Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where have all the boys gone?

The room was packed. In one of my classes, there were more students than there were desks. It was September and the first week of classes. I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility regarding the hundred students who were being entrusted in my care as their tenth grade English teacher. Although my sense of responsibility did not dwindle, the number of students drastically did. By November, my class roster had dwindled to roughly eighty-five students. Of that number, perhaps seventy-five of my students regularly attended class. Where had all my students gone? Yes, there were the expected transfers and student switches, but a quarter of my classes gone? As I surveyed the original September roster, the stark reality hit me: Most of my missing students were males. In the inner-city, urban, high school in which I taught, I was perplexed as to why we were losing so many of our African-American and Hispanic males from the classroom.
My classroom reflects a problem facing many classrooms across the country. Statistics show that on average, of African- American and Hispanic males, only 43% and 47%, respectively, are earning their high school degree (McGlamery & Mitchell, 1999). African American and Hispanic males are dropping out of high school at astonishing rates. The young men were leaving my classroom for a variety of reasons. Some received safety transfers to another school after a violent altercation, others were suspended for various infractions, and most disturbingly, some had just stopped coming to school altogether. Something has to be wrong with the systematic lack of retention of inner-city males.
McGlamery and Mitchell (1999) looked at a variety of factors when considering the number of dropouts. One aspect has been the absence of Hispanic and African-American male teachers in the classroom. Many of these students fail to see someone who represents them and lack a positive male role model in their own lives. This can be disheartening to many students and confirmation of the perceived impossibility of achieving to certain levels. “Students were better able to connect with African- American [teachers] who embodied their cultures and attitudes, and thus project themselves into these new opportunities” (McGlamery & Mitchell, 1999). In the school in which I teach, more than seventy percent of the staff is female and of that less than five percent represent multicultural descent. In my own experience, students seem encouraged by this miniscule proportion of minority educators and often seek them out for advice beyond the classroom. These male teachers become mentors and role models to young men who often lack that figure in their own families.
Students often seek out a mentor figure to navigate some of the challenges of an inner-city environment. Violence and gang activities are an all-too common occurrence for many male students in and out of schools. When these situations erupt, misbehavior is often punished with long-term suspensions. Minority students are often suspended more often and for longer periods of time than their white peers (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2000). When students return from these lengthy suspensions, they often will feel displaced. They no longer know what is going on in the classroom, they are unaccustomed to the classroom culture, and may be treated differently by their peers. Students may respond by disengaging altogether or acting out in a way that results in more time out of the classroom.
Students may also be discouraged by mandated high stakes exams. Studies have shown that states with rigorous state exams, black male students were 7.3% more likely to drop out than their peers in other states (Walden & Kristonis, 2008). These exams are often criticized for their cultural bias, which reflects the experiences of middle class, white America. Black male students who may have completed all their class work may find themselves in a rut when they cannot pass exit exams. Many students in my school have all their credits but are held back semester after semester by a single Regents exam that is required for a New York State diploma.
The statistics facing these students who do not graduate from high school are grim. Her are some of the most serious considerations:
• 59% of prison inmates are high school dropouts.
• High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated.
• The U.S. death rate is 2.5 times higher for with less than 12 years of education.
• The average yearly earning rates for a high school dropout was $23,903 in 2003.
These stark figures relate the gravity of this national dilemma. This is problem that is not only facing individuals but also a nation as a whole. Eventually, these young men affect the greater community in a negative manner.
Studies may also want to consider in the future, the effect of cultural beliefs on dropout rates. I have observed a more laissez faire attitude toward parenting when it comes to my male students as opposed to my female students. The males are often allowed more freedom, which often culminates in bad decision-making. Furthermore, cultural values on education may dictate for many how many of them go to school past the compulsory age. Many of my students express to get out of school and work as the “man of the house.” Being book smart is not considered as much as a skill amongst many cultures if you are not providing for the home.
There have been several studies aimed at attacking these high dropout rates but no one solution. These numbers reflect a larger problem in urban communities that has devalued the worth of the Hispanic African-American man and made the educated family man much too
scarce. In the meantime, small group instruction centered on the student and the availability of positive male figures has proven instrumental in increasing the achievement of these students.

References
Davis, J. E., & Jordan, W.E., (Fall 1994). The effects of school context, structure, and experiences on African American males in middle and high school. Journal of Negro Education, 63(4) 570-584.

Glamery, S., & Carol, M. (1999). Recruitment and Retention of African Males in High School
Mathematics (Fourth Annual National Conference). Retrieved July 12, 2009, from University of Nebraska Web site: http://www.digitalcommons.unl.edu/pocpwi4/22

Skiba, R.J., Michael, R., Nardo, A., & Peterson, R. (2000). The color of discipline
(Policy Research Report No. SRS1). Retrieved July 12, 2009, from University of Indiana Web site: http://www.indiana.edu/~safeschl/cod.pdf

Walden, L. M., & Kristonis, W. A., PhD. (2008). The Impact of the
Correlation between the No Child Left Behind Act's High Stakes
Testing and the High Drop-out Rates of Minority Student. National
Journal for Publishing and Mentoring Doctoral Student Research, 5(1).

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