Pablo Noguera, Director of New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education in a recent opinion piece for Ed Week and Phi Delta Kappan argues that there is no research that shows that single sex schools-particularly for young men of color-in themeselves improve these students academic success.
Noguera did find, however, a number of schools both single sex and co-educational that did have a history of success with these young men.
At schools like Frederick Douglass Academy and Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem and Eagle Academy in the South Bronx, high graduation rates have been the norm for several years. These schools serve students from low-income backgrounds who come from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city, but they’ve found ways to create school cultures that counter the influence of gangs and affirm the importance of learning. Our research in these schools showed us that strong, positive relationships between teachers and students are critical ingredients of their success. Equally important is the need to provide a personalized learning environment with mentors, counseling, and other supports that make it possible for schools to intervene early and effectively when problems arise. Naturally, these schools have strong and effective school leaders, but that doesn’t mean they are authoritarian and intimidating. On the contrary, students report that principals like David Banks at Eagle Academy and Tim King at Urban Prep in Chicago—another urban high school with high graduation rates — are regarded more like big brothers and father figures.
These are safe schools where students feel as though they can be themselves, where the peer culture reinforces the value of learning, and where character, ethics, and moral development are far more important than rigid discipline policies.
The issue is not the structure of the schools, Noguera argues, but rather what’s being done within them. We cannot accept our failing of this generation of young men.
However, schools that are successful with black and Latino boys show us that educators can counter and even overcome these obstacles (poverty crime, gangs, and drugs) when they work closely with parents and community to design positive learning environments that meet the needs of the children they serve.
We must address this issue with urgency and treat it as an American problem, rather than as a problem that only those who directly experience it should be concerned about. The continued failure of so many young men not only increases the likelihood that they’ll end up in prison, permanently unemployed, or dead at an early age, but that our society will accept such conditions as normal. As that begins to occur, all of us are endangered.