the adults, knows what it's like walking those eight blocks. If you thought there were challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, you need to experience the eight blocks I have to walk every day. I have to go through two gang territories to make it to school. Almost every day I'm being recruited by gangs. They tell me that they're family. I know they can provide me with protection, but I also know that once you join a gang it's very difficult to get out — at least get out alive. The drug dealers are also after me. They keep trying to convince me that there's more money to be made selling drugs than learning math and science.
My friends taught me how to survive the eight-block walk to school. You have to avoid eye contact. You have to walk fast. You have to keep one hand free. You have to have a mean face. You have to keep it moving. And it helps when I arrive to school early and stay late. Can someone please help me graduate?
My name is Greg. I'm in the ninth grade, but I can't stop thinking about something that happened to me in the fourth grade. My teacher, Miss Jones, had asked the class a question. It was about something we had just learned in history. I was so excited that I shot my hand up. I knew the answer! I held my hand up in the air, felt like at least 10 minutes. I was confident that I could answer the question correctly. I was so excited.
I never will forget it. Miss Jones told me to put my hand down. She said I didn't know my left hand from my right. She said I was too stupid to answer the question. Then she called on someone else.
I'm a Christian, but that day I could have hurt Miss Jones because she really hurt me. As you can see, I'm still hurt five years later. It is often said that sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you. That is a lie from the pit of hell. I'm still hurting, and I pray that I don't have any teachers in high school who will also try to break my spirit. Can someone please help me graduate?
My name is Chris. My greatest challenge as a ninth grader is not math or science. My greatest challenge is finding a place to do my homework. For the past three years, I've been tossed back and forth between my 81 year-old grandmother, my foster parents, who seem to be in it for the money, and my mother, who loves crack more than me. I try to stay with my mother, but it never works out. It's difficult trying to do homework when you're on the street homeless or in a shelter. I guess my friends at school can tell when I spent the last night in a shelter or under some bridge, trying to stay warm and dry. It's hard being a high school freshman, 14 years of age, and have never been told, "I love you." Can someone please help me graduate?
My name is David. I go to an affluent White suburban high school. My parents were scared of all the Black boys who were killing each other in the city. They decided that safety was the most important issue in our family. My parents qualified for Section 8 housing, and it has allowed me to attend one of the best high schools in the state. They tell me I should feel blessed attending this high school and being away from the ravages of the inner city. But it's not easy at this high school. It's not as good as people say it is. It's not easy when you are one of the few African Americans in the class. Insensitive teachers always turn to me whenever they discuss a Black issue. I never said that I was the Black expert on Black affairs.
It's also difficult being in a school where the only African American adults are cafeteria workers and janitors. I know my parents meant well when they put me in this school, but I don't know if I'll make it. Can someone please help me graduate?CHAPTER 2
Teachers and school leaders often tell me they really do want to improve academic performance and reduce the Black male dropout rate, but they don't know what to do.
Let the following issues be your "talking points." These are the issues that face Black males on a daily basis. In my 35 years of work with schools and communities, I've come to believe that these are the most important issues that must be confronted if we are to improve the lives of Black male students.
The village has not been strong enough to meet the needs of its children, 68 percent of whom live without a father in the home.
Boys don't drop out in the 12th grade. They physically drop out in ninth grade, but they emotionally and academically drop out in fourth grade.
We can't find $5,000 for Head Start, $15,000 for elementary and high school, or $20,,000 for college, all of which are cost effective. But we can find $30,000 (and more) to send males to prison, which has a recidivism rate of 85 percent.
Boys drop out of school when teachers break their spirits.
Students drop out of school when adults stop parenting.
How can you do homework when your home does not work?
When Black males feel that school is boring and unsafe, they decide to skip the drama and get their GED.
Did Black boys drop out, or were they pushed out?
The dropout rate, more than any other statistic, reflects the quality of our schools, not an inadequacy in our boys.
