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Single-Sex Schools for Black and Latino Boys:
An Intervention in Search of Theory

by Edward Fergus, Katie Sciurba,
Margary Martin, and Pedro Noguera
New York, New York
In recent years there has been growing concern over the so-called "achievement gap" -- the pervasive disparities in academic achievement between Black and Latino students and their White counterparts. Since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, the achievement gap has emerged as a major priority among educators and policymakers, and has led to a search for sustainable strategies that might improve the academic performance of students who consistently lag behind in academic outcomes. Primary among these are Black and Latino males who conspicuously are over represented on most indicators associated with academic failure. While there are many other groups of students also likely to under-perform in school -- English language learners, students with learning disabilities, students from low-income families generally -- the vast array of negative outcomes associated with Black and Latino males distinguishes them as among the most vulnerable populations.

Black and Latino males are more likely to obtain low test scores and grades, less likely to enroll in college, and more likely to drop out, to be categorized as learning disabled, to be absent from honors and gifted programs, and to be over-represented among students who are suspended and expelled from school (Gregory, Skiba, and Noguera 2009). The ubiquity of these patterns, and the ominous implication of these trends on the long-term life chances of adult Black and Latino males has led to a growing chorus that something must be done to intervene. However, while the problems are clear and undeniable, their causes are murky and complex. Race and gender set this vulnerable population apart, but it is not clear what race and gender have to do with the broad array of academic and social problems they face.

Lack of clarity around the causes has not prevented those who seek to help Black and Latino males from taking action. In the last few years the creation of single-sex schools has been embraced in various parts of the U.S. as a strategy for ameliorating the risks and hardships commonly associated with the academic performance and social development of Black and Latino males. Following the amendment changes in NCLB in 2002, there has been rapid proliferation in the number of public schools offering single-sex education. In 1999, only four public schools offered single-sex education. By 2006, there were 223 public single-sex schools. Despite this dramatic increase, the research supporting the benefits of an intervention that isolates males from their female peers is sparse and at best inconclusive. Nonetheless, policymakers and educators have begun to embrace all-male schools and classrooms for Black and Latino males as an intervention they hope will solve some of the problems these groups of children face.

Existing research on single-sex education has primarily focused on how it differs from more common co-education schools and classrooms with respect to the strategies and practices that have been employed. Additionally, some research has focused on whether single-sex education results in statistically significant improvements in achievement as compared to results obtained in co-ed classes. Within this limited body of research the emphasis has been on the following variables: the type of subject matter (i.e., English, Science, etc.), teacher experience in implementation, the organizational elements of single-sex schools (e.g., school size, course offerings, climate for learning, leadership, etc.), student prior achievement and background, sex-role stereotyping, and student confidence and engagement (Bracey, 2007; Malacova, 2007; Riordan, 1994; Riordan et al., 1995; Salomone, 2005; Spielhofer et al., 2002; Mael, et. al, 2005). Interestingly, none of the limited number of empirical studies examine the viability of single-sex education or offer clear guidance related to “best practices” with respect to how education should be delivered or how such schools and classrooms should be managed and organized (e.g., Carpenter and Hayden, 1987; Gillibrand et al, 1999; Lee and Bryk, 1986; Marsh and Rowe, 1996; Marsh, 1988; Spielhofer, et. al., 2002). Most importantly, the research on all-male schools is limited by a lack of attention to how assumptions about gender (i.e. what boys need) and their development influence the decisions to separate boys and underlie the choices in teaching and learning practices and classroom management techniques.

This paper attempts to fill the void in existing research on single-sex education for males by identifying the gender-based assumptions about men that have guided the creation of single sex schools and by showing that they in fact constitute a theory of action. Our goal is to expose the implicit theory guiding the development of these schools so that it might be analyzed and critiqued. In so doing, we realize that existing theoretical work on masculinity related to the education of boys of color is limited and underdeveloped. Much of the work that has been done by scholars such as Kimmel (2004)
, Kimmel (2004), and O’Connor (1997) has focused on relatively affluent white males in private school settings. However, the lack of robust theory to guide practice has not deterred educators or policymakers. Despite the lack of empirical evidence that they are effective in meeting the needs of disadvantaged males of color, these schools are growing at a surprising rate. Our research in all-male schools led us to realize that much of the theory guiding single-sex education for males is premised on a set of narratives and generalizations about both the needs and problems confronting Black and Latino boys in urban environments, as opposed to research, and a set of prescriptions about what educators believe their students need in order to become “positive” young men. We acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of individuals who have led efforts to create single-sex schools have been well intentioned -- motivated by a genuine desire to do something to “save” boys and ameliorate some of the problems they face. However, given the complex and pernicious nature of these problems, we are convinced that good intentions may not be enough to insure good outcomes. Simultaneously, we recognize that there is variation among the schools and perhaps it is more the naïveté of actualizing an idea or underestimating the challenges of starting a new school, whether from lack of attention to instruction or lack of empirically-based research on educational practices for boys. Thus any research on single-sex schools, including our own research must involve disentangling what single sex has to do with the lack of organizational and instructional capacity. It is from this struggle of translating good intentions into effective interventions that focuses our paper.

This paper draws upon data collected in a three-year study of seven single-sex schools, however only five are discussed in this article. The goal of the study was to document what these schools were doing to address the academic and social needs of their students, and to assess their impact upon student outcomes. Through collection of qualitative and quantitative data, the "Black and Latino Male School Intervention Study" (BLMSIS) has sought to provide an empirical foundation that might be used to inform public policy related to the development of single-sex schools for males in the US. For the sake of this paper, our focus will be limited to an examination of the ways in which assumptions about race and gender have informed educational practice and its implementation. In the analysis that follows, we make these assumptions and the composite theory of change explicit in the hope that by doing so we will be in a better position to determine whether or not this is what educators, parents, and policy makers want to pursue for young men who, in many cases, are in desperate need of assistance.

