Boys don’t drop out in the 12th grade. They physically drop out in the ninth grade, but they emotionally and academically drop out in the fourth grade.~Jawanza Kunjufu
Let’s go back in a time machine to our first day of kindergarten. For me, this time machine traveled almost 40 years back. The year was 1971 and my teacher was tall, and smart and oh so kind. She had a class room of about 25 students-boys and girls. We sat still in our tiny chairs, and hung to her every word. She had something that we all wanted even if at the time we had no idea what IT was. We just knew we were all happy and proud to be in school. I went on to continue to learn and love learning, I even lived abroad as an exchange student at 16. I grew up attending an all black public school on the south side of Chicago. Not a neighborhood that anyone would call wealthy or even middle class.
One thing became evident to me over the years…every year of middle school and high school I had fewer and fewer males in my classes. They stopped coming to school.
Black and Latino males have the lowest graduation rates of all students. According to national estimates, only 59 percent of Black males and 49 percent of Latino males complete high school. The graduation rate for white students is 75 percent to give you a point of reference. We are leaving behind a lot of folks—literally leaving them behind. Given the current economic downturn, those who do not have a high school diploma will certainly suffer even more extreme economic and social costs. Low skills in this country equals high incarceration rates, I dare someone to debate that point in this day and age.
Using Bureau of Justice statistics, researchers found that 17 percent of Latino males enter the criminal justice system in their lifetimes, compared to 5.9 percent of white males and 32 percent of Black males. Dropping out has huge consequences for the individual but also for society. Today we have more black men in prison than in college.
There were 41 black men enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007, according to the Black Star Project; 1.4 percent of the student body. That same year, there were 1,183 black men imprisoned at the Illinois River Correctional Center; 60 percent of that prison’s population
Many educators and researchers will tell you 9th grade is the defining moment for many. Something happens by the time they reach the ninth grade and it changes their lives forever.
- The majority of Black and Latino male students who dropped out failed core subjects in their first year of high school
- Black and Latino males who dropped out appear to have entered high school performing below their grade level in Math and English.
- The majority of Black and Latino males who dropped out repeated one or more grade levels
Kunjufu says approximately 100,000 African-American males drop out of high school each year; in some urban areas the black male rate approaches 70 percent. That amounts to 1 million Black males over 10 years. That 10-year figure is larger than the total population of Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Baltimore, Memphis or New Orleans.
When education reform is being discussed on the national and local levels they MUST include a clear and meaningful way to keep boys engaged in school. Wealthy parents don’t have smarter kids than the poor and working poor, than Blacks or Latinos, but what they perhaps do better is insist that the school do its job better. It’s not only the schools job to educate a child. It’s the communities job- parents, schools, teachers, churches all working together to help keep children on track and helping to create the right intellectual atmosphere and prioritize lifelong learning. A child does not just one day out of the blue drop out of school. This kid has been sending signs for years that he was on this track– he has been vulnerable for a while. Why is it ok for us to let all of this human capital just blow away?
I do not want to hear one thing about education policy reform until it has a face — and that face is brown and male. If we do not reform the education system in a way that will help more of these young men graduate than shame on us. We had all better care about black and latino men. One black man became president, and thousands of others are being left behind.