Four big goals for black males in Oakland

Chris Chatmon at Frick Middle School. By Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

I blogged in September about the appointment of Chris Chatmon as director of the Oakland school district’s African American male achievement office, which is privately funded.

A story about the initiative ran in today’s Tribune. You can read it here.

What do you think (and/or hope) it will accomplish?

If you’d like to volunteer your time, talents or ideas, you can reach Chatmon directly at christopher.chatmon@ousd.k12.ca.us.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    I hope it will accomplish progress towards employability. I went to college and to grad school but I, and all my friends/classmates, worked continuously during those years. We found jobs (beyond our own family related business in the East Bay) and often worked two part time jobs at once. We had job skills, we were able to work alongside adults much older then we were and be accepted as valuable workers (being allowed to close a store, have a key/alarm code to a store or a business, interact with customers, etc). In our cases we often had prior experience from paper routes and work in family related businesses.

    I don’t see much of that in the black boys age 14-24. “that” being ready, willing and able to work in an adult world.

    This program better get them ready to dress like working adults, speak like working adults, think like working adults and behave like working adults no matter how young they are.

    I hope we get progress reports on this program. It’s getting later than people think. there are jobs out there, immigrants are taking them. I see Negro free workplaces all the time. And it sure isn’t “racism” that’s causing it, it’s the complete lack of interest and qualified black applicants. Everybody needs one. It’s not PC to have a Negro Free workplace. The demand is there, no supply.

    I will say that the stores I worked for circa age 18 are no longer in business. They were 2nd generation family businesses. Their replacements are bigger and NY Stock exchange listed. The current employers are larger, more corporate and more impersonal.

    Not that it would make a difference if De’Antoine turns up with funny speech, clothes and hair, with chicken-scratch applications. The answer is still not only no, but hell no. You get the idea of what the program has to do to get these kids ready to make it.

    Even if you want to stay in school you need to work.

    Brave New World.

  • Gordon Danning

    The article says that the four goals are “to cut in half the incarceration rate of African-American boys, increase their average attendance by 75 percent, double their high school graduation rate, eliminate the racial disparity in school suspensions, and close the fourth-grade literacy gap.”

    Leaving aside whether the goals are actually attainable in 4 years, and whether they will be attained by, say, refusing to suspend African American boys, I kinda wondering why none of the goals relate at all to, oh I dunno, LEARNING. Because I was under the impression (albeit an impression that is rapidly waning) that OUSD is a school district.

  • Katy Murphy

    Gordon: What about the fourth-grade literacy gap?

    Btw, I guess that would be five goals, not four!

  • Hills Parent

    I wish them luck. I say there is no way that all or even any of that can be accomplished in just four years.

  • Gordon Danning

    Katy: True, the 4th grade literacy reflects actual learning. But none of the rest do.

  • August Moon

    Another band-aid if tenure persists.

    The best fix for black boys is outstanding teaching from K to 12th. Get rid of tenure and we’ll see gains.

    What’s good for adults, tenure, is bad for black boys.

  • oaklandteacher

    I am excited to see what this initiative can accomplish and welcome any help towards the attendance, incarceration rate and graduation rate….I think the learning piece comes in with the literacy rate, but also the teachers and schools. I teach on the Castlemont campus and cannot begin to teach our African-American boys if they are not at school.
    We have pieces in place to try and pull them into school, but welcome any and all help as it is a big task but one that needs to be focused on in our community.

  • http://www.movingforwardeducation.com Lacy Asbill

    For this important initiative to work, we need to get clear on the relationship between a larger vision state for African American boys in Oakland (which is somewhat intuitive), a set of goals that move us towards our vision (which are very clear in the article), and the correlating objectives that make the goals come to fruition (these seem undefined at the moment).

    It’s great to see a list of goals that will be guiding the initiative’s work, all of which I believe will contribute greatly to the academic and emotional success of African-American boys. But the question hovers: How will this work get done? For each of these goals, what is the realistic and measurable objective to accomplish in this school year? What are the activities that will support achieving these objectives? How will these activities be funded and implemented consistently so that the objectives are actually achieved, and we see movement towards the larger goals?

    For years, I waited to see strong vision come from the district’s leadership, and I really see it now. Now I’m getting itchy to see what the work looks like–how this vision comes to reality. I want to know: what are the small steps we take towards this vision today? How do we know that these small steps will take us in the right direction? Real change is not just about good ideas–it’s about doing the work with consistency, in a sustainable way.

    This is not a criticism–I believe that these questions must be circling for Mr. Chatmon as well. Suffice to say that I’m looking forward to learning more about what this work will actually look like, and how community members and CBOs can support the process.

  • Gordon Danning

    August Moon:

    Here is why keeping tenure is actually essential, if we want to improve the performance of African American boys: One of the goals is to double their graduation rate in 4 years. I GUARANTEE you that, as a result of that goal, there will be pressure to water down standards. As a teacher with tenure, I can resist that pressure. Without tenure, not so much. After all, no tenure means I can be fired “for any reason or for no reason.” You do the math.