"Saving the Boys: How Discourse on the Problems Confronting Black and Latino Males has Influenced Research

Before examining the theory that has guided the development of single-sex schools for males as an intervention, we want to situate our research within the existing explanatory research discourse regarding the education of Black and Latino males. Existing research has primarily focused on the behavior of Black and Latino males and the factors that influence educational outcomes (e.g. dropping out, delinquency, achievement patterns, etc.). As is true with much of the social science research on poor people in the US, this research has been divided between scholars who emphasize cultural versus structural explanations of social behavior. Advocates of cultural explanations tend to argue that Black and Latino males adopt attitudes and norms that increase their proclivity to delinquency and academic failure. For example, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson made the argument not long ago in an editorial in the New York Times (March 12, 2006) that Black males maintain a disposition or “a cool pose” that contributes to anti-social behavior and is non-conducive to academic success and positive educational engagement. Likewise, scholars, such as Richard Majors (1993) and John McWhorter (2003), and journalists, such as Juan Williams (see Williams, 2006), have emphasized “gangster rap music, anti-intellectualism, misogyny” and a host of other negative cultural influences as a primary cause of the problems confronting Black males. In contrast, a small but significant number of social scientists have posited that certain structural conditions, namely de-industrialization in urban areas, racial discrimination in the labor market, tracking, and other forms of inequality in schools, contribute to the marginalization of Black and Latino males (Wilson 1987; MacLeod 1987; Bourdieu and Wacquant 2001; Noguera 2002). Such scholars emphasize the importance of understanding how the marginalization of inner-city youth is perpetuated by larger macro-level forces (i.e. the exodus of jobs and opportunities), and how such changes give rise to individual nihilistic attitudes and anti-social behavior. Negative attitudes and actions are symptoms rather than causes of the problems affecting disenfranchised males, and for this reason, these scholars emphasize the importance of addressing joblessness, concentrated poverty, overcrowded, failing schools, inexperienced teachers, and police brutality, in their recommendations for what should be done by policy makers.

Epidemiologists and psychologists have identified a number of risk factors within the social environment that, when combined, are thought to have a multiple effect on the risk behaviors of Black and Latino males. Lack of access to health care, adequate nutrition, and decent housing, growing up poor and in a single-parent household, being exposed to substance abuse at a young age, and living in a crime-ridden neighborhood are some of the variables most commonly cited (Earls, 1991). Similarly, anthropologists and sociologists have documented the ways in which certain cultural influences can emerge in impoverished communities and contribute to lower aspirations among Black males and the adoption of self-destructive behavior. Anthropologist John Ogbu (1987) argues that "folk theories" in many Black communities convey a sense of hopelessness to Black youth. He argues that many adults believe that, because of a history of discrimination against Black people, even those who work hard will never reap rewards equivalent to Whites, and that this perception of a glass ceiling contributes to the adoption of self-defeating behaviors (Ogbu, 1987). Other scholars have suggested that many Black and Latino males view careers in sports or music as more promising routes to upward mobility than academic pursuits, due to a lack of role models who have used education to secure professional jobs (Hoberman, 1997). Among Latino males, gangs are viewed as providing better opportunities for mobility in communities where gangs have been entrenched for many years and even generations (Vigil, 1988).

Despite their importance and relevance to academic performance, risk variables and cultural pressures cannot explain individual behavior, particularly for those who manage to avoid negative outcomes. Confronted with a variety of obstacles and challenges, many Black and Latino males still find ways to survive, and in some cases, to excel. Since 1970, the number of Black and Latino males enrolling in college has risen steadily (U.S. Department of Education, 2009) and while it has not matched or kept pace with that of Black and Latino females or White enrollment patterns, these trends should not be ignored. Interestingly, while we know a lot about those who succumb and become victims of their environments, we know much less about the resilience, perseverance, and coping strategies employed by individuals who succeed, despite the fact that their lives are limited by hardships. Deepening our understanding of how individuals cope with, and respond to, their social and cultural environments is an important part of finding ways to assist Black and Latino males in living healthy and productive lives.

Unlike the research on urban poverty, the theoretical and empirical literature on single-sex education is mixed, and research on all-male schools, in particular those that serve boys of color, is extremely limited. Surprisingly, this is the case even though single-sex schools have been around for hundreds of years in the private and parochial school systems. The research on single-sex education has primarily focused on whether it differs from co-education with respect to form and content, and whether single-sex education results in statistically significant advances in achievement as compared to that obtained in co-educational settings. Some of these key studies are described below.

Research on the effectiveness of single-sex classrooms and schools offer mixed results. Marsh and Rowe’s (1996) study of the effectiveness of single-sex classrooms randomly assigned boys and girls to single-sex and coeducational classes within a school and examined changes in achievement among the groups over a one-year period. The authors found no evidence supporting an academic advantage for the single-sex classes. Similarly, a number of studies on single-sex schools found that when controlling for student background, these differences between single-sex versus co-educational schools disappear (Daly and Shuttleworth 1997; Harker, 2000; Jackson and Smith 2000; Robinson and Smithers 1999; Steedman 1985).

A number of studies, however, found that while single-sex classrooms led to significant increases in academic achievement for girls, there was no increase for boys. For example, in their study of single-sex science classrooms, Carpenter and Hayden (1987) compared single-sex Catholic versus co-education public high schools for males and females. The authors found that girls in single-sex schools performed significantly better on exams across all subject areas than their female peers attending coeducational schools. However, the authors found no evidence that attending a single-sex school had an effect upon achievement for males. Similarly, in a large- scale study of single-sex secondary schools in England, Spielhofer, O’Donnell, Benton, Schagen, and Schagen (2002) found that females in single-sex schools performed significantly better than females on all-subject achievement test scores, and their findings were significant in favor of single-sex schools; however, again there were no significant differences in test scores for males in single-sex or coed schools. That said, their multi-level modeling approach revealed some significant performance gains for students of lower prior all-subject achievement test scores in single-sex schools.

It must be pointed out that in addition to the dearth of empirical examinations comparing single-sex and co-educational school settings, these existing studies are also fraught with methodological and analytical limitations (Mael, et. al, 2005). First, much of the existing research on the impact of single-sex instruction has been limited to small-scale studies, studies of single-sex private and/or parochial schools, and studies outside of the U.S which may not be generalized to US public school settings. Moreover, many of the studies either do not include co-educational school comparison groups or do not adequately address the issue of selection bias. Finally, several of the studies do not explore social interaction factors and social context development variables, which could explain the variation in single-sex outcomes (Bracey, 2007; Mael, et. al, 2005; Malacova, 2007; Riordan, 1994; Salomone, 2006; Spielhofer et al., 2004;). The variation of outcomes between schools and students may be explained by the extent to which the single-sex classroom may be utilized as a resource, giving attention to gender role ascription and perceived gendered norms of interaction between teachers and students, and/or no change in instructional and social interaction practices (Cohen, and Ball, 2003; Finn and Achilles, 1999; Hattie, 2002; Martino and Frank, 2006).

