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Since slavery days, African Americans have been engrossed with the notion of learning to read and write. The destinies of the first slaves learning to read were tied directly to their owner's permission and perspective of educating a slave. The existing academic achievement gaps of minority students have driven our nation's schools to push hard toward closing the academic performance gaps by promoting literacy skills and continually revamping the implementation of reading instruction. Although billions of dollars are invested into the education system in the United States each year, currently, the United States ranks near the bottom within national educational systems. These rankings continually fall as subgroups are reviewed and segmented into categories. Despite that fact that billions of dollars are reserved for education each year, the school dropout rate, and graduation rate continues to decline. This trend of an increased dropout rate is even more alarming within the minority subgroups.
Throughout history, African Americans have fought and died for the civil rights that were promised to them by the United States Constitution, stating, "That all men are created equal." This statement birthed the idea to many leaders of all races to take a stance on the ideal of education and how it could move the African American community forward by believing education would be the key element to a better life. History books tell the grotesque ways that African Americans were treated throughout slavery for wanting to learn to read and write. Slavery allowed many people of color to be chained, beaten, whipped, and even killed for simply holding a book in their hands. During this time, it was against the law for people of color to learn to read and write. Slaves were treated worse than animals in many instances and the notion for them to think about learning to read was simply out of the question or not allowed. In a study conducted by Polite and Davis, they discuss the ways slaves craved to learn to read in order to understand the printed work of their masters or owners.
Although laws kept slaves from legally learning to read and write, they could not keep them from the playing with language and building vocabulary through storytelling, singing, and code-switching between their native language and the language of their new world . Slaves used other forms of language to communicate and enhance their knowledge. It became a personal goal for them to understand the language and culture that now surrounded them in a new way. The motivation of learning to read opened the door for many of the slaves to learn the basic skills of reading and writing and pass this skill on to their children.
In 1954, the historic court case of Brown vs. Topeka forced America to view education with a different set of lenses or perspective. Until this decision, racial segregation separated White and African Americans students in the public schools in the United States. The groundbreaking decision of the Supreme Court to integrate schools provided the opportunity for all students to attend first-rate schools receiving the best education offered. Although many states had mixed feelings about this decision, the integration of schools caused many African American teachers to lose their jobs. In his paper titled, How To Improve Academic Achievement in African American Males, Kunjufu (2010) states, "Since the landmark decision of Brown vs. Topeka, there has been a 66 percent decline in African American teachers. Unfortunately, African American students are 17 percent of the total population, but only 6 percent of teachers are African American.
Although the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Topeka changed American education and has continued to influence our view of student achievement in the United States (Edmondson, 2004). The plight African American people continued caused them to lag behind their counterparts in every aspect of life. During the 1960s, it was the frustration and minimal improvements in life that sounded off many African American, Jewish, and White leaders to begin to take a closer look at the state of America and its promises to all people. This movement coined the Civil Rights Movement brought about a change. It was during this time, the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) became law in 1965 (Edmonson). The ESEA was developed to help low-income children and their families; it is considered the first important legislation to influence the operation of public schools and children of color. The Civil Rights Movement drastically changed the face of America. This movement birthed a new dream for not just Black America but all of America. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to organize one of the most historic events in American history, the March On Washington. It was during his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that his words gave hope to many Americans regardless of their ethnicity or gender.
Today, America is in a better place than in the 1950s and 1960s. Although there are many more opportunities for African Americans and schools are no longer segregated, the national and local academic reports continually show that students of color are still lagging behind their White counterparts in both reading and math achievement scores. In 2001, the ESEA was modified and given a new name, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Under NCLB, schools were given the charge to focus on reading instruction and the federal government supported this charge by heavily funding the implementation of scientifically researched-based reading programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). NCLB pushed schools to implement more rigorous programs and classroom instruction that enhanced students' knowledge and thinking skills. In addition, NCLB requires states and local school districts to provide reading and mathematics standardized test and students must meet mastery on them before they are promoted to the next grade level. With all of the opportunities and support provided by the federal government and school districts, the mystery of children of color still trailing behind their White counterparts on national, state, and local standardized test continues to be a major concern. More specifically, the lingering concern of under achievement males of color, particularly African American and Hispanic is rapidly growing and alarming. Research will be needed to determine the most effective strategies for helping African American males to improve their reading skills and discover the influences of parents and teachers on their academic performance and self-perception as a reader.
