Leading experts weigh in on current policy issues and challenges

Aiming High: How to Help Boys and Young Men of Color Achieve Academic Success

From very young ages, boys and young men of color are underrepresented among youth who excel in school, and overrepresented among those with low grades, low test scores, and disciplinary problems. What barriers are standing in the way of their academic success? How can we help these young people reach their full potential? 

The Urban Institute is talking with...
Cynthia Brown Cynthia Brown
Michael J. Petrilli Michael J. Petrilli
Charles Payne Charles Payne
Matthew Chingos Matthew Chingos
Ronald Ferguson Ronald Ferguson
Joan Massey Joan Massey
Tia Martinez Tia Martinez
Margaret Simms
Moderated by:
Margaret Simms
Institute Fellow, Urban Institute
19

Hello everyone and welcome to our policy debate on strategies to promote better educational outcomes for boys and young men of color. A few weeks ago, the White House released its second annual report on “My Brother’s Keeper,” which is organized around six life milestones. Four of these focus on educational goals: entering school ready to learn; reading at grade level by third grade; graduating from high school ready for college and career; and completing postsecondary education or training.

This morning, the Urban Institute released Aiming Higher Together, a research report by Professor Ronald Ferguson that lays out a pretty comprehensive strategy for helping boys and young men of color achieve those four goals.  While the individual components are not unique, the way they are put together is somewhat different. Ron frames his strategic approach in terms of the “person-environment” fit. I have two questions:

  1. What contribution does this strategic approach make to current discussions on education reform?
  2. What aspect of the approach, as you see it, will be most difficult to achieve?

Ron Ferguson's paper is a remarkable document. I've been a fan of his Tripod work for several years and it was great to see detailed analyses from it. It's greatest contribution to education reform is the discussion of behaviors and skills that teachers need to work effectively with BYMOCs. Providing pre-service  and in-service training that follows Ferguson's guidance will be extremely difficult to get in place. The most difficult aspect of his approach to achieve will be family supports for children of color from birth to age 3.  Ferguson says a movement is in place, but acknowledges at the end the difficult politics that must be tackled to achieve the goals of his paper. I for one am discouraged about how far off positive politics on these matters are.

Ron Ferguson’s new paper is an impressive synthesis of a large body of research about a critically important problem—the troubling average outcomes of boys and young men of color (BYMOC), relative to other groups of students. A key contribution of Ron’s use of the “person-environment fit” approach is that it enables him to differentiate factors that vary primarily within schools from those that operate largely through differences across schools. In other words, the classroom and the broader school community are both environments in which students vary in their degree of fit.

Ron discusses how most of the variation in teacher quality is within rather than across schools. For example, the quality of the teacher is a stronger predictor of whether students report pushing themselves hard to understand their lessons than the climate of the school. On the other hand, the disproportionate rates of disciplinary actions involving BYMOC appear to result more from differences across schools as opposed to disparate treatment of different groups of students within the same school.

Factors that vary within vs. across schools will tend to suggest different policy responses. Efforts to improve teacher quality, for example, should focus on retaining the best teachers, developing the skills of average teachers, and removing persistently poor performers. But efforts to address disparities in disciplinary outcomes may need to focus more on the concentration of BYMOC in particular schools, especially given the evidence Ron presents that negative peer pressures are most prevalent in racially segregated schools. Both sets of efforts are sure to be challenging, but I suspect that changing school assignment policies with the goal of reducing segregation is likely to be even more politically fraught than changing schools' personnel policies.

Ron Ferguson's paper shines the spotlight on the fact that educational opportunities, despite years of reform, still remain inequitable for BYMOC.  This is a comprehensive look at the strategies, programs and systems required to improve educational experiences and outcomes for BYMOC.  These solutions are clear, comprehensive, research based, yet year after year districts allow chronically low performing schools to remain open

K-12 schools often experience the same gap that colleges refer to with the skills levels of the incoming freshman class.  Colleges have identified significant academic gaps within the students and have been forced increased the number of remedial courses offered to prepare students for college level work.  The teacher preparation gap is much the same and the gap is wider in urban and low performing districts and schools.  Expectations, beliefs and bias play a significant role in the success of the teachers and students they serve, however, equally critical is the fact that teachers are less prepared to teach in setting where there are significant achievement gaps.  Teacher preparation programs focus on pedagogy generally but this does not translate to skills needed to teach diverse populations of students who require additional support to get to grade level.   We know that students success is directly linked to the effectiveness of the teacher and teacher preparations programs are in need of dramatic improvements.  

I agree with Cindy; Ron's paper is a remarkable document. Several of its sections make important new contributions; his clear-eyed take on the research on discipline disparities is, by itself, worth the price of admission.