In sum, much of the research on the benefits of single-sex schools is mixed, with the notable exception of schools focused on the needs of girls. The existing research on girls in single-sex schools points to a pattern of significant gains in academic achievement. A possible hypothesis for why the research is bearing out such positive patterns may have to do with the theoretical underpinnings that have guided the development of all-girls schools. According to Datnow, Hubbard, and Mehan (1998) who carried out a qualitative study on ten male and ten female single-sex academies in California, the educators who created educational programs for girls did so with an explicit desire to disrupt and dismantle the gender-based stereotypes, roles, and expectations that informed the education and treatment of girls in co-educational settings (Datnow and Hubbard 1998). The authors conclude that the desire to free girls from limiting gender roles led them to create schools where girls were encouraged to partake in leadership and to achieve in math and science, areas where girls have historically performed less well than boys, and to play sports and participate in other traditionally male activities that seemed to mediate positive achievement outcomes. On the other hand, the educators who designed the all-male academies did so with the assumption that what boys needed was stern discipline, rigid structure, and a highly competitive learning environment. Datnow and Hubbard also noted that although the educators who designed these academies never met together or communicated with each other about the kinds of programs they sought to create, their schools were surprisingly similar. Our own research on single-sex schools leads us to believe that these similar approaches are more than just a coincidence and in fact serve as further evidence that assumptions about gender (and as we shall show race and class) are so pervasive and commonplace that they easily become embedded within the theory and practice guiding the development of single-sex schools, unless they are deliberately exposed and contested.


Research Design

As much as educational research has outlined contextual factors of the schooling process as pertinent to the educational outcomes of Black and Latino males, we know less about what those conditions are expected to look like at the school level, and even less about how they should be implemented. In an effort to better understand this connection between expected outcomes and implementation, we utilized a theory of change (TOC) framework to capture the theory and expected outcomes espoused by key administrators (principals, deans, assistant principal, program directors, and lead teachers). Theory of change (TOC) is a process that allows for the depiction of how a complex change initiative, such as the development of a new single-sex school, will and does unfold over time
(Anderson, 2004; Weis, 1998; Weitzman, Silver, and Dillman, 2002). The theory or expectation illustrates the multiple components of a system and the underlying assumptions that are expected to work in concert in order to meet the desired outcome, in this case regarding the educations of Black and Latino boys. Although TOC has been generally used in community development initiatives to examine complex social change, it holds great promise in examining newly-formed intervention schools like single-sex schools for Black and Latino males.

Data Collection

Data collection was divided into two major waves over two site visits with each school in 2006-2007, three site visits in 2007-2008, and two site visits in 2008-2009. Each site visit involved four to five days of data collection at each school from the beginning of the school day through afterschool programming. At some sites we were also able to attend in PTA meetings and special school events. The first wave of data collection involved gaining entrée into the school sites by presenting the study to faculty, students, and parents and distributing permission forms, along with four to five days of school observations, in-depth interviews with key administrators (i.e., principal, assistant principal, social worker, guidance counselor, program director), and collection of school artifacts (e.g., brochures, school/district policy manuals, handouts for parents and students, etc.). During the second wave of data collection, research team members spent another four to five days of school conducting observations and focus groups with administrators, parents, and teachers, collecting additional school artifacts, and administering the student questionnaire.

To capture data on the overarching theory of change guiding the schools’ work in our sample, we draw from data from 75 interviews and focus groups with administrators, teachers and parents collected during these two waves of data collection. Semi-Structured interview protocols captured principals’ and other key administrators’ perceptions of implementation, knowledge and satisfaction with intervention, and their theory of change, practice, and schooling and community experiences. The focus group protocol captured parents’, teachers’, and other stakeholders’ knowledge, expectations, satisfaction with the intervention schools, and schooling and community experiences. In addition, we collected and reviewed a number of school artifacts including official state or city issued school reports, internal and external documents, and each school’s website and promotional materials.

Data Analysis:

The data were reduced through various levels of analysis. First, the observations, focus groups, interviews, and artifacts were coded in accordance with coding categories, which reflect a priori “concepts” articulated in the framing and design of the study and upon which goals and outcomes of TOC would be aligned. The following coding categories signal these concepts:

  • Leadership
  • Student recruitment practices and enrollment
  • Engagement with parents
  • Academic and social supports
  • Instruction, pedagogy, and curriculum
  • Hiring practices, including attention to race and gender of teachers and administrators
  • Collaborative partnerships, including community-based organizations
  • Community Context
  • Student needs and challenges
  • Staff development (content and frequency)

The intention of this analysis plan was to construct the theories surrounding the goals, expected outcomes and indicators related to the development and implementation of each single-sex school. Thus, the unit of analysis is at the school level.

Expected outcomes (goals) were analyzed through a series of deductive and inductive analyses. First, the above codes were used to conduct deductive analysis within a data matrix that allowed for within-case and across-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1984). The initial deductive analysis involved categorizing the data by school and examining the data from that vantage point. The data were then examined along four categories that emerged from the initial analysis: school climate, teaching and staffing, student needs and challenges, and community context. These categories contained various areas of emphasis (e.g., school climate focused on the role, need and mission of the school, strategies embedded in school practice, etc.).The within-case analyses focused on identifying the emerging themes within each category for each interview and focus group within each school. An inductive analysis process was also conducted; this process involved taking the emerging themes and re-inspecting the data, modifying predetermined codes, and constructing new codes (Miles and Huberman, 1984). Thus, the purpose of these coding and analysis patterns was to encourage a recursive process of deductive as well as inductive coding and interpretation throughout the analysis.

School Descriptions

All of the schools in our study served primarily students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, as indicated by the high percentages of youth who qualified for federal free or reduced lunch programs. Table 1 provides an overview of general school characteristics. Two schools serve almost exclusively Black/African American student populations (Thomas Jefferson and Westward, pseudonyms). In the other schools, the Black/African American students make up slightly more than half the student populations, with the remainder of the student body comprised of Latino students. These schools were also quite diverse, with meaningful numbers of immigrant origin youth primarily from the Caribbean and, to a lesser extent, Africa and South America. All of the schools in the project differed in terms of school size and staffing. Thomas Jefferson School had the largest number of students per grade with 150 students in a single ninth grade class, while Washington School averages fewer than 25 students per grade. Similarly, the schools vary with respect to teacher-student ratios, ranging from 1:10 (Washington School) to 1:21 (North Star School). The schools also vary in terms of structure (Public, Private, Charter). Westward, Salem, and North Star are all public schools; Washington is a private school; and Thomas Jefferson is a charter school. Moreover, they differ in admissions processes, with Washington School having selective admissions criteria and the other schools employing non-selective methods, however with limited screening mechanisms (i.e., interviewing students). Finally, all of the schools were relatively new schools at the time of this study. One school was in its first year of operation during the first year of BLMSIS and four were in their second year.