The Theoretical Framework for this study is based on the following theories:
Although the research regarding the importance of family effects on literacy dates back at least 150 years (Phillips, Hayden, & Norris, 2006). The concept of understanding the importance of family literacy and its impact on students was not formally proposed until 1983. The seminal research provided by Taylor on family literacy helped to define the ways families' value and use literacy practices in the home. The Family Literacy Theory, refers to a series of ideas including (1) the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs to facilitate the literacy development of family members; (20 the relationships between literacy use in families and students' academic achievement; and (3) the ways in which literacy is naturally used within the context of the home (Phillips, 2006).
In 1966 Marie Clay was the first to employ the term "emergent literacy." The Emergent Literacy Theory provided by Clay overlaps with the Family Literacy Theory regarding the ways in which at-home experiences contribute to children's literacy success. Emergent Literacy explains early literacy development and provides instructional guidance to promote early literacy growth. Emergent literacy refers to a period in a child's life between birth and when the child can read and write a conventional level. This theory is built on a set of beliefs regarding ways in which children's early literacy development occurs during the areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing (Morrow, 2012).
The Socio-Cultural Theory emphasizes the role of social, cultural, and historical factor
in the human experience. Bronfenbrenner (1979) believed concentric levels of influence affect children's development. He emphasized four spheres of influence that affect individuals. They are microsystem, the first and innermost level of influence is the child's immediate environments, such as home and school. The mesosystem, the second level of influence, is the layer of interaction that exists between two mocorosystems, two spheres of influence in which the child has direct interactions, for examples, how children's home life affect their school experience or when children have conflicting expectations from peers and parents. The exosystem is the third layer of influence. The exosystem has an influence on student even when they are not directly interacting. For example, local and national events affect how students my feel about themselves. The last layer is the microsystem. It explains the consistencies observed at the microsystem and mesosystem levels of families from a cultural group showing similar interaction patterns.
Critical Literacy Theory
The Critical Literacy Theory considers the political aspects of literacy education such as the ways in which schooling reinforces persistent inequalities in contemporary society, and the opportunities that exist within education to empower individuals to overcome such social oppression (Morris, 2011). Freire (1970), author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a key contributor in the development of this theory. Freire widely searched for ways to understand and educate the poor and uneducated. The Critical Literacy Theory examines how reading and writing instruction might help students acquire a critical perspective on how written language is uses to promote particular cultural ideology and how it may inhibit the growth and maintenance of minority languages and cultures (Bloome & Talwalker, 1997, p. 109).
Third Space Theory
Based upon the work of Soja (1996) and Lefebvre (1991) the Third Space Theory can be viewed not only as a physical concept but also as a mental construct. This theory contains three spaces, the "first space" explains an individuals' knowledge and discourse that are most personal relating to an individual's home, family, and peer influences. The "second space" contains the more removed influences in the individual's life, such as school, work, and church environment. The Third Space Theory is influenced or similar to Bronfenbrenner's (1979) Socio-Cultural Theory. However, it moves beyond the concrete and suggest that individuals also construct a "third space" for themselves that result from interactions of the influence of first and second spaces. It is during this time, one's invisible, internal environment in which indentities and other forms of knowledge are created (Moje, 2004). The creation of "third space" students learning is enhanced when school curricula and classroom teachers build lessons on students' funds of knowledge situated in their first and second space. Moje believes the task of creating such lessons increases, however as classrooms contain students with widely diverse funds of knowledge and first and second spaces.
Funds of Knowledge
The concept of funds of knowledge was based upon the ethnographic research conducted by Moll in 1990. This method involved participant observations, interviews, life-history narratives, and reflection field notes. These research practices helped uncover the experiences of students, families, and teachers. In the study, Moll suggested teachers venture into the homes of students and their communities to understand the ways in which people live their life's daily.
Although teachers had conducted home visits before, Moll's research provided teachers the opportunity to visit the homes of working class, Mexican-origin, African American, or American Indian students. For most of the participating teachers, this was an eye opening experience and a departure from a traditional middle-class family. From this research, Moll birthed the concept of funds of knowledge which believes a simple premise that people are competent, they have knowledge, and their life experiences have given them knowledge and lessons to share with others. The underlying rationale of funds of knowledge stems from an assumption that the educational process can be greatly enhanced when teachers learn about their students' everyday life. In addition, this knowledge based upon the lives of students should be integrated into the curriculum standards and objectives allowing students to make connections between their personal experiences and instructional strategies.
Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)
Texas schools view education as a high priority. The TAKS Test is the primary assessment used by schools since its creation in 2003 (Texas Education Agency [TEA], 2005a). The TAKS Tests are used to measure performance in reading and math in grades 3 through 10, and at the exit level. Students in grades 5 and 8 are required to pass the test in reading and math to be promoted to the next grade level. The items tested on the TAKS Test are aligned with the state curriculum known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The test scores have been reported as scale scores and as percentages. Students receive score labels in three different categories based upon their performance on the test: (a) did not meet standard, (b) met standard, and (c) commended performance. All school districts and school campuses are issued a report that outlines the performance of their students as well as a school ranking based upon the overall performance of the students. The reports help teachers and administrators indentify effective teaching strategies that were mastered and areas of concern for the implementation of future instructional strategies.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
Since 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been an ongoing national indicator of what American students know and can do in major academic subjects, including reading in English. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a national measurement mandated by Congress and governed by the Commissioner of Education statistics. The NAEP assess students' reading, mathematics, science, writing, history, geography, and other subjects. The NAEP is used to determine educational progress and helps to create new educational policies. NAEP reading assessments have been administered on a regular schedule to students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), NAEP will assess reading in grades 4 and 8 every 2 years. NAEP will also measure reading in grade 12 every 4 years.
The NAEP serves as the national report card; it provides results for students in every state of the nation. The results of the NAEP were reported as average scores on a 0-500 scale. Both NAEP scales were developed independently for each subject, scores cannot be compared across subjects. In addition to reporting an overall reading score for each grade, scores are reported at five percentiles to show trends in results for students performing at lower (10th and 25th percentiles), middle (50th percentile), and higher (75th and 90th percentiles) levels. NAEP results are reported as percentages of students performing at or above the Basic and Proficient levels and at the Advanced level.
Based on recommendations from policymakers, educators, and members of the general public, the Governing Board sets specific achievement levels for each subject area and grade. Achievement levels are performance standards showing what students should know and be able to do. NAEP results are reported as percentages of students performing at or above the Basic and Proficient levels and at the Advanced level.
Basic denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. Proficient represents solid academic performance. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter. Advanced represents superior performance. As provided by law, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), upon review of congressionally mandated evaluations of NAEP, has determined that achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution. The NAEP achievement levels have been widely used by national and state officials.
The 2011NAEP report summarized reading results from 213,000 fourth-grade students and 168, 2000 eighth-grade students. At grade 4, the average reading score in 2011 was unchanged from 2009 but 4 points higher than in 1992. Scores were higher in 2011 than in 2009 for students from both higher income families and lower-income families. At grade 8, the average reading score in 2011 was 1 point higher than in 2009, and 5 points higher than in 1992. Scores were higher in 2011 than in 2009 for White, Black, and Hispanic students but did not change significantly for Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native students. The White and Hispanic score was smaller in 2011 than in 2009, there was no significant change in the White and Black gap over the same period.
In 2011, among fourth-graders who scored below the 25th percentile which is a score below 200, 33% were White, 25% were Black, 35% were Hispanic and 3% were Asian. The results showed there was no significant change in scores for White, Black, and Hispanic students. The 25-point score gap between White and Black students in 2011 was not significantly different than from the gap in 2009. However, larger gains from 1992 to 2011 for Black students than for White students contributed to a smaller gap in 2011 in comparison to the gap observed in the first year of the assessment. The percentage of Black students below Basic in 2011 (51 percent) was higher than the percentages of White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students below Basic. Fourth-graders who were eligible for free and reduced school lunch scored 29 points lower on average than those not eligible. Students eligible for reduced-price lunch scored 17 points lower than those not eligible in 2011. In 2011 on the NAEP Report female students scored 7 points higher on average than male students, which was not significantly different from the score gap in either 2009 or 1992.