Our boys' greatest challenge is not math or science. It's walking to school without getting into a fight, getting robbed, or getting shot.
Let's begin to evaluate schools the same way we clock a race. It's not about how many start the race but how many make it to the finish line.
Some boys drop out because the streets are calling them.
Students drop out when Instructors think they are teaching subjects rather than students.
When boys can't read, their reasoning ability is handicapped. Their critical thinking skills are weakened.
Schools will reduce the Black male dropout rate only when teachers, staff, and administrators begin to bond with their students.
Can you educate a thug? Can you empower a thug's parents?
Special education, dropping out, and prison are all connected.
The dropout rate exceeds prison capacity.
High schools accept students with fifth grade skills. Colleges are now accepting students with eighth grade skills.
Grades are not important to high school students who have no desire to attend college or who do not believe they will live beyond the age of 21.
Nearly one-third of all parents are disengaged from their children. Could this explain why large numbers of students are disengaged from school?
Teachers spend most of their time disciplining five disruptive students rather than teaching the 20 who want to learn.
Do we have a racial dropout disparity or a retention, special education, and suspension disparity?
American schools were never designed to educate all students. They are designed to reflect our class structure, which is 10 percent elite, 60 percent middle-class, and 30 percent poor.
Most Black males do graduate — not with a high school diploma but with a GED earned in prison.
Teacher quality is a major cause of the high dropout rate in failing schools. Academic improvement and a reduction in the dropout rate will be achieved only when teachers are assigned to teach those subjects they are degreed in and certified to teach.
Between birth and 18, schools have children only nine percent of the time. That leaves the preschool years, evenings, weekends, and summers in the hands of parents.
Teacher turnover is a chronic problem in failing schools. At the high school level, students sometimes experience several teachers in one course during the year because of high turnover. The dropout rate could be reduced if teacher retention was improved.
Just because a student is physically present in class doesn't mean he is engaged. He may be an "internal drop out," disengaged from the academic life of the school.
If schools are concerned about closing the achievement gap and reducing the dropout rate, then why are the best teachers reserved for juniors and seniors, honors and advanced placement classes?
I have never met a dropout who did not have the potential to graduate.
Schools tend to be teacher-centered, not student-centered.
African American males can go from kindergarten to eighth grade without ever experiencing a Black male teacher.
The future of the Black race is, in large measure, in the hands of White female teachers.
A boy might decide to stay in school if a teacher, staff person, or administrator takes the time to learn his name and care about him.
The streets are pulling our boys out of school. Who will pull them back in school?
If students have to sit in class for at least six hours a day for 13 years, then they have the right to ask teachers that dreaded question, "Why do I have to learn this?"
The benchmark of all learning is the ability to read and compute. Many Black males graduate as functional illiterates in both reading and math.
The word "graduation" suggests that the highest learning standards have been met by both students and teachers. Can we really use that word when Black males have not met basic standards by 12th grade?
Some Black males say they hate school because it's boring. The problem is, most teachers don't feel it's their job to motivate students.
Some Black males say they don't need school because they're going to the NBA, or they're going to sign a rap contract, or they're going to be the first drug dealer never to be caught.
Uneducated males with guns who hate themselves are dangerous to themselves and everybody around them.
The dropout rate has not changed much in 40 years.
Schools have always miseducated Black males, but there used to be a safety net. Factory work once provided a decent income. Today when schools miseducate Black males they go to prison.
Many fathers are doing a great job serving as role models for their sons, but they do not live with them.
A boy will never become a complete man until he reconciles his relationship with his father.
Why do some governors decide to build more prisons rather than improve schools when state statistics show an increase in fourth grade boys failing school?
Almost 80 percent of boys placed in special education are not ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). They are behind in reading; therefore the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) should address how to improve their reading ability. Also, these boys should not receive Ritalin.
Two White male students are caught fighting. They are given a warning by the teacher. An African American male student looked at the same teacher and she recommends suspension.