Overall, this part of the investigation elicited multiple, yet interwoven, theories as to why single-sex schools are necessary for Black and Latino boys, the challenges faced by this student population, the role of the school in addressing these challenges, and the outcomes expected of students who attend these schools in place of more traditional public schools. The TOC figure below illustrates the overarching theoretical framework that emerged from interviews with the participating school staff. In the following section we discuss the theories surrounding the most prominent domains: the needs and challenges faced by Black and Latino males (social/emotional and academic), the perceived influences of external pressures (community context, peer pressure, pop culture, etc.), and the assumed benefits attributed to single-sex schools designed for Black and Latino boys, as they relate to the boys’ perceived needs (culturally relevant instruction, school climate, rigorous curriculum, teaching and learning, focus on “male” identity, etc.). These domains represent substantive arenas situated by the school administrators and faculty as to how and why their schools operate. It is important to note that as part of our member checking of analysis, the administrators confirmed the elements of the TOC.

Identifying the Educational Needs of Black and Latino Males:
School Staff Perceptions Driving Single-Sex Theory

Much is written about the context of the school environment and its relevance in setting tone and trust (Bryk and Schneider, 2003), caring (Noddings, 2005; Valenzuela, 1999), and academic engagement (Suarez-Orozco, et. al., 2008). When asked about the purpose and need for single-sex schools focused on Black and Latino boys (or “Boys of Color,” a term the schools often use interchangeably with “Black” and/or “Latino”), administrators unequivocally discussed the various social/emotional and academic issues facing Black and Latino males as framing their school designs. In order to achieve the goals of deeper student engagement, caring, and trust, which are believed to contribute to higher academic and life success rates, each of the single-sex schools in this study emphasized the need to “undo” or “address” cultural and structural damage or inequities that have prevented Boys of Color from closing the achievement gap. While in their missions, some schools emphasized the boys’ perceived social/emotional needs and others emphasized their academic needs, each of the single-sex schools were framed as providing students with an alternative to what they had been exposed to in more traditional public schools or in their wider societal spheres.

Social/Emotional Needs of Black and Latino Male Students

While each of the principals acknowledged their schools’ missions to “make [their students] college bound” or to strengthen their academic performances, “nurturing” students’ identities as “young men of color” was perceived as one of the fundamental components to a single-sex education for Black and Latino males. More specifically, nurturing and developing these identities as academically successful Black or Latino men emerged as the primary arena of social/emotional need. According to the school staff, exposure to role models who exemplify these identities is necessary to offset the negative effects of “the streets,” “absent fathers” or “single mothers,” “broken homes,” poverty, dysfunctional communities, peers, or popular culture that they perceived as surrounding low-income boys of color. As such, the schools considered it their place to offer examples of racial/ethnic, masculine, and academic role models because the boys are not prepared to confront the structural impediments they would surely face in life, such as institutional racism In addition, they do not have sufficient adult figures to guide them.

Changing Notions of Masculinity

The school staff framed the social/emotional need for a masculine identity based on their understanding of “street” images and the absence of male figures that often surround boys of color. Indicative of this need, at Westward School, like many of the other schools, adults often spoke of the presence of negative male role models who lack “respectable” jobs. To counter the image of the non-academic or “negative” role models who do not look toward school to achieve success, one key administrator stated that what students need is a stronger work ethic:

[In] many cases our students have things going against them as far as, you know, economic background and things of that nature. So they need to understand that, you know, you need to work hard.

North Star’s response to the absent male problem is to find “mentors to serve as ultimate role models for young men” to alleviate some of the “anger” associated with not having a father figure. The boys’ perceived anger manifests as issues dealing with “authority,” which teachers at North Star admitted they are “not equipped to know how to fix” because this problem, they expressed, is deeply rooted within the boys. These schools conceive themselves as mechanisms through which young men of color develop an alternative masculinity that runs counter to stereotypical “street,” images that tend to keep them from being successful. In other words, the boys are being taught not to be the kind of man stereotypically associated with the communities poor Black and Latino males often come from.

At Thomas Jefferson School, the staff in a focus group described the debilitating effect of not having positive images, specifically for Black boys:

We’re building characters of strong men for our young men where they can see a positive image of a strong man, whereas society has painted a picture of a negative strong man. Such as, our youth -- Black youth -- may look at a strong man as someone who is being successful in sellin’ drugs, not havin’ a job, drive a car with rims, 20 inch rims, and the attire they have is so flamboyant. They may look at that as a strong influence, where we’re trying to instill in them a positive strong influence that a young black man can be a caseworker, a social worker, an office person, an educator, someone who’s vice president… And that’s where the model comes in as instilling in them that we believe, where they can believe, where statistics have shown that not a lot of young black kids come out of their urban area goin’ to college…

The masculine identity the school would like to nurture is one in which boys embrace activities that they may perceive as feminine and shift their focus away from a masculine identity centered on sexual prowess. The teachers at Thomas Jefferson describe this desire in the following quote:

I think that this notion of manhood that a lot of your urban youth experience is pretty one-sided. It pretty much looks at this aspect of strength and power and equates them solely with sexual prowess, the ability to earn money, and the ability to defend. And where it becomes one-sided is the pursuit of knowledge and the ability to navigate issues is not always put into focus. So when you look at their realities, the realities and the images that they see for themselves, once again it’s kinda one-sided. I mean, you see these same images of men that are constantly projected upon them and they don’t necessarily seek a responsibility ... in other realms. ... I mean, when we first encounter many of our kids, reading was looked at as something that was feminine. So automatically, in their head, they put reading in the context -- reading books leisurely or what have you -- was something that was very feminine. So we’re trying to eradicate those ideas because we want them to not only be powerful, strong, mover-and-shaker men in the traditional sense of that word, but we also want them to be contributors, you know, and able to work as men and work within the system as men to be positive.

Exposure to negative male influences is manifested in what some school staff present as a battle between students’ home lives and their school lives. The school-community liaison of Westward, for example, explains:

[It] gets very frustrating to be fighting with home, fighting with what they see when they leave this school. I mean, we have some parents that are really supportive, but still. The kid has to walk through whatever neighborhood and see different things. And even just turning on the TV ...

The counselor at Westward concurs with this struggle, particularly as it relates to what he perceives as the mixed messages of masculinity the boys are getting at home and what is possible at school.

