Tyrone Howard: New Book Examines Factors Affecting Education Process for Black Male Students

The director of the Black Male Institute draws from research and mentoring projects done with UCLA student researchers and LAUSD students.

In his recent book, “Black Male(d): Peril and Promise in the Education of African American Males,” (New York: Teachers College Press. 2013), Professor of Education Tyrone Howard examines the historical, structural, psychological, emotional, and cultural factors that influence the education process for Black boys and youth. Through personal perspectives of these students, the book provides new insights from the group most affected, and discusses new knowledge and useful practices for the teaching and learning of Black males.

Howard says that he was inspired to study Black male education by watching the challenges to friends and family members who had faced great adversity in their educational process.

“If you look at data across a wide range of areas from education, economic disparities, life expectancy, mental health, employability, and access to quality health care, Black males are typically at or near the bottom in all of these indices,” he says.  “So there is a pressing need to assist those who have the greatest need in our society.”

Howard is the director and a founder of the UCLA Black Male Institute (BMI), which was inspired by the efforts of a group of doctoral students in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. In the 2006-2007 academic year, an unprecedented five African American males were admitted into its Urban Schooling doctoral cohort. These students, in collaboration with colleagues from previous cohorts, formed a cadre of researchers whose scholarly interests were focused upon the interdisciplinary aspects of Black male achievement.

Through the mentoring of faculty members like Professors Howard, Walter Allen, Robert Cooper, and Ernest Morrell, the cadre of student researchers formed “Working to Realize African American Academic Potential,” a student-initiated and facilitated working group that presented scholarly papers for symposia at national research conferences, making a significant contribution to the national discourse on issues pertaining to the Black male academic pipeline.

Howard says that support for educators and researchers is key to enabling them to support and mentor Black male students through forming aspirations and reaching their goals.

“Ensuring success for any population requires understanding the social and historical legacy that has been developed around the group,” says Howard. “In many ways, that legacy shapes current conditions.  As far as Black males are concerned, there are multiple layers that have affected them: poverty, poor quality schools, community and family instability, joblessness, and mental health issues, just to name a few.  Nurturing Black male students therefore requires a comprehensive and historical depiction of the group. So, we must conduct research to identify, examine, and replicate best practices that can contribute to their success.”

By Fall of 2008, the students had begun an extended dialogue with Howard, whose expertise and distinguished publication record addressing issues of Black males in education and years of successful mentorship of African American doctoral scholars, naturally led to the forming of a permanent way to continue their efforts through developing the Black Male Institute. Several individuals and organizations came together to support the mission of the BMI, providing key financial support for its first effort, the first BMI Think Tank, a daylong conference held to introduce the youth to the possibilities of college life at UCLA or the school of their choice. The conference, which took place at UCLA in 2009, brought a wide range of scholars from across the academy together with Black male youth from throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, to dialogue and examine the educational and societal experiences of Black males.

Today’s BMI research cohort is currently made up of undergraduates who explore the shortfalls in the educational environment for Black boys and men, from middle school to college. In addition, the UCLA students, who come from a variety of disciplines across campus, actively mentor middle and high school students during the institute’s annual BMI Think Tank. In addition, BMI connects men of color to high school students in order to form off-campus mentorships.

“Mentorship is huge,” says Howard. “If you look at the research  it tells us that consistent mentorship is critical in individuals’ personal and professional development and success. Unfortunately, not enough Black males and many other students of color have [access to] the type of mentorship that is vital to developing self-sustaining life skills.”

Howard says that there is progress in certain areas of education for Black males, including an increase in graduation and college-going rates in certain cities, and more attention paid by school districts to the disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions among Black male students.

“Some progress is being made,” says Howard. “It is still not where it needs to be, but at least there is movement.”

Howard says that BMI has changed the learning environment for Black male students from the high schools that participate in the institute’s Think Tank, and for students at UCLA as well.

“[BMI] has helped to bring greater awareness to the need to create more equitable opportunities for Black males,” he notes. “There are now more Black male undergraduates who are interested in pursuing research and policy.  In many ways, our work has been integral in creating a pipeline from high school to graduate school. We have brought several hundred high school students to the campus to increase their college knowledge.  [At UCLA], Black males feel like there is now a place on campus that cares about them being here, and is dedicated to supporting them.”

Howard is also the faculty director of UCLA Center X, UCLA’s signature urban education institute, and a professor in the Teacher Education Program (TEP) and the Urban Schooling Division of GSE&IS. He is the author of “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms” (New York: Teachers College Press. 2010).

For more information on the Black Male Institute and its research, click here.