Why is it okay to have an all male remedial reading class, special education program, or disciplinary class, but it's not okay to have a proactive single-gender classroom for boys on grade level or above?
There are three ways to reduce the homicide rate of Black males in urban areas. First, eliminate guns — but the NRA would not allow it. Second, bring the Bible and prayer back into schools — but the ACLU and atheists would not allow it. Third, teach African American males their history, culture, the Nguzo Saba, and Ma'at — but racists would not allow it, and Negroes have no desire to include Africentric activities in lesson plans.
A drug dealer can never be your friend. The most critical year in Black America was 1980 AC(after crack). That was the year when crack began to destroy the Black family.
Gangs do their greatest recruiting Mondays thru Fridays from 3pm – 7pm.
In order to reduce the dropout rate, educators must learn and appreciate the culture of their students.
If schools want to reduce the dropout rate, they should solicit suggestions from their students.
No amount of money can improve our present educational system.
We could reduce the dropout rate if teachers replaced boring lectures, ditto sheets, and textbooks with exciting, culturally relevant lessons.
We could reduce the dropout rate if unions did not control education and we gave principals the ability to hire and fire their staff.
Why do boys grades K-3 bring home more books than males grades 9-12?
Boys have better test scores than girls, but females have better grades. The culprit is homework.
Why do high schools start so early, knowing their students are sleep deprived?
Boys are bored with English classes and their over emphasis with fiction. Most boys prefer non-fiction.
We will reduce the dropout rate when boys will have the opportunity to select their literature.
We could reduce the dropout rate if we reduced principal turnover. Some boys have had 4 principals in 4 years.
We could reduce the dropout rate if we replaced pop, red hots, chips, and candy with water, juice, fruit, vegetables and vitamins.
How can teachers say Black boys cannot learn physics when they can bounce a ball 30 inches in circumference, at 20 mph, on a court 94 feet in length, and jump 10 feet high from the free throw line, which is 15 feet from the basket, and dunk the ball in a basket 62 inches in circumference?
How can teachers say Black boys can't learn language arts when they can listen to a rap CD and can repeat over 500 lyrics in less than 5 minutes?
How can teachers say Black boys cannot learn math when they can convert kilos into grams and grams into dollar bills without pencil, paper, or calculator?
Boys drop out of school when they get tired of walking by boarded up houses, gangs, crack heads, prostitutes, and billboards promoting alcohol and cigarettes on their way to school.
Boys in 6th grade have a 75 percent of dropping out if they are having problems in either attendance, behavior or poor academics.
You can't teach what you don't know. You can't nurture what you don't love. You can't respect what you don't understand.CHAPTER 3
In this chapter, I will describe the statistical wasteland regarding education in Black America. Later I will provide strategies to reduce the Black male dropout rate, but first it is necessary to assess the breadth and depth of the problem.
The numbers do paint a dismal picture. However it's important to take our heads out of the sand and face the realities head on. The statistics should create a sense of urgency in you, because Black boys are truly in a state of emergency.
This table sorts the district data by Black male enrollment.
There are 26,407 high schools in America and 2000 have become dropout factories for African American males.
50 percent of students retained once will not graduate. 90 percent of those retained twice will not graduate.
1.25 million youth drop out annually. 7,000 drop out daily.
A person will drop out of school every 26 seconds.
31 percent of all high school students drop out.
The high dropout rate has led to $329 billion in lost wages, taxes, and crime in the U.S.
High school graduates are 20 percent less likely to commit crimes than non-graduates.
78 percent of inmates do not possess a high school diploma.
73 percent of high school dropouts commit crime.
The dropout rate is 10 percent for Asians, 18 percent for Whites, 43 percent for Hispanics, and 45 percent for African Americans.
Excerpted from Reducing the Black Male Dropout Rate by Jawanza Kunjufu. Copyright © 2010 Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu. Excerpted by permission of African American Images.
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