In 1995 the revision of the Texas Education Code established a new public school, titled charter schools. Charter schools are monitored and accredited like other school districts under the statewide testing and accountability system but are subject to fewer state laws. The purposes of charter schools are to:
1. improve student learning;
2. increase the choice of learning opportunities within the public school system;
3. create professional opportunities that will attract new teachers to the public school
4. establish a new form of accountability for public school; and
5. encourage different and innovative learning methods.
The notion that girls read better than boys has become embedded in the popular consciousness (Brozo, 2006). Boys in elementary school through high school score significantly lower than girls on standardized measures of reading achievement (Grigg, Daane, Ying, & Campbell, 2003: Mullis, Martin, Gonzales, & Kennedy, 2003: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001).
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2010), boys also out number girls in corrective and remedial reading programs. Holbrook (1988), states the problem of boys lagging behind girls in reading dates back to the 1930s. Additionally, several studies have found that, although African Americans have significantly lower scores, the scores of African American males are demonstrably lower than those of African American females (Kunjufu, 2005).
The achievement scores of African American males often reflect the struggle students experience within reading instruction. This struggle may continue throughout the tenure of the students' school experience, which may cause a disconnection from the idea of pursuing their education due to feelings of frustration and unsuccessfulness in school. Experts agree, continuous demonstration of difficulty in reading instruction easily opens the door for students to have a greater chance of dropping out of school before they receive their high school diploma. Students unable to perform basic reading and writing skills often feel jostled by the public school systems where they have been socially promoted year after year but underserved or ignored instructionally and academically. This type of systematic promotion is considered dysfunctional and has created a world of non-readers and produced a mass of students that are not fully prepared for the work force.
It is evident that reading instruction and the ability to read well is the foundation for greater life experiences. Reading is the pillar that holds all the other content areas in place. In this study, the researcher will examine the influences and contributing factors of the academic reading performance and self-perception of African American males in grades 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
When examining differences between genders, Black students comprise nearly 50 percent of the school population but nearly 3 out of 4 expelled were male. When both gender and race are examined, the data states that African American boys and girls' suspension rates were more than double for their representation compared to White children (Lewis & Toldson, 2002, p. 8). Across Black, White, and Hispanic males and females, 6.5 percent are receiving special education services, 9.7 percent have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and 25 percent are in honors classes.
A Perspective of Boys and Reading
Forty-three percent of boys do not associate reading for pleasure as being easy (Woolcott, 2001, p. 20). Some boys lose interest in reading and usually think reading is for girls. Research continues to prove that boys have a strong interest in electronic and graphic forms of literature practices. Boys are more eager to engage with "real life" literacy context and "real life" practices (Alloway, 2002, p.4).
Boys who have poor literacy skills will find it difficult to enjoy reading because reading is a challenging task rather than a pleasure. Improving student's literacy skills therefore, must be a high priority for all students to value the gift of reading (Horton, 2005, p32).
Brozo (2002), suggest literature with traditional male archetypes as an entry point into literacy for boys. Smith and Wilhelm (2002) found that although the boys they studied believed in the importance of school literacy in theory, they often rejected and rested it in actual practice because it was not related to their immediate interests and needs. When teachers foster choices in reading within the classroom, students, particularly boys become more motivated to read books of their interest. The problems that black and working-class boys have with literacy at school may be linked with teachers' perceptions of the intersection between ethnicity, poverty, and schooling (Gilbert, 1998, p. 12).
Although the choices of literature authored by African Americans have increased tremendously throughout the years, it is still difficult to find positive images of black male readers and writers.
The Problems for African American Boys
There is a growing concern that African American males are in deep trouble regarding education and the depiction of them in society. African American males lead the nation in homicides, both as victims and perpetrators (Noguera, 2010). In addition, there is an alarming trend of suicide and contracting HIV and AIDS at a faster rate than other subgroup. To continue with the concerns of African American males, their incarceration conviction and arrest rates have escalated near the top in every state and they are the only group in the United States experiencing a decline in life expectancy.
Shortly after the civil rights era, from 1973 to 1977 the enrollment in college for African Americans males increased. Since 1977, the continuous decline of African Americans males entering college has decreased and their school drop-out rate increases each year. This decline is a result of poor reading skills and it is not surprising that there is a connection between the educational performance of African American males and the hardships they endure within the larger society and early academic experiences (p. 2).
The ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds of students have bearing upon how students are perceived and treated by teachers and administrators in schools (p.2). A vast body of research shows that children from low-income homes and impoverished conditions are entering schools at-risk. Black children, particularly, males are over represented in special education programs (Lewis, 2008). Being placed in special education reflects a larger trend in education for African American males, one in which they are marginalized and stigmatized. Even at an early age, African American males are often labeled as behavior problems and less intelligent. Researchers John Ogbu and Signithia Forham have attributed the marginality of Black students to oppositional behavior. They argue that Black students hold themselves back out of fear that they will be ostracized by their peers. However, Ogbu and Fordham fail to take into account the fact that some Black students, particularly males, find ways to overcome the pressures exerted upon them, and manage to avoid choosing between their racial and gender identity and academic success.
In his book, Countering The Conspiracy To Destroy Black Boys, Kunjufu (1985 p. viii) states, " Public schools are the most flagrant institutions which contributes to the destruction of African American boys. This destruction can be clearly observed during the fourth grade when many African American boys begin to exhibit signs of intellectual retrogression." Kunjufu (2010) states, "Unless we seriously respond to the true needs of African American boys, the future of African Americans is, indeed, bleak and destined to follow the path of other endangered species."
Developing Literacy for African American Boys
In 1902, John Dewey begins the conversation and research regarding the reading process. Dewey believed that the reader should be an active participant in reading instruction. When students first learn to read, teachers often begin with letters, sounds, and picture books. As students move to the next grade level, reading instruction begins to look differently. Teachers begin to ask students to decode words that are more sophisticated and comprehend higher-level text using a variety of instructional strategies. For many children labeled at-risk readers these task are difficult and may cause the student to become frustrated and view reading as a complex task rather than an enjoyable adventure. For African American children struggling to read, this task often seems impossible.
For black males growing up in environments where many adult males have been defaulted by school intentionally or unintentionally, the value of school to one's future seem as a false promise (Tatum, 2005, p. 13). According to Smith and Wilhelm (2002), black males may reject literacy because of its future orientation, its separation from immediate uses and functions, and its emphasis on knowledge that is not valued in their life outside of school.
Many African American families are preoccupied with the notion of daily survival in society and do not view literacy as a bridge or open door to a brighter future. It is important for teachers to help boys by providing opportunities to read and implementing quality literacy instruction. Curricula and educational plans have fallen short of addressing the academic, cultural, emotional, and social needs of black males (p. 15).
Teachers of African American boys should have high expectations. With the No Child Left Behind mandate, schools across the United States are striving to close the reading achievement gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students. Yet black male's students continue to lag behind.
In a study conducted by Barbarian (2008) he believed that African American males should enter kindergarten when they are appropriately ready academically and behaviorly.
The Influences of Parental Engagement and Females Rearing Males
There is no topic in education on which there is greater agreement than the need for "parental involvement" (Epstein, 1997). Schools should enable families and communities to become informed about the education of their children and to create a successful experience parents and school must form lasting partnerships which will impact the academic achievement of the students.
In 1950, a childcare conference in Columbus Ohio, noted that home had the greatest impact on children; followed closely by school, church, peer group, and television. Today, in 2013, home remains the greatest impact, however, peer groups have moved to number two.
Parents are often the perpetuators of male seasoning, by patterning their household to fit the sexist mold. In the African American community, there is a popular rumor that mothers raise their daughters and love their sons. However, a parents' love is given with little or no expectations, conditions, or responsibilities. Some mothers demand less academic achievement from their sons than their daughters. Self-sufficiency and manhood becomes less achievable when mothers inform their young sons, as early as six years of age, that they are now "the man of the house" with no training or example is unfair and unnecessary to the male child. The difference in child-rearing practices of sons and daughters has important implications for adult male-female relationships.
Sixty-two percent of African American children are reared by single parents, but very few families receive input from a male figure. Every concerned person should recognize that African American males need role models. A recent study by Toldson and Lemmon (2012, p. 10) found that parents of high achieving students visit the school at least 8 times for meetings or to participate in activities, throughout each academic year.
