Earl Thomas: Addressing the reading crisis of black boys

Earl Thomas: Addressing the reading crisis of black boys

By Earl Thomas

April 4, 2014

Earl Thomas

Recently, The Black Star Project published that only 10 percent of eighth-grade black boys in America are proficient in reading, and the figure was 9 percent for black boys living in Chicago. Even more shocking is that there is no large-scale plan by cities or the federal government to change these dismal figures.

Research study after research study continues to point to the fact there is an achievement gap between white and black students. The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that by the eighth grade, 46 percent of white students are proficient in reading as compared with only 17 percent of black students.

These statistics are not encouraging when you consider that reading proficiency serves as a key indicator of future educational and occupational success. If we agree that reading is a fundamental skill, we’re left with the following questions: Why does this situation exist? Why does it continue to persist? What can we do about it as concerned educators and parents?

There are plausible explanations for why this situation exists. Some believe it’s the lack of parental involvement in the education of their children. Others point to many African-American boys being taught by young white women who often come from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

As an educator, I am often puzzled as to why this situation persists Over my 20-plus years as an academic, these dismal statistics concerning black boys and their academic achievement have not positively changed.

Do these issues regarding the low academic achievement of most black boys persist because we believe at some unconscious level that there is a certain segment of our society that’s disposable, and therefore we risk little to address the crisis? Perhaps they persist because we as a society have no understanding of how to address it and prefer to pretend that it does not exist.

Schools must reach out to parents before there’s a problem by communicating positive news about their student and holding parent workshops (and teacher workshops) aimed at supporting the academic and socio-emotional needs of black boys. Most important, there must be a reading recovery intervention for every black student not reading at grade level.

The reading proficiency of black boys can be improved, but this will only happen if educators and parents unite. Our creed must be that no black boy in our care will fail, because failure is not an option.

Earl Thomas is an associate professor of education at St. Xavier University. He teaches courses aimed at meeting the needs of diverse learners and serves as a consultant to the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

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