  • Social(ist) Justice

    This is a timely process in Oakland and I’m glad to see it getting set up (albeit to fail). I do not think Chris himslef even thinks he can achieve the goals listed. Any ONE of them is daunting for the city state and federal government, so one individual with no real staff has to work the hard way by recruiting volunteers with some real expertise and insights. Technical assistance aside, someone has to rally the young men into “shape” and get them interested in something that is beyonfd the city limits. Again, daunting task. As for the racism that still persists; those of you that are not trying to have a role in the process should not criticize the students or the adults trying to eliminate the problems (thereby making you safer). Encourage the praticipants or just shut your trap, but derailing the idea before its’ first meeting is preposterous and irresponsible! Black men working in a sustained fashion by some legal means is the basic goal. More advanced goals include leadership and advocacy, self-determination etc., but we have a long way to go and those of you jeering on the sidelines are more a part of the problem than anything else. It does no good to the Black soul to hear these negative stereotypes reiterated by folks claiming to give a damn. Where do you suggest Black children find trust when you visiting outsiders comein with your “help” in the form of studying them to get your degree/credential then fleeing claiming you “taught” in the worst environments etc. Let it go if you can/won’t help them; they don’t believe in you anyway, so thanks for justifying (some of)their negative worldviews!

  • Hills Parent

    Social(ist), I’m not jeering from the sidelines. But these goals, while admirable and lofty, are unrealistic. There should be reasonable goals because things need to change, but setting goals that are too high and can’t be met doesn’t seem like a good decision to me.

  • Nextset

    Gordon has a point about tenure. Without it, the teachers will do absolutely anything from moment to moment that the administration wants them to do – lie, cheat and steal.

    As far as this program magically getting the black boys to stop going to prison – baloney. If they want to go to prison they will and boy do they want to. We might as well put travel posters of the California State Prisons up on the walls (“San Quentin by Moonlight”, etc).

    If you really want to run a program for black boys – or a school for black boys/girls/whatever that produces results, make it picky, exclusive, competitive. Expel anyone that doesn’t perform as directed. Then promote those boys/girls to higher learning and industry. You know, like Morehouse and Spellman Colleges in 1970, or Danbury High School. It worked for them and it will work today in Oakland.

    Until we start culling bad students we are not going to get anywhere with black schools. And you will need tenured teachers to do it. The other type can’t take the heat.

    Brave New World.

  • Hills Parent

    I also think Gordon has a good point about tenure, but it should be easier to get rid of a non-performing teacher. I think that there could be some middle ground between where we are today and being about to let a teacher go “for any reason”.

    There is a teacher or two at our school that should go. They are no longer effective educators and they have displayed serious lapses in judgment. From what I understand, various people over the years have tried to rise up and do something about it, but getting a teacher dismissed for incompetence or poor performance is either impossible or close to it. And so these teachers are allowed to stay year after year and that’s wrong.

  • oakie

    Ain’t going to change a damn thing. What we need is FUNDAMENTAL REFORM, which is apparently a pipe dream in Oakland.

    Throwing our tax money paying some dude to lead an “office of” blah blah blah will have zero affect. But I’m sure there will be a lot of hot air blown through town.

    Watch the money go down the drain and watch the objective metrics of math and language competency for AA males go unchanged in five years.

    Anyone want to bet?

  • harlemmoon

    How can it be that “the goal of the African-American male student achievement initiative is to interrupt the institutional oppression and racism that is in effect in the city of Oakland,” and the focus is on black boys?

    In other words, institutional oppression and racism are external forces imposed on our young men. How exactly, then, do you expect to resolve those long-standing, entrenched issues when the thrust of the initiative is directed everyplace but? Sounds incredibly misdirected and ill-thought out.

  • Katy Murphy

    Oakie – As I’ve mentioned before, this initiative is privately funded.

  • Public School Teacher

    I think that a trip is necessary to NYC to visit the Harlem Success Academies and Jeffrey Canada. He is very successful in raising the academic achievement rates for African American and Latino children. There needs to be extra support in the form of after school tutoring and summer remediation to assist children with their work. Is Oakland ready to fully support this mission? Not sure. There seems to be a tendency in funding consultants and organizing workshops to discuss issues. However, this endeavor requires rolling up one’s sleeves and doing the difficult work of teaching–and not just this standards stuff–real teaching that involves project based learning, inquiry, arts, music and strong science programs. Teachers should invite parents as guest speakers and take students on interesting field trips to local museums and other cultural points of interest. Schools need to provide what many of these students lack in their environment, which can be done.

  • Gordon Danning

    Hills Parent:

    A few years back, the Ed Code was amended to allow dismissal of a tenured teacher for “unsatisfactory performance,” rather than for “incompetence.” So there might be room for a middle ground. Perhaps X straight years of kids performing in the bottom Y percent of state tests, IF there is pre-testing and post-testing, and if the tests are a whole lot better than they are now

  • Bradley Witherspoon

    You can look forward to another failure on this one. If white taxpayers didn’t have to help fund this kind of idiocy, then I’d say, “By all means — throw even more money at these programs that don’t work. What do I care?”

