School Districts Are United to Improve the Achievement of Young Men of Color

By Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant

In October, CLASP collaborated with the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) in staging a two-day fall pre-conference session, “United to Make a Difference: Improving the Achievement of Young Men of Color,” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This gathering was the first meeting since the members of CGCS joined together in collective commitment to improve educational outcomes for boys and young men of color in partnership with the White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

Public urban school systems within the CGCS membership collectively educate at least one-third of America’s African American and Latino students and nearly 40 percent of all low-income boys and young men of color. Thus, the impact of this collaboration has the potential to significantly change the life trajectories of a tremendous number of children of color.

Improving outcomes for students of color requires changes in federal, state, and school district policies. It also requires changes in practice in school buildings and classrooms. Finally, it requires unearthing and eradicating bias, building bridges to cultural understanding, and empathy. These districts have a major task ahead of them, but they are ready to take on the challenge.

Over the coming months, school leaders will be engaged in a process of developing action plans that span from early childhood through high school completion and address domains such as teacher quality, school discipline, structural inequities in gifted and special education programs, and barriers to college and career readiness. A prominent element in discussions over the course of the two-day session was the need to involve youth in the crafting of these plans. In addition, districts were encouraged to think big and devise solutions that have significant systemic impact rather than merely programmatic efforts that reach small cohorts of students.

Over the last few years, CLASP has worked with a set of partners to identify a series of opportunities for impacting the educational outcomes of students of color. We submitted a memorandum fully detailing these areas for impact to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. They include:

  • Advance solutions for naming, increasing understanding, and addressing implicit bias in education
  • Promote school safety and connectedness through positive school culture
  • Recognize and address trauma as an underlying factor in education outcomes
  • Train teachers, counselors, and youth workers to develop culturally responsive pedagogy
  • Encourage a community-wide approach to address poverty as an impediment to academic success
  • Decrease disparities in school discipline, special education, and gifted education
  • Elevate middle school and high school transitions as critical times for intervention with students
  • Redesign the high school experience to support both college and career readiness
  • Invest in the recovery of students who have dropped out of school
  • Support postsecondary access and completion through greater access to school counseling services