December 14, 2007

Problems with the Prospect's "Left Behind?"

by PG

I'm really happy to see reports on programs that help African American students succeed; I have been a believer in such programs since I went to the University of Virginia and witnessed how well its tutoring and mentoring efforts worked (86% of black students graduated within 6 years, better than every other public school and most private schools). However, I don't think that Dana Goldstein's article covers everything that it should about the issue of programs that are solely for black males.

First, it doesn't get all of its facts quite right. For example, she claims early in the article, "More young black males are behind bars than in university lecture halls." There are more black men in jails and prisons than in college, but remember that prison sentences often are a lot longer than higher education spans (even if you're Tommy Boy), so the prison population includes many men who no longer can be called "young." More college-age men are in college than in prison.

Second, and more importantly, it doesn't attempt to disaggregate the effects of race from those of class. In the world she describes, white = affluent and minority = poor. While this may be accurate for a majority of the kids in a Westchester town, particularly with a recent influx of low-income immigrants, it nonetheless ignores the crux of the legal problem that she does note: targeting by income is still constitutionally OK, targeting by race is not. Goldstein gives three paragraphs of the article to quotes from people on this point, but she never really discusses it. Why doesn't Ossining allow all poor students -- female as well as male, white and Latino as well as black -- join its best-funded program? If the reason is that the young black men gain some particular benefit from being segregated from women and non-blacks, then part of the Ossining Plan's raison d'etre doesn't seem sound. (To the extent that racial integration from first grade onward has minimized racial tensions, the Plan does work.) Goldstein says,

Research shows that students who attended racially and socioeconomically integrated schools have better life outcomes than their nonintegrated peers of similar socioeconomic status. Integrated kids of all classes and races grow up into more tolerant adults. And although integrated schools don't always do a better job of sending poor, nonwhite kids to college, studies have shown that black students are more likely to be successful in the workforce if they've attended integrated schools.
So maybe a more complex blend of integration and segregation is what we need: classroom hours with a mix of students, but also some in-school time with students of the same race and gender to discuss common concerns that do not pertain to people of other races and genders. Or maybe not, and Ossining's special attention to young black males is as fear-based as some of the comments on the article suggest. Whatever it is, Goldstein failed to explain the reasoning behind the bit of racial segregation in this model of integration, and that makes her article unhelpful in understanding the dynamics of academic success. The overall effect is to bemoan the Supreme Court's failure in Seattle to understand the value of integration -- while quietly dodging what Ossining finds valuable in segregation.

December 14, 2007 12:32 AM | TrackBack

For what it's worth, I went to Ossining High. I think it's a terrific school district in comparison to every other public school I have seen across the country.

Posted by: Dave at December 14, 2007 03:16 AM

Thank you for clarifying the real meaning of the statistic that there are more Black men in prison than there are in college. This much repeated "fact" distorts the truth of Black achievement in some very damaging ways.

The fact is that there continues to be an achievement gap between Black and white students, and -- within the Black student population -- between young Black women and young Black men; and yet hundreds of thousands of young Black people enter college each year, and many have great success.

Posted by: AJ at December 15, 2007 07:24 PM
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