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Boosting College Readiness Among Black and Latino Males

Most of us have heard the bleak statistics on the educational outcomes facing young men of color. According to the Schott Foundation’s 50 State Report, 52 percent of black males and 60 percent of Latino males graduated from high school, compared to 78 percent of white non-Latino males.

Not surprisingly, there are disparities in college degree attainment as well. Nationally, only 26 percent of black males and 18 percent of Latino males attain an associate degree or higher, according to a 2010 College Board report.

In New York City, the good news is that growing numbers of black and Latino males are graduating from high school. However, very few meet the New York State Education Department criteria for being "college ready," defined as earning a New York State Regents Diploma, and receiving a score of 80 or higher on a mathematics Regents examination and a score of 75 or higher on an English Regents examination.

By this standard, among students scheduled to graduate in 2010, only about 9 percent of black males and 11 percent of Latino males were ready for college.

What accounts for the many students who fall off the path to college? Poverty, language, and cultural barriers can act as severe impediments to succeeding academically. For other students, school-level practices get in the way of college readiness. Black and Latino boys, for example, are overrepresented in special education classes and are more likely to be suspended or expelled.

As a group, they also have less access to rigorous courses. In New York City, even black and Latino young men who enter high school with relatively high 8th grade test scores are less likely than their white and Asian male counterparts to graduate college ready, suggesting that some divergence in outcomes actually begins in high school.

In an effort to improve these outcomes, the Open Society Foundations has partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies and several New York City agencies to create the Young Men’s Initiative, which addresses disparities in education, criminal justice, employment, and health among young men of color.

The core educational component of the Young Men’s Initiative is the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI), designed to increase college and career readiness among the city’s black and Latino males. It is providing 40 schools with financial resources to launch or expand programming, as well as targeted professional development, particularly around culturally relevant pedagogy.    

A recent report by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, Moving the Needle: Exploring Key Levers to Boost College Readiness Among Black and Latino Males in NYC, highlights both the potential and the limitations of ESI. For example, as a school-focused effort, it cannot fully address the entrenched poverty that is so highly correlated with negative educational outcomes.

On the other hand, it does touch on several key levers for increasing college readiness among young black and Latino men:

  • Focus on college readiness. ESI schools not only work to increase academic preparedness, they also aim to enhance “college knowledge” and other aspects of readiness, including navigating the application, financial aid, and matriculation process as well as the cultural norms on college campuses.
  • Invest resources in the ninth grade. Focusing on the ninth-grade cohort allows schools to identify students who are off track for graduation early—an important strategy, since students who are off track by the end of their ninth grade year are 56 percent less likely to graduate. Several ESI schools are providing bridge programs that help students transition more smoothly from middle to high school and that target ninth graders with college-focused support.
  • Increase opportunities for rigorous coursework. ESI’s academic component encourages schools to revamp their curriculum to better align with the Common Core, increase the number of black and Latino males taking Advanced Placement and honors courses, and reprogram academic schedules so students can take more math and science courses.
  • Cultivate student leadership/student voice. Socioemotional support is critical to help address the environmental factors impeding the success of many black and Latino boys. ESI encourages schools to provide students with peer and adult mentoring, leadership opportunities, and structures such as advisory periods and freshmen seminars.
  • Form strategic partnerships. ESI’s design calls for schools to allocate some of their ESI funding to partner with organizations that provide a range of support to educators and schools. In addition, many ESI schools are partnering with higher education institutions to provide students with opportunities to take courses on college campuses and get valuable internship experience while still in high school.  
  • Train school staff in culturally responsive education. Perhaps the most unique feature of ESI is its focus on confronting underlying biases against young men of color and infusing ESI programming with culturally relevant or responsive education. Schools are working to create an environment in which staff and students value the experiences and perspectives of students typically labeled as disadvantaged and believe in their ability to thrive. 

Our ongoing evaluation is assessing the impact of ESI on students and the effectiveness of its implementation in schools. The first report from the study is expected in early 2014.

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