Michigan Must Embrace Effort to Educate Boys of Color to Ensure Success

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mike Gallagher, CMF Editorial Correspondent

Ron Walker says he’s tired.

Tired of waiting for promised changes by governmental and educational officials across the nation – including Michigan – to focus school reform efforts on improving the quality of education for boys of color (blacks and Latinos).

“It is particularly disturbing that the problems experienced by boys of color in school parallel those experienced by males of color in adulthood,” says Walker.

“We believe that unless concerted action is taken to intervene effectively during childhood, another generation of adult males will be consigned to a life of hardship and despair.”    

Speaking to a gathering of philanthropic, governmental and educational leaders recently at an event entitled: “Education Matters: Student Achievement for Life-Long Success” in Lansing, Walker, executive director of the Boston-based Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC), says change must happen “and must happen now!”

Education officials in Michigan – from the State Board of Education to classroom teachers – must embrace the paradigm of school environments buffering boys of color from the risks and vulnerabilities present within their neighborhoods and society, he says.

“These people (educators) must develop an awareness of threats emanating from cultural and structural conditions that are reproduced in the school environment such as stereotype threat and racial/ethnic and gender micro-aggressions that are counterintuitive to schools’ attempts to implement youth development principles.

“Administrators and teachers must learn to operate under a common set of assumptions about the kind of school environment necessary to provide a shield that protects their students from harmful community and societal conditions,” warns Walker.

Noting the need for educators to bring “real world” training to the classroom, the COSEBOC official said schools – not only in Detroit, but state and nationwide – must teach the skills needed for boys of color to learn about and handle such things as “stop and frisk” police behavior, harsh prison sentencing, inadequate healthcare and high teacher turnover rates in urban school systems.

“Our research has led us to conclude that there is nothing inherently wrong with boys of color despite the preponderance of evidence that many face hardships both within and outside of school,” notes Walker.

“Rather, the problems confronting many boys of color are a byproduct of the social, economic, political and educational forces that operate within American society.

COSEBOC Develops New Tool For Change

To help in this effort, Walker says his organization has created the “COSEBOC Standards” that teachers/school officials can consider implementing with their respective efforts at educational reform.

“These standards can help them understand how their own pedagogical beliefs and understandings of race, ethnicity and gender can appear in educational practice. Only when there is that understanding can true reform be created and implemented for all boys of color.”

Key issues and practices that the COSEBOC Standards address – and which should be used in conjunction with Common Core State Standards - notes Walker, include core areas such as student assessments, parent/family/community partnerships, curriculum and instruction, school environment and climate, school leadership, counseling and school organization.

“If implemented properly, COSEBOC Standards and “Promising Practices for Schools Educating Boys of Color” – a compilation of best practices for educators dealing with this constituency – can serve as a culturally responsive lens through which to create and deepen an authentic integration of Common Core Standards in teaching and educating boys and young men of color,” he adds.

“Our (COSEBOC) standards provide a framework for assessment, curriculum, training, leadership and community engagement and more for schools across Michigan and the country,” says Walker.

Forming local and national collaborative partnerships move this effort forward has helped forge strong alliances with many influential partners, he told the Education Matters’ attendees.

“We are now joined with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, the Urban Leadership Institute, Metro Center for Urban Education, the American Public Health Association, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, many colleges and universities and others.

“Change can only happen when we all work together,” shares Walker. “We all know what happens when any segment of our society is under-served or ignored. As a society we are all impacted with the fallout: crime, drugs, unemployment, a drain on resources, children having children, etc.

“Working together we change those outcomes for our next generation. We all need to get behind these real, world-tested practices that help boys and young men of color succeed.”

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