Essential Questions on “Empowering Males of Color”

This report presents some questions about the District of Columbia’s recent decision to invest $20 million in an effort called “Empowering Males of Color.”

The initiative was announced by the Mayor’s office at the end of January, and this past week, DC Councilmember Mary Cheh published an open letter to DC’s new Attorney General asking him to explore the legality of this initiative under Title IX, gender equity standards.

My first question regards the following statement from DC Public Schools:

In 2016, DCPS will open a new high school for males of color. Through a partnership with Urban Prep Academies, a highly successful network of all-boys high schools in Chicago, DCPS plans to open the first Urban Prep school in DC.

Has anyone in DCPS seriously examined the track record of Urban Prep?

The Illinois Report Card shows that Urban Prep has zero experience with English Language Learners and Latino students, who comprise a substantial portion of the population DC includes among its “males of color.” (see also Natalie Wexler’s article in Greater Greater Washington.)

Details in the same report cards show substantial score differences between low-income and higher income students at Chicago’s Urban Prep schools.

The Illinois Report Card indicates that only 9 to 28 percent of Urban Prep students, depending on their campus, scored “college ready” according to state standards. The same state-level reports show that college persistence is lower for Urban Prep graduates than for those in traditional Chicago Public Schools. This belies Urban Prep’s claim of “100% college acceptance,” a statistic which can mean a lot of things. Schools can encourage college applications at institutions with acceptance rates near 100% — Harris-Stowe State University, Wiley College, University of Wisconsin – Platteville, e.g. — to boost numbers. (This list includes schools with a range of acceptance rates; it is not immediately obvious whether Urban Prep graduates entered or persisted at the listed institutions.)

Finally, Urban Prep’s “100% graduation” rate claim is not borne out by Illinois reports.

These data suggest some important questions DC must ask before the District invests millions in this supposedly successful model.

Single Sex Education

My second question begins with this quote from the National Association for Single Sex Public Schools:

We understand that some boys would rather read a poem than play football. We understand that some girls would rather play football rather than play with Barbies. Educators who understand these differences can inspire every child to learn to the best of her or his ability. Conversely, educators and parents are recognizing that all too often, coeducational settings actually reinforce gender stereotypes via the process that researchers call “gender intensification.” Many boys at coed schools will tell you “poetry is for girls.” Many girls at coed schools will tell you that computer science is for boys.

This association stresses that single-sex education succeeds only when teachers are offered professional development focusing on gender and learning.

Which brings me to my next question: Would DC students be better served by investing millions in professional development that helps all schools avoid gender stereotyping and promote the needs of all students – boys, girls, and students of fluid gender?

EmpoweringIn addition: Has anyone analyzed how existing high schools east of the river, where DC plans to locate the new single-sex academy, would be affected? Did anyone explore whether serious and carefully designed investment in Anacostia, Ballou, and Woodson Senior High Schools – as well as existing charter operators – might better serve students of all gender expressions and their communities?

Final query: Is the point of this initiative to help our most vulnerable students and their communities thrive? Or is it to funnel more millions of public dollars into private enterprise?

See also this article about another school modeled on Urban Prep (Metz, 2011).

Feature report of February 12, 2015. Track 1 below —

The Education Town Hall broadcasts from Historic Anacostia in Washington, DC, Thursdays at 11 Eastern on We Act Radio.
Listen live via TuneIn.
Shows are archived for convenient listening shortly after broadcast.

The Education Town Hall BUS is a monthly program organized by BadAss Teachers, United Opt Out, and SOS March. The program regularly airs on the 4th Thursday of each month.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s