My Brother's Keeper: AISD Answers White House Call to Improve Achievement of Young Men of Color

Today, leaders from the Austin Independent School District joined President Barack Obama and public school representatives from across the country to pledge to improve the academic and social outcomes of boys and young men of color.

Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz and Trustee Cheryl Bradley traveled to the nation’s capital to answer the White House’s call to support boosting efforts to prepare males of color for college and careers, to reduce the disproportionate number who drop out of school or who are suspended, and to help them succeed.

VIDEO: President Obama expands My Brother's Keeper initiative.

Watch the White House webcast.

AISD is joining the nationwide pledge, which complements the district's commitments to improving achievement among all students, including young men of color. In Austin's school district, the 2011-12 graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students have reached 79.6 and 78.6 percent, respectively, exceeding national rates of 69 percent for African-American students and 73 percent for Hispanic students. AISD's African-American male students graduated at a rate of 76.2 percent and Hispanic male students graduated at a rate of 74.8 percent. The most recent graduation rates for the Class of 2013 are expected to be released by the Texas Education Agency Aug. 8.

AISD also has reformed its approach to disciplinary programs because, historically, young men of color had been disproportionately placed in alternative campuses. For example, last year, the district changed its approach to discretionary removals, which provided more students with the opportunity to remain at their home campuses and stay on track for graduation. Since then, the number of discretionary removals from the classroom has dropped from 513 in 2011-12 to 207 in 2013-14, a decrease of 60 percent.

“Austin’s demographics continue to change and we must continue to do everything we can to help all of our students, especially our most vulnerable and under-represented children,” Cruz said. “Historically, we know many young men of color have faced challenges—and some have even had the odds stacked against them—as they work to overcome obstacles such as poverty and low expectations. But, once students have the support they need, they perform exceedingly well.”

Schools and communities have a special responsibility to offer young men of color additional support as they challenge stereotypes and navigate adolescence into manhood, Cruz said. This support could be simply in the form of mentorship, providing each student with one adult who champions them, someone they know is in their corner and has their back.

Understanding community partnerships are critical to boost support for students, AISD works with Communities in Schools to offer the XY-Zone, a leadership development and peer support program that helps at-risk, young men develop productive life skills; with Victor Saenz, an education professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to offer mentors through Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success); and with the African-American Youth Harvest Foundation to offer culturally relevant, family-centered educational, health and human services. In addition, the district is opening the Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy in the fall. Many of the academy’s students are young men of color.

AISD is a member of the Council of the Great City Schools, the primary coalition of urban schools, which coordinated the national event with the White House. With roughly 32 percent of the nation’s school-age African-American males and 39 percent of country’s school-age Hispanic males enrolled in big-city public schools, urban-school leaders agree that they have an obligation to teach all students to the highest academic standards and prepare them for today’s global society.

“Our job as urban educators is not to reflect or perpetuate the inequities that too many of our males of color face; our job is to eliminate those inequities—and that is what we pledge to do,” Michael Casserly, executive director of the council, said. “We are pleased to join forces today with the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and our other partners in an unprecedented shared commitment to improve the educational and social opportunities of our young men of color,” he added.

In “A Pledge by America’s Great City Schools,” each of the 60 urban school systems committed to carrying out 11 specific actions, which include:

• Ensuring that pre-school efforts better serve males of color and their academic and social development;

• Adopting and implementing elementary and middle school efforts to increase the pipeline of males of color who are on track to succeed in high school, and increasing the numbers participating in advanced placement, honors, and gifted and talented programs;

• Keeping data and establishing protocols to monitor the progress of males of color and intervene at the earliest warning signs of problems;

• Reducing the disproportionate number of males of color who are absent, suspended, expelled, or placed inappropriately in special education classes; and

• Working to transform high schools with low graduation rates among males of color and striving to increase the numbers of males of color and others who complete the FAFSA forms for college aid.

To read the AISD pledge, please visit the district's website

For more information about the Council of the Great City Schools' nationwide work, please see the council's press release.