MIMAUE's Colloquium Series, Spring 2007
Session I: Providing High-Quality Early Care and Education to All Children
Dr. Brenda Jones-Harden, Dr. Rolf Grafwallner, Dr. Felicia Dehaney
Dr. Brenda Jones-Harden, Associate Professor, Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park
Dr. Rolf Grafwallner, Assistant State Superintendent, Early Childhood Development, Maryland State Department of Education
Dr. Felicia DeHaney, Senior Program Associate, National Black Child Development Institute, Washington, DC
In these critical times of academic disparity, with the focus of the educational enterprise fixed on the No Child Left Behind Act, Dr. Jones-Harden asked the audience to direct their attention to the possibility of "A Child Left Behind: The Young Black Male." By paralleling the typical adage of a child left behind in school to a young black male who enters school already behind, she heightened the awareness of the crucial state of the African American male in today's educational environment and in society at large. Dr. Jones-Harden compelled the audience to consider some epidemiological data as she painted the dismal picture of the fate of the African American male if serious concern and consideration is not directed immediately to this targeted population. Dr. Jones-Harden argues that young black males start school with a gap that widens over time and experience a developmental trajectory of being left further and further behind. According to Dr. Jones-Harden, boys have higher rates of infant mortality/morbidity, teacher-child conflicts, ADHD diagnoses, and externalizing problems. Additionally, boys have more reading difficulties in the early years, are more likely to be placed in special education, and are considered by their parents to be more challenging to raise. She further depicted a profile of the young black child to include prenatal and infant health care complications, maternal work and poverty issues; and provided a most alarming statistic – a black baby boy has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison. Dr. Jones-Harden reported data that revealed young black males' skills (beginning sounds, sight reading, and addition/subtraction) from the beginning of kindergarten to the end as behind those of young white males even if they start at the same level.
When addressing how the concerns for young black males should be approached, Dr. Jones-Harden emphasized the need to focus on the "whole" child. This focus includes health care, cognitive/language stimulation, and socialization. She spoke to the need for a prescriptive pedagogy with an intentional curriculum that is content-driven, research-based, developmentally appropriate, responsive to cultural diversity, and is provided by high-quality teachers. This prescriptive pedagogy should be tailored to the characteristics and needs of the young black male child (high activity, experimental, hands-on learning, non-verbal communication and strong, colorful language, and linked to social context). Also of critical concern is the socialization of young black males that nurtures social-emotional competence and healthy habits through an overexposure of black male models.
Dr. Grafwallner further substantiated the national data and issues presented by Dr. Jones-Harden with some state trend data for over 54,000 kindergarten children and data that are specific to African American males in the state of Maryland. Kindergarten students in Maryland were observed and evaluated by their teachers on 30 indicators of learning that included socio-personal, physical development, cognitive development, early literacy, and early mathematics. The students were rated either fully ready (demonstrated the skills to do kindergarten work), approaching (uneven skill levels), or developing (seriously behind and in need of interventions). The results of five cohorts from the 2001-2002 school year to the 2005-2006 indicate 60 percent of the students evaluated in 2005-2006 were "fully ready," which was an 11 percent increase from the 2001-2002 school year. It is projected that by the 2007-2008 school only 64 percent of the kindergarteners will be "fully ready," which is far below the statewide goal of 75 percent. Though the school readiness of children from all ethnicities improved, there are still large gaps between white and minority children. Further, there remains a wide gap of 11points between males and females.
Data specific to African American males indicate more African American males were prepared for kindergarten in 2005 than in 2001. However, their progress is not as pronounced as the one for African American females. Moreover, the progress in social skills was not as strong as in the cognitive areas. In fact, it was significantly below the state's average of 63 percent. The data from this cohort study also indicate that African American boys are not doing as well in early mathematical thinking. Also, according to Dr. Grafwallner, every one out of six African American boys has significant delays in language and literacy before they start their school career. Dr. Grafwllner spoke to two of the recommendations from the Maryland K-16 Council Task Force on the Education of Maryland's African American Males. One recommendation states that whenever possible, improve the quality of care. Dr. Grafwallner stressed the importance of bringing early childhood education back to the universities as an education field. This in essence is to ensure that all three- and four-year olds are experiencing similar kinds of standards and a high-quality of teaching that affirms appropriate pedagogical practices in the classroom. Another recommendation is the implementation of comprehensive services that provide a boost in all areas of the child: the classroom, the family, and the referral services.
Bringing the two previous presentations full circle, Dr. DeHaney provided a culminating presentation that extended the information discussed by Drs. Jones-Harden and Grafwallner. Dr. DeHaney shared outcome statistics for white and black kindergartners. For every 100 white kindergartners compared to every 100 African American kindergarteners: 93 whites to 87 African Americans graduate from high school; 65 whites to 50 African Americans complete at least some college; and 33 whites to 18 African Americans obtain at least a bachelor's degree. Further, among three- to five-year-olds, white children are more likely than African American children to have higher literacy and numeracy skills. Upon entering kindergarten, black children experience larger class sizes and have less prepared teachers than their white counterparts. Dr. DeHaney contends that the historical plight of African American males is still one of the most documented, complex, and vital issues in today's educational and social arena. Astonishingly, a current prison project plans new construction based on current third- and fourth-grade reading levels; these predications have proven to be very accurate. Dr. DeHaney reported these statistics for African American males: more than half drop out of school; more than half between the ages of 16 and 22 are out of work and not in school; comprise 87 percent of juvenile parolees; comprise 60 percent of adult parolees; 70 percent were unemployed in their twenties; and by their mid-thirties, 60 percent of high school dropouts serve time in jail.
In light of these findings, Dr. DeHaney argues that the future of African American male children begins at birth. Pre- and post-natal care and nutrition is vital. A study in New York public schools and juvenile facilities determined that a diet of increased fruit and whole grains and decreased fats and sugars, with no changes in the research sites, significantly improved academic performance and social behavior. Other factors suggested by Dr. DeHaney to promote the future of African American males are: quality education, school readiness, parent involvement, teacher qualification, culturally competent teachers, and an awareness of cultural contexts. Finally, she offered these contingences to the success of African American males in schools:
- Clear, high goals for all students and curriculum aligned to those goals
- Extra instruction for students who need it
- Qualified teachers
- Cultural competence
- Above adequate resources
- Successful parent programs
- Good teaching (it matters more than anything else)
The presentations of these speakers, who represent varied educational organizations, clearly portray the very critical state of African American males. Curtailing further demise and advancing a positive agenda for the future of African American males is imperative. A quote shared by Dr. Jones-Harden compels us to rethink the role and responsibilities of the educational enterprise—"Indeed, the problem is not...African American males. Rather, the problem is that the public education system in which they are thrust does not appropriately educate them." (Hopkins, 1997)