Mayor Michael Bloomberg's new $127 million initiative to help young black and Latino men relies heavily on improving their academics, because too many students are graduating without the skills they need for college or work.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott says four year graduation rates have gone up for black and Latino males to a little over 50 percent. But he says most of these young men graduate with the bare minimum on their Regents tests.
"We have a responsibility to make sure that all children, but especially our black males and Latino males, are graduating college and career ready," Walcott said. "Provide that platform for them, then you stop the pipeline to the prison system."
The Department of Education said it has already identified about 40 high schools that have solid graduation rates with black and Latino males, in the range of 60 to 80 percent, according to Deputy Chief Academic Officer Josh Thomases. But Thomases said most of those students are graduating with local diplomas, which will soon be phased out, instead of the more academic Regents diplomas. Students who earn local diplomas are highly likely to be sent to remedial math and English classes when they enroll in community colleges, and then they stand a slim chance of earning a degree.
Nonetheless, Thomases said these 40 high schools are a good place to start in order to see what works for an especially at-risk population. The city will also begin strengthening academics at these schools, providing more teaching time and more college advisement in the hopes that more students will graduate ready for college and work.
The city has opened a few all-male schools in recent years. There are three Eagle Academy public schools that are all male, which have gotten high marks on their annual report cards. But the Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship of Young Men, in the Bronx, will be phased out starting this fall because of its poor performance - despite fierce objections from students.
The education focus of the mayor's new initiative also includes $3 million for literacy programs to help black and Latino males who aren't reading at a high enough level to take a GED exam. The city will provide them with paid internships and job placement services as an incentive. The city is also planning more mentoring programs.
Starting this fall, high school report cards will include a separate breakdown for male black and Latino achievement scores. These scores will eventually be used in rating the schools and their principals.
The Open Society Institute, which is a major partner in the mayor's initiative, is funding a similar program in Baltimore to help minority males succeed. There has been a big focus in that city on alternatives to suspending students so they don't lose valuable class time, and graduation rates are now on the rise.
Here in New York, Thomases said principals already have more latitude with respect to discipline. He said the study of successful schools will look at their practices around discipline and whether they use "restorative approaches" versus frequent suspensions.