A lot of times, students get mixed messages as to what is masculine, as to what is an acceptable form of communication. If there is some argument going on at home, or if there are some tough times going on at home, a lot of times students are uncomfortable with expressing affection towards their teachers or appreciation towards their peers because they may not be seeing that at home. Also sometimes there is a dysfunctional relationship between the parent and the child and you can see some of that in school, such as the child is given way too much responsibility at a young age or not given enough responsibility at their age and that goes into the school as well sometimes.

Changing Notions of Being a Black or Latino Man

According to key administrators at North Star, the goal of the school is to “help” young Black and Latino men “realize that what they see out there in the streets” (drugs, gangs, violence, etc.) is not the only option for them. The negative external influences, such as community dynamics and popular Black culture, these administrators reported, inhibit the boys’ abilities to move forward educationally. In addition, the boys are viewed as susceptible to peer and cultural pressures that tell them, according to the principal, “It’s not cool to be smart.”

At Salem School, the administrators identify individual and societal issues that they see as operating in an interactive fashion that presents challenges for their students. At the individual level, an “identity crisis” is conceptualized as a core challenge that is multifaceted and affects the students’ racial, gender, and academic identities. Racially, a key administrator highlights how “students are bombarded with imagery and the identity of being a thug, being a gangster, being hard,” defining what qualifies one as a man. Various school staff across the schools also noted the need for a masculine identity is due to structural impediments like racism. The college counselor at Westward described the presence of this structural force in the challenges faced by boys of color:

Some of the greatest challenges ... well, I really think that the greatest challenge is the institutionalized racism. And what I mean by the institutionalized racism, that’s a broad term that kind of captures school funding, it captures the segregated system that we have ... It captures some of the violence in how minority groups are pigeonholed in communities, and how those communities are economically bankrupt and educationally bankrupt, and those things like that. So I think that overall, to speak broadly, institutionalized racism is a big problem and that it plays out in a lot of different ways.

Administrators and staff across schools also describe the presence and operation of this institutional racism in what they express as the lack of normal developmental opportunities available to boys of color in comparison to White boys. For example, at Thomas Jefferson, one school staff member described missed developmental opportunities:

[T]he socio-emotional first is going to really help the academic growth, definitely. For Black and Latino boys definitely, because like I say Black and Latino boys are of a generation that, they have to raise other siblings, have to go to work early, they haven’t been allowed to be kids sometimes as far as activities, they’re the only, really gender and race that have been forced to do those things. You look at white kids, they’re allowed to do activities, and they’re allowed to do a lot of things. If there’s a younger sibling, they’re not responsible for them, there’s a babysitter. For Latino and African American homes, that’s not the case. It’s almost expected, hey, you’re the big brother take care of your little brother or sister until I get home. So I think that we’re going to show them that we’re going to allow them do the things that are necessary, the things that they want to do and I think that it’s going to show some academic growth.

Becoming an Academically-minded Black or Latino Man

The school staff also framed the lack of a positive masculine identity as bound to a lack of academic identity. The principals discussed the influence of society’s definition of masculinity, where an “identity as a learner isn’t something they value as [much as] an identity to be tough or what it means to be a man.” This socially constructed disconnect between “what it means to be a man” and what it means to be a learner is considered to present a real challenge for the schools’ young men. Moreover, it points to the students’ previous school experiences in “the public school system [where] they never really saw themselves as great participants or embraced the identity of being a learner.” On occasion, school is referred to as something that “girls” do, and it is for this reason that some administrators claim it is necessary to separate the boys from female students -- to give them a space where they do not have to “compete” or feel the need to show off as “men” who are “too cool for school.”

The vice principal at North Star mentioned that the desire to learn “hasn’t been instilled in them.” In describing the key challenges of boys of color, he explains,

I would say identifying with being a learner. Through the public school system, they never really saw themselves as great participants or embraced the identity of being a learner. I would say, for some of our students, poverty and poverty consciousness. Fear of breaking certain stereotypes and identity that they’ve embraced and become comfortable. Really getting at the orientation that they’re getting here and it being very different from any other type of experience.

The Challenges of a New Identity

Additionally, the boys in these single-sex schools face “the acting white stigma ... if [they’re] trying to achieve too much or if [they] talk a certain way.” Related, a key administrator stated that taking on a new identity is a challenge in and of itself that the boys must contend with; that is, there is a “[fear] of breaking certain stereotypes and identity that they’ve embraced and become comfortable [with].” Administrators across all schools noted that poverty and home/family life posed significant challenges that their young men face. Stated broadly by the assistant principal of Salem School, “The life outside this [school] building” is a challenge the young men must contend with -- a challenge that is heightened in the absence of a secure sense of self. By providing students with a secure sense of self, the schools essentially argue that they are able to remedy the stigma associated with becoming an educated Black or Latino male. This is viewed as a necessary component of single-sex education, given the psychological issues plaguing Boys of Color.

At Washington School, the principal reported that he believes that the greatest challenges his students face are psychological. As he explained in a formal interview,

You know, as much as we’re caring and nurturing, these youngsters bring their stories with them and, you know, there’s only so much one can do at school. There are so many hours in the day. I mean one of the reasons I wasn’t able to meet with you is that’s what I was doing. Several deep-seeded issues involving kids who have huge psychological retentions anywhere from verbal and physical abuse with one youngster whose father’s notion of living the Christian way, which was by the rod, and we had to disabuse him of some of that and really alert him that that was not the way to be. Two kids acting up on the bus and getting into mischievous little games that they shouldn’t have wandered into, to bus drivers responding to kids in an inappropriate fashion. But I think as I look down the road, the huge psychological piece is one that’s only been holding them back inside.

The principal mentioned his concerns around how young children can be such “psychic pincushions” -- absorbing so much around them. He makes the connection between “parents monopolizing the kids, so that these kids are like princes and they’re not used to doing anything other than having their mother around carrying their stuff for them.” He sees this type of parenting as filling the boys with unrealistic expectations of the rest of the world. Yet, another key administrator contends,

One of the most difficult things that we have to get over with the kids is that they are so pulled in different directions because when they go home to their neighborhood, the other kids get on them. They say, “You’re a nerd. You’re a nerd with that tie.” Boy, do we get on kids that put down other kids for striving to do well, for doing their homework. I would say at least a third of our boys think that doing homework is betraying their race.

