The Black Male and U.S. Public Education

Needless to say, the education system doesn’t want to educate young Black students. To non-Black educators, it would seem educating Black students is such a twisted idea. As they want to advance the oppression we must keep fighting. When we look at school systems there’s a million rules specifically aimed at Black students. Our hair, our physical style, our fashion, everything is done to make sure young Black students can’t truly survive. Advancing the literacy development of the Black male in contexts that are culturally relevant and meaningful has been a challenging task for educators across the P-12 spectrum. African Americans are still disregarded by that same spectrum. Educators often fully ignore this group of students. If there is a positive outlook in this category you better believe white people will change to keep this oppression running. In the world we live in, keeping our youth in check is something America has to do to make themselves feel confident. Confidence in public education is eroding, for our community it should have eroded already. Principals and teachers are facing increasing scrutiny to produce scores that ensure students are mastering content, thus the focus often shifts from literacy-based solutions to quick policy-based fixes. What does this mean? They want African bodies to come to school, get out, not having actually learned anything that’s worthwhile.  This often leads to frames that historically do not improve the reading achievement of African American males; reversed trends in literacy achievement for young men of color are stagnate. 

When the learning needs of students are not met, and students are given credit for classes that they have not passed, it becomes a disservice to the entire community. North Carolina recognized this and legal mandates were put in place to ensure all students received an equitable opportunity to reach their fullest academic potential. In July 1997, while many North Carolina teachers were soaking in the Carolina sun, the North Carolina Supreme Court quietly issued a monumental education decision in Leandro v. State of North Carolina, asserting that the state constitution promises every North Carolina child the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.”  Every child means every child.  In 1997, in Leandro v. State, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the state constitution’s right to education “is a right to a sound basic education. An education that does not serve the purpose of preparing students to participate and compete in the society in which they live and work is devoid of substance and is constitutionally inadequate.” The Court remanded this case for a trial and enumerated the criteria for a “sound basic education,”  In 2004, after the trial on the rural school districts portion of the Leandro case, known as Hoke County v. State (Leandro II) [which is 20 minutes from where I attended school] the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the State funding system failed to provide adequate resources for “the opportunity for a sound basic education.” The Court ordered the State to correct funding deficiencies and assigned a Superior Court to monitor compliance.

In 2011, the Superior Court determined that preschool funding cuts and other changes recently passed by the Legislature violated children’s constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. In 2012, the appellate court affirmed, and the Legislature amended the offending statutory provisions. Overwhelmingly the educational cuts the NC Courts were determined to reverse impacted African American males. Leandro was an economic stabilizer that had the ability to boost test scoresraise graduation ratesreduce the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration in adulthood. Leandro served as a manner to disrupt the  pipeline to prison, improving intergenerational social and economic mobility. Notably,The Leandro State Funding benefited Black students and students historically  from low incomes which were the very students who were systematically denied access to a sound, basic education according to the Leandro Funding Case.

What was the result for such a sweeping educational reform policy? A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute detailed how “North Carolina’s sustained investments over two eras of reform in the 1980s and the 1990s enabled it to become the first high-poverty Southern state to achieve above national norms and to make more progress in closing the achievement gap during the 1990s than any other state.”

Yet, today countless numbers of young men of color are disenfranchised educationally across our nation. Of all the challenges we face in education today, perhaps none is greater than the challenge of motivating, educating, and empowering Black male learners. Educational trends for African American males are linked directly to early struggles. African Americans have suffered disproportionately through the years in their quest for an equal education. Many African Americans were denied the right to learn how to read and write and often had to educate themselves.  It is interesting to note that the very funding policy that was meant to continue to level the economic educational funding field, was reversed in 2014 the courts stating that North Carolina needed relief during harsh economic times thus the struggle for educational advancement continues. 

African Americans continue to be exposed to inadequate learning environments, poor school structure, and differential treatment. The fact that this group of students is in crisis is evident on multiple levels, starting with graduation rates. According to the research of Ladson-Billing, U.S. high school graduation rate for Black males is just 47 percent, compared with 57 percent for Latino males and 75 percent for white males. (Ladson-Billings, 1995 / Center for Education Statistics, 2010).  Black children are labeled “mentally retarded” nearly 300% more than White children and only 8.4% of Black males are identified and enrolled in gifted and talented classes (Spring, 2013).  Literacy is the foundation of every content area and yet, the idea that literacy for young men of color must be culturally relevant still is largely dismissed as the staggering statistics cited above continue largely unchecked. (Spring, 2013).

One of the challenges facing administrators is how to ensure a quality education and assure equitable distribution of education resources to all students. Therefore, various learning strategies and intervention programs that might potentially equip minority students, especially African American males, with needed literacy skills must be examined.  It is critical that educators equip themselves with knowledge concerning cultural differences among students, perceptions African American males have about schools that hinder their achievement, and teaching practices that best serve African American male students.  