All students deserve an outstanding education. An undeniable truth is that classroom teachers, more than any other factor, have the most impact on student achievement (Lewis & Toldson, 2012, p. 22). Many teachers often overlook the fruit of their labor and examine the invested time and energy they give to their students. Teachers need to understand there are direct benefits for nurturing students into productive citizens regardless of their personal mindsets and beliefs. Although it may be difficult, it is possible for teachers to get rid of their stereotypes about African American students, particularly African American males. Living in a technological world, and using the media as primary resource for information, teachers often relay on the media outlets to provide or paint a picture of the life and beliefs of African American males. This picture is often distorted and places all males into a category of trouble by portraying them as lacking motivation, intelligence, and violent. Dr. Judith Beck, an expert on cognitive therapy, states, "Thoughts determine your behavior." Teachers that believe the negative beliefs and actions of how African Americans are portrayed in the media, often bring those beliefs and stereotypes in the classroom. This type of disconnect impact the teachings styles and curriculum needs that are implemented in the classroom. When teachers apply negative thought patterns about African Americans, it influences their student achievement and hinders the students' motivation for school. This type of behavior may create frustration patterns for students causing them to drop-out or perform poorly due to the attitude and negative relationship with the teacher.
As a result of President Barack Obama's unprecedented second victory as the first African American President of the United States, the media had devoted a considerable amount of attention to racial issues (Thompson, 2010, p.41). It is evident that many educators are uncomfortable when it comes to having honest discussions about race in public settings. However, some educators want to learn more about how to increase their self-efficacy with African American students (p.42). Sue (2010), states, A person who treats individuals or groups differently because of his her racial prejudice engages in racial discrimination. In order to heal these prejudices, teachers and administrators must begin the conversations about racial differences in the classroom.
The Self-Efficacy African American Males
James (1890 p. 11) emphasized the importance of human interaction in the development of self. He noted, that one's experience of success or failure was always relative to the level of expectations he set for himself. Cooley (1902) elaborated on James' assertion, contending that an individual cannot experience self-feeling without having a purposeful interaction with others. He proposed a "reflected" or "looking glass self-theory in which he maintained that people are affected by their impression of other people's impression of them. Albert Bandura (1969 1977, 1986, 1997 p. 130) a Canadian psychologist developed another theory related to learning, self-efficacy. According to Bandura, Self-efficacy refers to one's belief that he or she possess the abilities to attain specific goals. Bandura emphasizes that people with highly-efficacy try more, accomplish more, and persist longer at a task than do people with low perceived self-efficacy. The theory of self-efficacy has had a tremendous impact on education. Teachers often use this theory relating it to the expectations they have of students' academic and behavior goals in the classroom. Research continues to report students with low self-efficacy perform below standards due to their own beliefs about themselves based upon their educational experiences.
It is very difficult to be a man if you do not see positive male role models. African American males, who do not receive quality instruction, do not have a father present, nor male teachers, nor a conspiracy-conscious African American minister are left with incompetent teachers, apathetic parents, mass media, and the streets. African American males deserve an opportunity to grow and develop into manhood.
The myths that African Americans are lazy, lack initiative, are super sexy, love to dance, sing and play basketball become self-fulfilling if role models and encouragement are not provided in other areas by parents, educators and community advocates.The fastest and greatest influence on most male youth are the streets (Kunjufu, 1985). There is a direct correlation between age and street time. Street time increases as male youth become older, because most parents spend less time and give more freedom to their children. The streets constitute an institution in the same way that the church, school, and family are conceived as institutions. They all have a set of values and norms to govern and reinforce their existence. It is an institution that helps shape and control behavior and where many African American males receive their first orientation of life.
Challenge The Status Quo: Academic Success among for African American Males
When releasing the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) report, Revealing New Truths about our Nation's Schools, Secretary Duncan stated, "The real power of the data is not only the truth behind the numbers, but in the impact that it can have when married with courage and will to challenge the status quo." In the report, Toldson and Lewis (2012, p.11) provide a big picture analysis of some of the most pressing educational and social issues facing African American males.
Cradle To Prison Pipeline
In 2010 the Children's Defense Fund reported, titled Cradle to Prison Pipeline. The report highlighted the alarming statistics of minority boys that veer off the path to college and follow the prison pipeline. Hundreds of school districts across the country employ discipline policies that push students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system (Elias, 2013, p. 39). "We have a national problem that deserves federal action," Matthew Cregor, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund explained. "With suspension a top predictor of dropout, we must confront this practice if we are ever to end the "dropout crisis" or the achievement gap.