    But, unfortunately, the federal and state governments have spent well over a trillion dollars since the LBJ years on all the various programs to fix black people’s problems (in and out of schools), and you can be sure a lot of that money came from white taxpayers. And what kind of shape are African Americans in today, specifically African-American schoolkids, compared to the mid-’60s?

    I see this initiative has another black Jesus figure (Chatmon) anointed to lead the people to salvation. Good luck with that.


  • Katy Murphy

    Taxpayers are not paying for this initiative. It’s privately funded.

  • Bradley

    Well, in that case, good for this initiative. As long as whitey doesn’t have to pick up the check yet again, that’s all that matters and I wish it the best of luck.

    Incidentally, beyond saying it was privately funded, your story didn’t say who’s funding it. I guess that’s the point of being private, but I suspect some of these private endowments and foundations out there might sometimes get public money.

  • Katy Murphy

    The California Endowment is one of the major funders. I thought I had a list at one point. When I track it down, I’ll post it.

  • Cranky Researcher

    Two things. One, this is about our nation’s future, and applies to everyone, not just black people and “white taxpayers” (who by the way, can pay more for prisons or less for better education, to put it in cost/benefit terms). California is a ‘majority minority’ state, and white people will no longer be the majority in the entire US by around 2050. The education system was created by and for white people to assimilate immigrants to working class citizenship (low tracks) and propel a privileged minority, mostly white, to college and management. In the ‘knowledge economy’ (deindustrialization) this system isn’t working.

    Second, there are a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why can’t black people get married before they have kids? Or spend more time teaching their children? It’s their own fault, it’s up to parents, etc.’ A) there is a double standard where e.g. white people have a divorce rate that far excels black single parent birth rates, but you don’t hear a lot of hollering about that. White kids aren’t doing great in school either, people, they do not compare well to other countries on their own. B) this thinking sometimes basically means ‘why can’t poor people stop acting poor? Why can’t people be poor but not be affected by it and just act as if they had middle class advantages instead?’ It should be clear how absurd that thinking is. Poverty and racism have real effects. Culture is a reaction to as well as a cause of circumstances. So if black boys are rejecting school, the most productive response is not ‘they have a bad culture, it’s their own fault,’ but instead think what you would if it were your own kids – why are my boys reacting this way, what do they need to hunker down in school? The answer can’t be ‘they need successful middle class fathers’ (or college graduate literate moms who read to them daily), because they don’t have that. Maybe they need discipline of another kind or source, tight bonds with male role models, and then you look at mentor programs, black teacher recruitment programs, etc, which exist in many places, but need a scale and institutional stability they typically do not have.

    And yes, black boys had more of this when schools were segregated and black schools had all black faculty, and there was more social stability. Obviously, however, second class citizenship was not a good thing overall, and that had to change, but black communities are still in transition in a post-Jim Crow era. A black middle class has been born and we see black men and women at every level of society in just 50 years, but there is still this deep underclass that needs to be lifted, for everyone’s benefit, out of the depths of poverty and despair where they are now. America should be the kind of country where we don’t sit by and let that go on.

  • Cranky Researcher

    From recent Ed Trust West op ed:
    “Too many California students fall through gaping holes in our college and career pipeline. On average, only six of 10 African American and Latino students graduate from high school. Last year, there were more Latino 12th-grade dropouts than Latino freshmen on a UC or CSU campus. For those African American and Latino students who get into our California State University system, less than four of 10 graduate in six years.

    There are no silver bullets for this systemic breakdown of lost opportunities. California is at a generational crossroads, in which the old majority-minority paradigm and attendant deficit view of communities of color is not merely offensive, it’s downright dangerous. This isn’t a “minority” issue; it’s about the future of our state. Once the Baby Boomers retire in California, who will take their place? Where will the college graduates and highly trained workers who will fuel the next generation of California’s growth come from, if not the extraordinary mix of students in our schools?

    The true heroes of California’s public schools are the children and their parents who desperately want a better future. What they need are courageous political leaders willing to grasp the scope of our demographic change and capitalize on the benefits of our students’ linguistic and cultural diversity in an increasingly globalized world. We need leaders willing to construct education policies aimed at both taking advantage of those strengths and making the hard budget and programmatic choices necessary to fund our children’s needs.

    This means breaking free from the orthodoxy of both political parties – with public-employee unions on the left and taxpayer associations on the right, and shutting down the sideshow debates over charter schools or math pedagogy. It means finding Democrats willing to stand up to those teacher unions focused on meeting the demands of their longest-tenured members and Republicans willing to stand up to taxpayer associations that refuse to fund the educational needs of the new majority.”

  • Harold

    @cranky researcher – that’s a solid post #23!

  • Bradley Witherspoon

    in reply to post #23: Cranky Researcher, you seem like a nice guy and I’m sure you are, but your argument rests on two flawed assumptions, namely 1) that America as we know it will still exist in 2050 and 2) that populations are interchangeable, i.e. that you can have a first-world nation with third-world peoples (sorry, but you can’t). Look at South Africa, Zimbabwe and every big U.S. city, including Oakland, as evidence.

    Respectfully disagreeing,