School leaders are increasingly more accountable for the achievement of students; therefore, school leadership must examine best teaching practices to ensure young men of color are on a trajectory of continuous improvement. School leaders will fail in their responsibility and students will continue to be at high risk of failure unless educators in schools and decision makers realize they must enhance the development of the academic potential of African American students (Noguera, 2006). Use of literacy strategies and activity-based lesson plans transforms the classroom into opportunities for all students to learn literacy strategies that can be utilized for a lifetime, not just testing time (Tatum, 2013). Instructional Leaders must utilize their expertise and training to ensure teachers fully understand the significance of lesson plan design. The role teacher’s play when adopting new literacy strategies to embed into lesson plans is a combination of planner, practitioner, action researcher, and reflector of teaching practices in diverse classrooms. Instructional leaders and teachers must focus on creating an atmosphere conducive to continuous improvement, defining, strengthening, and articulating those culturally relevant instructional practices needed to ensure the greatest student learning outcomes. This must be an ongoing process with daily supervision and monitoring of classroom practices (Engstrom, C. & Tinto, V,2013).        

Instructional Leaders must inspect what they expect regarding culturally relevant teaching practices that will promote academic success for students of color. Through carefully observing teaching, providing suggestions, coaching, or demonstrating a teaching skill or an alternative teaching method tailored to the needs of male students of color, Instructional leaders can provide comprehensive and targeted support and instructional feedback.   

Leading, supervising, and developing teachers requires listening, probing, reflecting, and engaging in conversations about teaching and learning. True instructional leadership suggests an understanding of curriculum and the ability to supervise and support best instructional practices for the students who desperately need tailored literacy instruction in the classroom. Specifically, school leaders must focus on improving the curriculum, instructional practices, and assessing data to begin and sustain real changes that will impact achievement for male students of color.  

Methods for Correction

As an educator I would ensure that male students of color, particularly male students from poverty who are educationally disenfranchised, be introduced to text that is textually responsive allowing them to link classroom content to their unique experiences.  I would ensure learning experiences for males to enter the text so that they can transfer the ideas and themes to fit their world.  This process of culturally relevant teaching with culturally responsive text and literacy strategies begins with having crucial conversations about what works (Abdal-Haqq, I.,2013).

I would recognize the significance of children bringing into the classroom experiences that are shaped by their ethnicity, culture, and race. Understanding these experiences allows the teacher to create an inclusive classroom.  Additionally, relevant text that juxtaposes the voice of males who are educationally disenfranchised with text that often further marginalizes students will provide greater insight to the solutions needed to change the plight of males in academic crises. My goal would be to increase  specific investment into models of literacy that best support male students of color. Literacy instruction should honor student’s realities and allow disenfranchised learners to see themselves in text. If our true desire is to leave no child behind, we must find a way to address the racial achievement gap in literacy in a very real and deliberate way.  

Black male students need to feel cared about, understood, supported, and encouraged by principals, teachers, parents, and peers to be academically successful. This would be the platform and approach I would take to counter decreased funding. There are clearly many components affecting student performance, and it takes caring teachers, excellent school leaders, involved parents, and the community to help African American males perform well. The academic challenges confronting Black male students in the school setting suggest an urgent need for the first opportunities of student learning to be culturally rich and relevant. Educators should be more vocal in encouraging and motivating African American males to succeed the first time. There are too many intervention programs to mention, but very little substitutive work on culturally relevant first-time opportunities to learn through culturally relevant text.                                

In July 1997,  when the North Carolina Supreme Court quietly issued the decision of n Leandro v. State of North Carolina, it came with a method of evaluation called the The Leandro test.  The Leandro test came with a weighty responsibility.  All stakeholders, including Judge Manning, expected to see an “educational bang for Leandro bucks.” Yet, more than a decade has passed, and many remain resistant to culturally relevant texts that support the achievement that judge manning and others expect.  No longer can we be about the business of excuses; should we succumb to excuses, cases such as Leandro will hold us accountable to ensure we are providing a “sound education” to all students. 

I would recommend teachers and administrators traveling to at least one national conference that focuses on school-wide culture. This experience will fortify teachers and administrators with the opportunity to see innovation and inquiry in action in schools throughout the country. Lastly, there should be a midyear State of the School event to ensure accountability of improvement processes for male students of color. The mid-year meeting would serve as a time of celebration for the great things that are happening to support school vision, as well as a roadmap that continues to show us the direction we need to follow as we continue to live up to our ethical obligations as a school.

When we begin to examine data, and the data suggest specific subgroups continuously fail academically, conscientious decisions must be made that will benefit these subgroups. Educational leaders must pay close attention to equity and how that not only relates to the needs of teachers but equity in the classroom. I genuinely believe that finding a measure of equity is a possibility when the curriculum is broad enough to service all students. As an administrator, I enhance my role in leading and shaping curriculum by ensuring equity has a vital role in school improvement practices.  

To the extent that any decision impedes student learning, there will be no support for the decision. This must be the resounding practice when it comes to making decisions that support  academic improvement for male students of color. I believe that everyone exercising leadership must have an active concern regarding ethical purpose. It is an ethical purpose that creates a foundation for us to support academic growth for the students who need us the most. 


Abdal-Haqq, I. (2014, October). Making Time for Teacher Professional Development. ERIC Clearinghouse, 36.

Engstrom, C. & Tinto, V. (2013). Access without support is not opportunity. Change, vol. 40  no. 1, 46-50. 

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

Noguera, P. (2006) Unfinished Business: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap in Our Schools.  San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass

Spring, Joel. (2013). American education. New York: McGraw Hill. 

Tatum, A.W. (2013). Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.