Each of the single-sex schools in this study sees itself as contending with outside forces that are preventing Black and Latino male students from accomplishing their goals, as determined by the adults who educate them. Though the schools note that the needs of this population are structural, involving a lack of quality of education, the majority of the educators interviewed attributed the majority of the boys’ social/emotional needs to cultural factors that have prevented them from achieving in school. The importance of the school is to establish “brotherhood” among their students to instill the resilience to develop and sustain their emerging academic identities. Many of the schools drew their models from the Black fraternities that many belonged to when they were university students, stressing the need to look out for each other as one another’s “keepers” or to view themselves as part of a “family.” The purpose of this school collectivity is to establish a safe space through which students may “be themselves,” even if those selves are not accepted outside the school doors. All of the schools spoke of the importance of these peer networks as a way to protect themselves and persist forward towards their goals.

Acknowledging these various structural and cultural dynamics in the lives of boys of color is a complex endeavor and, according to school leaders, requires the staff at these schools to also have a deep understanding of the challenges facing their young men. At Thomas Jefferson, for example, one administrator clearly stated the importance of understanding these various factors and their influences, and their role as a school in remedying the effects of this reality while preparing the academic futures of these students:

So, we understand that there are some environmental factors that play a big role in how we come to school, how we leave school, that then plays a role into the ability to complete homework, which then rolls into how that’s going to determine how I experience the next day. So when you look at the cumulative effect, um, not even to categorize anything as good or bad, but when you look at these cumulative experiences and then how that plays into your emotions as a young adult trying to -- in your formative years -- figure out what you identity is, trying to figure out who you are, all these things happening simultaneously. And so, you don’t get to be a male here and then be black here, it’s all in this bag together. So, you know, this whole integrated framework of how do we figure this out. So part of this is just my own lived experiences and having going through it ... and trying to figure out what’s going to help in this situation ... So it’s just trying to be privy to those things, understanding what your own experiences are and then understanding where the students are -- again, in their formative years.

Developing Future Leaders

Developing coping mechanisms to deal with the myriad of psychological challenges, structural racism, external (community, cultural, societal, and/or familial) pressures, lack of male role models, and negative perceptions of education the young men face, however, is not enough. The schools universally expressed it was through this identity work that they could begin the work of transforming Black and Latino boys into “leaders.” Indicative of the principals across the five schools, the principal at Westward, for example, was explicit in his goal to “develop urban leaders, specifically.” He continued:

And I say that because it would be great to have kids who feel like after they’ve gone to college and graduated, that they would want to come back. Or at least, you know, go to another urban community and try to impact that ... or to do something so that they’re helping to improve, you know, urban life somehow.

By infusing their school philosophies with ideals of “leadership” or “excellence,” these single-sex schools transmit the message that their Black and Latino male students should become examples in their own right and find ways to “give back” to their communities. The young men are being primed to lead the next generation in transformational change for their communities. Rather than sit back and be influenced by the negativity of street culture, the schools direct their students to take positive control of their own lives and take what they learn back to “the community.” To show gratitude for the opportunities they have been given, the young men are often expected to go out into “the world” and help others. The result of an education within several of these single-sex schools, in other words, is a Black or Latino masculinity defined by the ability to effect “change” for the greater societal good.

In sum, the educators within these single-sex schools reported seeing themselves as essentially preparing the young men for worlds the educators perceive as being vastly different from the ones in which they currently live. This work is seen as a necessary component to “saving” Black and Latino boys from themselves and their surrounding environments, including racist institutions. If action is taken, in this case via education, the schools suggest that Black and Latino males in urban areas will view their own futures more optimistically and, eventually, become successful men who pass their success forward to their future families and communities.

Academic Needs of Black and Latino Male Students

In addition to articulating the social and emotional needs of Black and Latino boys, the schools in our study spoke specifically about what they perceived as the academic needs of their students. Each of the school principals framed their discussion with the alarming statistics on Black and Latino boys’ academic outcomes and their related life opportunities. For instance, Thomas Jefferson was created in response to the achievement statistics around the academic success rates of Black young men. According to the leadership of the school, Thomas Jefferson is responding to the dismal college graduation rate for Black males:

Out of all Black male students who enter the public school system, only 2.5% will earn a college degree by the time they are 25 years old. This means that 97% of young African American males…are left to pursue avenues to make a living that do not require a college degree. . . . Everyone knows that while it’s not absolutely necessary to succeed, all of the indicators are that if you graduate from college you have a higher likelihood of success in life than if you don’t. And if all the research shows that going to college and finishing will result in a better standard of living and greater success, then how can you look at a segment of your population and say that only one of forty of you get to do that?

The administrators of these single-sex schools consider a lack of a college education one roadblock to “greater success.” By referencing the 2.5% of African American male public school students who will earn college degrees, Thomas Jefferson’s principal points implicitly to the structural inequities that contribute to the achievement gap. Attending a traditional public school, according to this statistic, lowers a Black male’s chances of receiving the education he needs to achieve “a better standard of living.” In order to level the playing field, all of the schools share the sentiment that it is vital to provide boys of color with “un-road-blocked access to [educational] opportunity”, and this statement indirectly implies that single-sex schooling can unblock this road.

Addressing Gaps in Skills

Across the schools, educators expressed that many of the students, even those considered by schools as being exceptional students, have major gaps in their educations due to their experiences in public schools. Before students can excel, they need to make up for missing skills, especially in terms of literacy, math, and critical thinking. To address these needs, the administrators generally express traditional notions of remediation as the best way to address these gaps. In order to provide boys with a “rigorous” or “challenging” education that will help them succeed ultimately, the narrative generally suggested that the schools must first teach boys the “basics” or fill in necessary skills that students are lacking.

One of the reasons for these gaps, many educators shared, was rooted in the differences between how they perceived males as learning differently than females, implying that in the public schools the boys were being taught were more conducive to the ways girls learn. For example, the boys were often described as having lower attention spans than girls and being more physically actively. As such, administrators noted the need for “more hands-on kinds of programs and projects” to suit these “boy” needs. In addition to “hands-on” work, administrators often stressed the need to address “multiple learning styles” or provide “differentiated instruction” so that each of their students would benefit from their new school environments. The general conditions in traditional public schools were discussed as inadequate, unchallenging, non-rigorous, and as promoting mediocre learning, whereas the single-sex schools in this study aim to provide an equitable alternative for Black and Latino boys. The principal of Thomas Jefferson makes this point:

Well, it’s quite evident that the school system is under-serving or not serving urban young men, young Black men, young Latino men, so it’s very important to give our guys some options to have schools that have a little leeway to do some things a little differently because quite frankly it seems to me that the traditional ways of education for young Black men aren’t working.

