COLLEGE PARK-When child advocate Felicia DeHaney was a young girl she asked her Jamaican father why there were no black faces on U.S. paper money, as she had seen on Jamaican currency.
As a student in the gifted and talented program in elementary school in Long Island, N.Y., there were no black boys in her classes, and when she attended Howard University in Washington D.C. in the early 1990s, black males were still few and far between, she said.
DeHaney, a senior official of the National Black Child Development Institute, is now in a position to do something about it, and on Wednesday evening, she joined two other experts at a forum on minority education sponsored by the University of Maryland’s Institute for Minority Achievement and Urban Education.
“It’s clear that we have a set of kids that are getting miseducated, our job is to try and tailor the education experience so it fits them,” said Brenda Jones-Harden, a panelist and expert on early childhood education and child welfare.
The experts explored reasons why black males lag behind in educational achievement and proposed possible solutions, ranging from improving early education to black-male-only classes. They cited statistics that showed just how far behind young black boys are starting out.
One of six African American boys entering kindergarten has significant deficiencies in language and literacy before they start their school career, according to research presented by Rolf Grafwallner, the third panelist, who is assistant state superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education.
Also, African American boys are not doing as well as girls in early mathematics, and while some improvements have been made, black boys still are not doing as well as black girls.
DeHaney said that the achievement gap grows as the boys get older. She said that black males will have a harder time succeeding in life because they lack education.
All three panelists said that major causes include poverty, single-parent homes, instability and lack of education of the mother.
But, a major cultural cause of the education gap was the lack of black male mentors in the lives of young black men, they said.
“There is an overexposure to white, female teachers and underexposure to black males,” said Jones-Harden.
Jones-Harden said that most African-American males are exposed primarily to women because they are raised by single mothers and then taught by women.
The panelists suggested that school districts try to recruit black men from the community to read to students in the classroom settings or just volunteer as aids in Head Start programs.
The ideal situation is to have black male teachers, but DeHaney said that this is not a realistic goal because there are not enough qualified black males entering the field.
Jones-Harden said that another solution was to have immersion programs where black males would be taught in single race, single sex classes.
There was a similar recommendation made in a report by a state task force on educating black males released December 2006.
The recommendation suggest that schools with majority African American populations have some classes that enroll black male students with attendance, discipline and academic problems into single-sex classrooms.
The report said that this has been proven to work for students with a history of academic or discipline problems, possibly because the setting reduces teacher’s gender bias and creates a smaller class size.
The report acknowledged that segregating students for any reason is controversial, but it said that black males are already segregated because they are disproportionately placed in special education and non-college-prep classes.
Olatokunbo (Toks) Fashola , an education researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said in a separate interview that while this recommendation is extreme it is not irrational.
“Research shows that when it comes to special education, expulsion, suspension, and dropout rates that African American males are at the top,” said Fashola.” Race is absolutely an issue in America and kids feel it in the classroom.” She said that the best remedy is to have qualified black men teaching or mentoring in classrooms, and school districts need to train black men to fill these desperately needed positions.