The school to prison pipeline starts in the classroom. When combined with zero-tolerance policies, a teacher decision to refer students for punishment can mean they are posed out of the classroom and much more likely to be introduced into the criminal justice system.
In Learning While Black: Creating Educational Excellence for African American Children, Janice Hale describes the conditions that have contributed to the high levels of academic failure among low-income children of color in public schools. Hale (1991) list many concerns including high turnover rates of teachers, large number of children reared in households by single women, and lack of accountability among school administrators seriously reflects the pitfalls that many African American children face on a daily basis. Historically, the viewing of the education cycle for African American students has often deemed as bleak. The growing alarm that students of color consistently lag behind their White counterparts seems to be a never-ending story.
Throughout the tenure of their education, African American children are often labeled "at-risk" due to low-test scores or their socioeconomic status (Hale, 1991). This label follows the students from grade level to grade level causing judgment about their academic performance before giving them the opportunity to prove their academic abilities in the classroom.
Reading success is the foundation for all students beginning school. Teachers, researchers, and administrators view reading instruction as the pillar that holds all the other curriculum needs throughout the duration of one's school experience.
The Need for African American Male Role Models
A strong principal, an aroused and concerned community and positive role models can do much to change this disparaging situation assigned to primary grades because it is during the formative years that children shape their values and begin to identify with role models. But the public school ignores this fact and does little to encourage males to teach in the primary grades (Kunjufu, 1985).
Recent research data revealed that 83 percent of all elementary school teachers in 2011 were female, while 10.1 percent of this number were African American females, African-American males teaching in the primary grades constituted only 1.2 percent of the 17 percent of the elementary teachers who were males.
Teachers should make available as much literature and books as possible about African American male achievements, particularly outside the professions of entertainment and sports.
Allowing children to sit in classrooms with unconcerned teachers is part of the conspiracy to impact their education or lack thereof within schools. Although principals often place what they consider their best teachers and male teachers in the upper elementary grades, research studies have found that placing male teachers in the lower elementary grades provides a role model and positive outlook for males, specifically African American males.
Janice Hale in her book, Black Children postulates, "traditional classrooms are generally oriented toward feminine values. Teachers disproportionately female, and the behaviors tolerated and encouraged are those that are more natural for girls.
The Fourth Grade Failure Syndrome
Harry Morgan notes in "How Schools Fail Black Children" When blacks enter first grade the stories they create express positive feelings about themselves in the school situation, but the second grade students' stories express 'negative imagery of the teacher and school environment', and by the fifth grade the overall feeling expressed by students is that of cynicism. In other words, upon entering school in the primary grades, black children possess enthusiasm and eager interest, however, by the fifth grade the liveliness and interest are gone, replaced by passivity and apathy. Primary grades presented a more nurturing environment than intermediate or upper grades. In early childhood education much of the activity is child-teacher centered and child-child interactive. In primary grades, blacks progress and thrive at the same rate as their white counterparts until the third grade syndrome. I found after the third grade, the achievement rate of blacks began a downward spiral which intended to continue in the child's academic career. The classroom environment was transformed from a socially interactive style to a competitive, individualist and minimally socially interactive style of learning. Kunjufu, 1985 p. 5
Dr. Nancy Arnez, in her book, Implementation of Desegregation as a Discriminatory Process, reports: Although the biased based I.Q. test was a major factor producing racial disproportions, the vulnerability of Black children to the labeling process persisted into subsequent classification stages. The study conducted by Arnez found that disproportionately more of the "eligible" Black children were actually recommended for placement into special education classrooms, while disproportionately fewer eligible white children were recommended for such placement. A large percentage of the Black children in this study were found to be males. (Kunjufu, 1985).
The fourth grade failure syndrome has been targeted as a pivotal year in the conspiracy to destroy Black boys. The transition from the primary grade to the intermediate and upper grades has many implication. The decline in male performance can be attributed to less-than-desired competency in the primary division, few male teachers, parental apathy, increased peer pressure, and greater emphasis on mass media.
The need to educate and nurture African American males is at a state of an emergency. Each year we lose African American males to foolish acts of crimes, school dropout, and the victimization of society. This call of emergency must know be answered. In this study, the researcher will examine the contributing factors that influence the academic performance of African American males and how they impact their self-perception and future .