Chronic absenteeism and suspensions are among the problems that could lead to black boys in Oakland dropping out, according to a report by the Oakland-based United Strategies Council. The report analyzed the factors that influence African-American males dropping out of high school.
The report showed black males struggled with attendance, suspensions, standardized tests and maintaining at least a C average—all risk factors for dropping out. This report is a part of Oakland Unified’s African American Male Achievement Initiative, launched in 2010 to combat academic and social issues plaguing young black men.
According to the report, 73 percent of those surveyed were chronically absent in elementary school, missing at least 10 percent of the school days. Kindergarteners and first graders were four times more likely to miss school than their white counterparts.
Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, an organization to combat truancy, said this issue is more serious than many people think.
“Five-year-olds don’t miss school without an adult knowing at home,” Chang said. “Once you miss a month or more of school, and you miss a month or more in kindergarten and first, you’re not on track for reading in third grade. We’ve got to make sure kids have a chance to start on the right track.”
The research also showed 73 percent of middle schoolers and 41 percent of high schoolers had been suspended at least once. Two-thirds of the high school students also have chronic absences and struggled to maintain a C average.
Chris Chatmon, executive director of the school district’s Office of African American Male Achievement, said there are cultural influences that influence these statistics. “Street culture becomes more attractive than learning and school culture,” he said. “How do we define school culture? What is it? What would get our students getting up at 5 in the morning, running to school?” said Chatmon. “You get school culture right, then you will produce African American boys that produce high academic outcomes.”
He also believes there is a disconnect between students and school officials.
“We still have a teaching and administrative body that doesn’t understand the cultural context of where our students come from,” he said. “We have to do a lot of work with our adults to authentically engage with our boys, with our families, to understand our community context
Chatmon plans to hold a council meeting next month to address the findings.