News: College Access & Success

To Help Male Students of Color, Examine Mindset, Data, and Practice

Monday, August 24, 2020  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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“If money were no object, what practices would your district put in place to change postsecondary outcomes for males of color?”

A new brief from UnlockED written by Imah Effiong begins by asking this important question and then examining the mindsets, data, and practices that can lead to those changes. The brief is a result of interviews with 15 postsecondary district leaders through a professional learning community supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

NCAN's membership, and the college access field more broadly, has long contemplated how to improve Black and Hispanic males’ postsecondary outcomes. Although these students’ college enrollment rates have improved over the last 15 or so years, substantial gaps still exist between male and female students within the same racial and ethnic groups.

“Rethinking How to Support Males of Color for Postsecondary Success” begins with an enabling condition that undergirds the postsecondary success of male students of color: a belief that these students can succeed. Although the interviews for the brief originally focused on programming, “the conversation tended to shift to the courage needed to acknowledge and confront the racism that has infiltrated the education system and the necessity of understanding the broader context of students in pushing this work forward.”

The brief notes that it might seem obvious that stakeholders have to believe in students to help them succeed, but then the brief asks some tough, but critical questions:

  • Does everyone in your district share that inherent belief?
  • When it is suggested that college is the goal for students, what is the response of school-based staff and other stakeholders?
  • Is there hesitancy? Are there excuses? Are there rebuttals?
  • What process or screening is done to ensure everyone is aligned on expectations and beliefs in the district?

Looking in the mirror and examining assumptions and biases that may be holding back practice is a prerequisite to planning and implementing student-facing programming. This next part is especially important, so I quote it in full here:

If stakeholders are defensive in their attitudes toward expectations and the role of racism, it will be difficult to get to the biases and make changes. If this is the first time practitioners are looking at their data, expect rejection or defensiveness. If this is the first time anyone is asking questions as to why the data looks the way it does, then expect practitioners to be uncomfortable. Part of supporting males of color is establishing the expectations the district has for students and educating staff on the importance of equity. Capacity building around equity and biases in your staff is necessary and an important element to this work.

The brief then moves to a topic near and dear to NCAN’s heart: data, specifically data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). “If there is a limited data infrastructure,” the brief explains, “it will be difficult to build a coalition and advocate because the district will lack the evidence of where it stands, as well as if and how it can improve.”

Understandably, districts vary considerably in their sophistication with putting data to use. The chart below is a good guide for assessing where any given district, school, or college access program might be on that spectrum at a given time.

UnlockED recommends that districts who haven’t subscribed to the NSC’s StudentTracker service do that as a first step and then assess their ability to analyze that data (appendix B in the report is a valuable tool for that purpose). The brief also recommends using a data protocol to “center stakeholders’ thinking and avoid jumping to conclusions,” especially if this is the first time leaders, counselors, teachers, and others have seen the NSC data on students’ postsecondary outcomes.

The brief concludes with a number of snapshots on the programmatic interventions of school districts across the country. These programs are often cohort-based and involve intensive counseling and supports for male students of color. For example, Atlanta Public Schools’ “100 Males to College” intervention “will provide participants with more support and advising and is also focused on mid-tier students (with a GPA between 2.5 and 3.0).”

This is a valuable resource from UnlockED. Unfortunately, persistent equity gaps in postsecondary outcomes exist in school districts large and small across the country. A district or school will be hard-pressed to improve their overall outcomes if there are student groups in need of additional support to succeed. This brief establishes some of the enabling conditions districts and schools should ensure are in place as well as the practical approaches they can put into motion for serving this vulnerable, but promising, student group.

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