Preparing for College

In order for Black and Latino male students to be prepared and on equal footing when they are in college, each of these schools reported that they were intentionally building and implementing a college preparatory curriculum premised on what they see as necessary, based on their own experiences in often elite colleges. For example, the principal of Westward School described framing the college preparatory curriculum on his college experience at a prestigious private university:

They need to get as much college stuff before they get to college. My experience going to (the university), and this is any kid, white, Black, whatever, the kids who did well in that freshman year were kids who knew a lot of that stuff before they got there. Like, it just put them on a much more solid footing. And for these kids coming from this neighborhood, to me, that’s their only real way of getting, of having a shot.
Because even if they have some of the other skills, good note taking, paying attention, showing up everyday, being prepared. Right, if all those things being equal, if the kid next to you took calculus the year before, and you didn’t, you know, you’re coming in second. So they need as much of that kind of stuff as possible, in terms of content, to succeed. And a minimum and exposure to it, if not you know, some level of proficiency or mastery.

But exposure of these skills and content is not enough. Like many of the other administrators we interviewed, this principal also mentioned providing an additional leg-up in their students’ preparation for college. As he continued:

And even beyond that, to actually get some credits. So there’s some stuff I didn’t necessarily have to take, in that beginning semester. So those are things I have in the school’s design as well. Like, but then there are other things too, they say the hidden curriculum, you know, which a lot of the AVID program consists of. How to take notes, how to get as much as you can from a lecture, how to look at a text and pull out the important information. You know, all those kinds of things. Like I said, the hidden curriculum that a lot of kids who are “smart” or “bright” or who have high aptitude, it kind of comes naturally for them. They were never taught that, but they just sort of knew it, through practice, through watching somebody else.

Raising Expectations

Although these schools spoke of the specific academic needs of these students and where the leadership desired for them to go, these academic needs were also framed by an understanding of some of the structural impediments facing racial/ethnic minority communities, particularly how these impediments have impacted the Black and Latino boys they are serving. For instance, a key administrator at Thomas Jefferson suggested that the structural issue of racism prevents Black students, in particular, from making educational gains:

I would say social issues just from the standpoint of being a young Black male, dealing with racism. And so, you’re going to have to converse with people who have low expectations of you, who have no expectations of you. Or you might be in an environment where they don’t want you to be.

While this administrator’s comment is linked to the “social issues” facing Black males, one of the most common structural issues their students would have to contend with are others’ “low expectations” of them. Each of the schools mentioned low expectations as being a significant factor in the achievement gap. Boys of color are commonly seen as unable to perform in public schools and are, therefore, not given opportunities to do the type of work that will make them competitive with other college-bound students their age. The single-sex schools in this study view themselves as “raising the bar” or creating a “culture of excellence” so that the boys are fully cognizant of the high expectations they will be held to. These expectations often manifest in strict discipline policies, such as dress codes, uniforms, or “punishment rooms” for students who do not comply with school norms. Their discussion about the importance of expectation is also exemplified in a story shared by the administrator of Thomas Jefferson School, in which they were seeking funds from a private foundation:

I remember one time when I was doing -- a couple people here probably know this story -- I was doing some fundraising for another school, um, and it was an all-Black, all-male high school. And I went down to talk to a donor, a fairly large foundation that had recently made a fairly large contribution to a predominantly white, affluent school. Um, so I was down there talking to them, you know, why don’t you give us some money. Um, you now, this guy said to me -- point blank -- this is the head of the foundation, he said to me, “Well, what we don’t really understand is why it’s so important for these guys to go to college. I mean, maybe you should do some type of technical/vocational focus because it’s important that we have people who deliver the mail and drive the busses ...” And he just kind of went through this long list of blue-collar jobs. And, you know, I said to him -- and I’ll tell you first we didn’t get any money from them -- [laugh]. But my response to him at that point was, did you as Somers [pseudonym] to implement a program like that before you gave them that million dollars? “Oh, well, Somers is different.” Yes, I know it is, it’s very different; I went to Somers. And I think that these guys should have the same type of experience that those guys get. I mean, I don’t think that anyone of us would say that every person in the world needs to go to college. But I think all of us would agree that enough Black men aren’t going to college. And so there’s no harm in us saying all of our graduates are going to college. Because there are plenty other places out there that aren’t sending any. So if we sent all of ours then, you know, it’s fine.

Making Curriculum and Instruction Relevant

The role that teachers play in their students’ development has been the source of several recent studies. Existing research suggests that not only do students need teachers who are highly skilled, but they also need culturally sensitive and responsive teachers (Ladson-Billings, 1997). Teachers are seen as a vital element to the success of the single-sex schools in this study. The need for on-going professional development is crucial for both the success of teachers and the Black and Latino male students they serve. The schools in this study described the role of teachers as centered on following the curriculum in alignment with the missions of the schools. However, some of the professional development needs of teachers have implications as to how exact the alignment can be. School administrators note teachers needing to understand what it means to provide culturally relevant instruction. It was also noted that teachers need to have a clear understanding of the research on Black and Latino boys, but administrators had offered few sources from which their teachers could draw. A large reason for that is the dearth of literature surrounding effective programs for Black and Latino male students, or for boys in general, in single-sex schools.

Overall, the schools expressed the need to center teaching and the curriculum around the educational needs of their students, with careful attention given to the social, emotional, and academic challenges the boys face. These single-sex school administrators overwhelmingly reported that the curriculum needed to extend beyond the walls of the classroom in order to not only prepare the boys for academic success in these schools, but throughout the rest of their academic careers. Most of the administrators maintained that the curriculum needs to connect to the lives of their students in positive and constructive ways. Although many administrators have clear plans as to how to implement this in their particular single-sex schools, others mentioned this vaguely as something that should be done but did not have a clear plan as to how it would be put into practice.

Across all schools, “relevant” instruction emerged as another key salient academic need of Black and Latino boys. Relevant instruction, defined as instruction that connects to students’ cultures or current lives, was conceptualized as a remedy for the deficits in Black and Latino males’ education, which administrators stated were caused in large part by the boys’ disinterest or their inabilities to “see themselves” in curricula in traditional public schools. As one administrator at Thomas Jefferson commented:

I think the students learn best when they can learn about or experience something that is meaningful to them. Students are not very good long-term thinkers. They tend to be short term -- me, right here, right now. This is my world. And so when you can kind of show a student how what they’re learning is applicable to their world, I think they can make that connection and begin to learn ... If the material connects with them, specifically African American males, then the capacity for learning is greater.

