Helping Black Boys Succeed in School, Part 2

Black boys continue to struggle within many United States schools and we’ve got to do something about it. Now. As a part of the MANifest series, I’ve decided to highlight five things “to do’s” to improve Black boys' school success (these measures also work for Black girls or any child, but I’ll explain why they’re particularly important for Black males). Last week, I wrote about two things that guardians of Black boys could do to encourage their academic success; here are two other important measures for helping your little ones flourish in school.

Understand the School's Behavioral System

Black males are more likely than White children and Black females to be suspended or expelled from school. Of course it isn't the case that Black boys are particularly bad; evidence suggests Black boys’ actions are interpreted more negatively and Black boys are more severely penalized for behavioral infractions. While there is no foolproof way to avoid behavioral issues in classrooms, it’s important to be clear how your child’s teacher deals with behavior in the classroom.

When children are suspended they get less time in the classroom time and are less exposed to the curriculum, which has a negative influence on their academic performance. Beyond that, suspension affects a child’s social experiences in school because it separates them from other children and can strain the relationship between children and the teacher.

As the year begins, speak to your child’s classroom teacher to find out how they deal with behavior in the classroom. While in year's past there may only have been a list of “do’s and don’ts,” now teachers are relying on more complex system of incentives and disincentives for behavior. Find out from your child’s teacher what your child must do to receive full privileges or special rewards in the classroom and learn what the consequences are for inappropriate actions. The more you know, the better position you are in to ensure that your child is treated equitably and receives appropriate direction in the classroom.

Identify Gaps Early

One of the big buzzwords in debates on education is the 'achievement gap'—the gap in average scores on achievement tests between racial, gender, or economic groups. You are sure to hear it tossed about during this presidential election season or even from your child’s principal. While the achievement gap is important, I have found that many parents don’t think about how it applies to them. Your child may or may not be outperforming other fourth graders in the state or in his classroom. We tend to look at children individually, not within larger groups. Because of the concentration on the achievement gap, there is now more information on children’s educational progress that can be used to get a firm grasp on how your child is doing in his classroom.

For better or for worse, children now routinely get assessed on their schoolwork via quizzes, exams, portfolios and standardized tests. Try to use this influx of information to your advantage to keep up to date on your child’s educational strengths and weaknesses. Too often, gaps in children’s learning go unnoticed by parents but are noted by teachers. In the worse case scenario, this information and behavioral misinterpretation could be used to misclassify boys into special education or to justify them being treated differently in the classroom. By remaining abreast on your child’s educational performance and working with educational advocates inside and outside of your school to find appropriate resources to make sure your child excels.

Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York- CUNY. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his official website.