LONG ISLAND TEENAGER Kwasi Enin captured national headlines after becom- ing part of an impressive club: high school seniors who have been accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. However, while many celebrated Enin’s achievement, a bitter minority griped that the teenager had somehow gamed the system. The racial subtext was obvious – Enin couldn’t have actually have gotten into all those schools by himself. Why? Well, because he’s Black.
This type of harmful and wholly inaccurate narrative has been constructed around Black male student achievement for years. Enin is just the latest high profile example of how it hurts all young men, high school high-achievers or not, by implying that the majority of Black boys are hopelessly behind and may never be able to narrow the achievement gap.
There are, of course, legitimate issues that Black male students face due to a confluence of factors. But even data that shows the
more dire aspects of Black male achievement does not exist in a vacuum, with researchers misrepresenting or not calculating for the experiences of Black male students.
The good news is that bright spots like Enin may help raise the profile of America’s Black young men. However, there is a lot of work to be done, beginning with rethinking the way we use these seven common myths.
MYTH 1. There are more Black males in prison than college.
Black men are grossly over- represented in the penal system. However, there are more Black males in college than in prison, as of 2011. Howard Univer- sity professor and Baton Rouge na- tive Ivory A. Told- son found in his research that there are about 600,000 more Black males enrolled in higher education than are in jail.
This myth has been used by education experts, the media and even President Barak Obama, despite the fact that over the last decade, Black boys have largely avoided the school-to-prison pipeline.
MYTH 2. Less than 50% of Black males graduate from high school.
The high school drop- out rate for Black males has actually hit a his- toric low. According to a 2013 Education Week study, about 62% of Blacks completed high school in 2010 (the most recent year for which the necessary data was available), com- pared to 80% of white stu- dents. The increase repre- sents a 30% narrowing of the gap between Black and white high school students.
Indeed, Black males are graduating at historic levels. According to the Schott Foundation for Pub- lic Education, in 2009-10 the national graduation rate for Black male students was 52%. The graduation rate for white, non- Latino males was 78%. This is the first year that more than half of the nation’s Black males in 9th grade graduated with regular diplomas four years later. At the same time, overall high school dropout rates have decreased steadily since 1990, and there is no indication that the rates won’t continue to fall, given the trend over the past two decades.
MYTH 3. Black males don’t go to college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 1976 to 2010, the percentage of Black students [enrolled in college] rose from 9% to 14%. During the same period, the percentage of white students fell from 83% to 61%.
The Congressional Black Caucus report “Chal- lenge the Status Quo,” meanwhile, found that there are 12.5 million Black adult males living in Amer- ica, who make up 5.5% of the total population, and 5.5% of the students on college campuses across America are Black male students. The percentage of Black male students en- rolled in college is proportional to the 5.5% of Black men college-age or above living in the U.S. today.
MYTH 4. Black student-athletes graduate at higher rates than their non-athlete Black peers.
Often college coaches boast about how teamwork and sportsmanship trans- late to academic success. However, according to a University of Pennsylvania report on Black male stu- dent-athletes in NCAA Divi- sion I college sports, 50.2% of Black male student-ath- letes graduate within six years, compared to 55.5% of Black undergraduate students overall. And the disparity is even larger if Black male student-ath- letes are compared to other student athletes: 66.9% of overall student-athletes graduate within the same six-year period, represent- ing an 11.4% gap between Black student-athletes and their teammates.
MYTH 5. Black male students have the same opportunities as their peers.
This is an important one, part of the narrative that allows casual racism like the kind experienced by Kwasi Enin. In fact, a recent U.S. Education De- partment’s 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection sur- vey noted that the Ameri- can school system treats Black boys unfairly. Black male students receive a disproportionate number of suspensions, detentions and call-outs, and have a much higher rate of being expelled from school. In addition, schools attended by Black males have less ac-
cess to experienced teach- ers and advanced place- ment classes, according to the survey.
At the same time, the Casey Foundation recently found that Black students face the highest barri- ers to opportunities. The foundation’s researchers measured success toward 12 benchmarks, including literacy proficiency, rates of employment, income and several other factors. The report concluded that Blacks, when compared to other racial groups us-
ing these benchmarks, fare the worst due to disparities they face from birth.
MYTH 6. Black male students are underachievers.
Coded language and misused statistics have constructed this idea that Black male students are underachievers. But ignoring the fact that some of America’s brightest minds are Black, recent research shows that a lack of critical feedback and demonstrated high expectations is stiflingBlack confidence in the classroom.
In three do ble-blind randomized field experiments, researchers at the University of Texas found that Black students improve their grades af- ter having the assignment expectation reinforced by their teachers. These results point out that a cycle of mistrust and lower ex- pectations is a likely culprit in cases of Black underperformance.
BY ANTOINE SARGENT
Special to The Drum