The education the boys receive, according to Thomas Jefferson’s vice principal, should “connect” to each “student’s life, their world, their existence” in order that it be meaningful. According to these administrators, the students in their single-sex schools need to know that what they are learning connects directly to “their world.” When asked to speak more specifically about this connection, the administrator at Thomas Jefferson said that it could be “along any lines pertaining to their identity, socio-economically, racially, gender, or just within their particular interests.”

If students sense the applicability of the material they are learning -- its connection to their current experiences or their “interests” -- he argues, they are more likely to be invested in their learning. Consequently, the potential “for learning” will increase. Inherent in this statement is the belief that this particular population of students -- African American males, especially -- has had a limited ability to feel “connected” to the subject matter in more traditional educational settings, most likely because the material found in these traditional settings is (racially or gender) biased or non-conducive to the boys’ learning processes.

The need for relevance in the instruction and curriculum also emerged in discussions regarding professional development needs of school staff. Although many of these schools were intentional in hiring diverse and knowledgeable staff, many mentioned there was a gap in the depth of that knowledge among their staff. At Salem, the principal discussed the pertinent need for this cultural competency among his staff:

I would say some cultural proficiency. I would say really having an appreciation and understanding for the culture and history of the students that they serve, especially with the theme of history. We would like for all of our teachers to be able to integrate that within their discipline at some point ... The knowledge of working with boys, really understanding this stage of development: where they are, what they’re going to bring. We spent quite a bit taking a look at youth culture and being aware of all of the elements and components and the influence that contribute to the psyche of this particular stage of development ... There’s no school, or very few schools of education in American institutions, that focus on the psycho-social development of young men of color. It’s very important for us have professional development that focuses around the socialization of young people of color, particularly young men.

Similarly, the principal of North Star points to the importance of instructional methods and working towards “student-centered learning”: “Right now our lessons are still very teacher-dominated and we would like to move more away from that.” In addition, he notes that his school “need[s] classroom management professional development for some of [its] inexperienced teachers.” The ability to connect instruction to the students’ lives is a theme that arises throughout the interviews. At a very basic level, the program director calls attention to the importance of “cultural proficiency”, helping teachers develop “an appreciation and understanding for the culture and history of the students that they serve.” As part of this cultural understanding, he continues, “[E]very teacher in this environment, in order to be successful, has to be prepared to have some conversations around…gangs, youth culture, home life…and integrating their instruction [with] some of the concepts”, which requires that they understand and know how to “navigate some of the worlds that [the boys] have to navigate.”

In sum, each of the administrators stressed the importance of tapping into either the boys’ own cultures or, more generally, “diverse” material that represents a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Doing so is presumed to ameliorate past inequities caused by the students’ inabilities to “see themselves” in what they have been taught. More specifically, the intervention theory these schools outline is premised on beliefs of social/emotional and academic needs of this Black and Latino male population. This emerging intervention theory posits various theoretical frameworks from which to examine the impact of these schools (see figure 1).


Overall, our investigation of the schools has elicited multiple theories as to why single-sex schooling is a viable intervention model for the educational dilemma facing “urban” Black and Latino boys, or Boys of Color. Each of the schools in this study consists of a dynamic set of leaders who maintain that creating a nurturing school climate will positively impact the boys’ social, emotional, and academic development. While each of the single-sex schools in this study is distinct in its own right, it is framed by a set of interpretations grounded in the experiences and beliefs of the schools’ creators around what Black and Latino students need, the challenges they are faced with, and how best to address those challenges. Each of the schools in this study was constructed to serve students with “high needs” who are viewed to benefit from the opportunity to be educated in a setting designed exclusively for them.

In framing their single-sex schools, the leadership and administrators sort the needs of Black and Latino male students into two main categories: social/emotional needs and academic needs, with particular emphasis on the former. The social/emotional needs of the boys are seen as stemming from a lack of self-esteem, identity crises, negative external pressures (e.g. community, familial, peer, pop cultural), lack of parent involvement or male role models, and negative views of education. These identified needs support cultural explanations for the deficits in Black and Latino males’ educational attainment levels, as responses to structural barriers. These barriers include racism, low expectations, lack of relevant instruction, and monolithic instruction techniques that do not address the boys’ learning styles. The Theories of Change framing the design for each of the single-sex schools in this study tie directly to these perceived needs of Black and Latino male students. These structural challenges are seen as manifesting themselves psychologically in the young men they serve, expressing themselves in the emotional and academic needs of the boys. As such, in order for the young men to succeed, their interventions are primarily directed towards creating nurturing environments that provide alternative messages to what they have received in traditional public schools.

The interventions shared by the school administrators include college preparatory and “rigorous” curricula, “relevant” curricula, brotherhood philosophies and community service, and preparing teachers to work with this particular population of students. The data collected through the interviews and focus groups with administrators and faculty across the five schools point to a shared vision on the part of the leadership around the necessity for building a positive school climate that fosters supportive relationships among and across students, teachers, and administrators. The principals all stressed the importance of these types of nurturing relationships in promoting the achievement of the boys they serve. One of the key factors that was stressed by several of the administrators as being pivotal to their school’s success is the “buy in” in terms of the school’s mission by both students and staff.

The interviews revealed that students who are not successful do not relate to, and in some cases even reject, the message that administrators and teachers convey to counter the negative images and beliefs regarding Black and Latino males that are widely held in society and within the communities the students live. The negative pull of the community context was highlighted across all five schools as a major challenge the boys have to learn how to mitigate. One of the principals especially emphasized the psychological toll exacted on poor boys of color in their neighborhoods and even at times in their own homes -- at the hands of well-meaning families with middle-class aspirations. It should be noted that all of the principals expressed the desire to build relationships within the communities in which the schools are located and saw the value of community service in the lives of their students.

In terms of curriculum and instruction, all of the schools stressed the importance of knowing the lived experience of the boys they are serving. This knowledge allows them to, as previously mentioned, build and sustain positive relationships with students. The leadership at each school stressed the important of the role teachers play in instilling the school’s mission and values in their interactions with students both inside and outside of the classroom. All of the principals discussed the dearth of positive male role models for their students, and they emphasized the importance for teachers who are members of their faculty to readily embrace this role for their students. While many of the schools have teachers on staff with less than five years of experience, most of the administrators have extensive experience in schools and readily embrace the responsibility for mentoring their teaching staff. All of the principals emphasized the need for on-going professional development opportunities for their staff in order to be prepared to meet the academic needs of the population of Black and Latino boys they serve.

Also see:

Published in In Motion Magazine October 31, 2009

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