And, like Matt, I love his use of the "person-environment fit" frame. But I can't help but wonder why he didn't discuss  the most promising way we have to better fit kids with environments that work best for them: charter schools and other forms of school choice. (He discussed Roland Fryer's efforts to transfer what works in the best charters to traditional public schools, but not scaling up charters themselves.)

I hope we have a chance to discuss that in coming days. Everything Ron proposes in his paper is difficult to do in the best of circumstances. But educators in most big urban school systems aren't working in the best of circumstances; they are working inside of dysfunctional organizations. The odds are putting these various pieces in place in the face of that are not good.

On the other hand, I can imagine that high-performing charter schools--especially the "No Excuses" variety--will snap up these recommendations and work to put them into practice eagerly and effectively.

If we're going to "aim higher together," let's not exclude today's most promising reform strategy.

 

I understand Cynthia Brown’s discouragement about how far off the politics currently are. And, I agree with Matt Chingos that reducing segregation will more difficult politically than improving professional development supports and retention of good teachers in segregated schools. So, while not backing off of desegregation as a goal, it seems likely that the most effective steps we can take will be toward improving the quality of instruction, administration, and peer dynamics in the schools that boys and young men of color already attend.

If that’s the case, then the question is whether there are steps to be taken toward doing so in a more coherent and accountable way that is currently happening. As I point out in the paper, I think there are some basic principles that obtain in really effective schools, where boys and young men of color are doing well. In high poverty schools, these include nonacademic measures to address student needs that interfere with learning. However, in all really effective schools, there is a professional community of adults focused on solving common problems of practice and holding themselves accountable for serving all children well.

I have been in some schools where it seemed like they wanted to do better but did not know how, and in others where it seemed that they had just accepted the status quo and did not believe that doing better was even possible. So, there are some instances in which there is no sense of urgency and others in which there is no sense of possibility. This is not simple. There are multiple layers of required leadership. 

I think a shared sense of urgency can come from being honest with parents and other stakeholders about how bad conditions are in some schools for some students, and a shared sense of possibility can come from publicizing examples of schools and classrooms where boys and young men of color are succeeding. By distilling the principles of leadership, instruction, and interpersonal relations we find in the most successful examples—and providing intentional  adult learning opportunities to speed dissemination—we should be able to make faster progress. If I am correct about this, a big question is who will do the distillation and organize the dissemination? What are the points of disagreement around which some consensus may need to be reached before such an agenda could move forward with broad support?

Michael Petrilli points out that there are lessons to be learned from what works in the best charter schools. I agree that charter schools have many of the advantages that charter advocates claim, and that the theory of charters—that over time market pressures will put the worst out of business and mainly the good ones will remain—makes sense. After all, I’m an economist by training. However, I also know that there are great regular schools. Each year, I rank order schools in Massachusetts by their student growth percentile scores. As Michael would predict, charter schools in the state are over represented among those near the top. However, there are also regular public schools up there too, sometimes even at the very top. They don’t get the attention that charters do because they don’t have the advocacy that charters have. When they get a phone call to ask them how the made such progress, they are thrilled that someone noticed.

So, I’m inclined to look in all types of places for ways of improving, including charters. I’m also hopeful, perhaps naively, that organized labor in education will evolve to take more responsibility for the core mission of schooling and that our politics processes will evolve to be more respectful of teaching as a difficult and honorable profession.

Ferguson's person-environment fit framework provides a much needed alternative to the impoverished, decades long debate about whether poor outcomes among students of colors are the result of structural inequities and societal stereotypes versus bad choices, weak values and poor behavior among children and families.  He provides an analysis that situates individual behavior of students in the context of adult and organizational behaviors and structures - and explains how all three components interact, influence, and shape one another to create either destructive negative feedback loops that undermine adult-child and peer relationships or developmentally appropriate positive feedback loops that help young people grow into strong, skilled, and valued community members.  This framework offers a compelling description of lived experience of young people of color, their peers, and education professionals, that empowers all actors to make the individual and systemic changes required to shift conditions by side stepping the familiar "blame game" in which we argue about whether the fault lies with the kids, the teachers/administrators, the parents, or the system/structures. 

 

His description of "the predicament" is quite powerful - in particular, how he synthesizes findings from social psychology literature, larger survey based quantitative research, and his own student survey research into the model presented in Figure 20 on page 57.  This integrated, social-ecological perspective should guide all of our collective efforts to improve conditions for young people of colors of color.  I actually think we spend entirely too much time debating which of the three drivers in his model - differences in preparation, societal stereotypes, or disparities in resources and power - is the dominate/most powerful explanatory factor in predicting racial disparities.  I am increasingly convinced that these patterns emerge and are sustained as much through the interaction of these three drivers - as by any individual, "independent" impact of one alone.  

We have a good discussion on several fronts.  I would like to focus on the importance of teacher quality in schools with high concentrations of BYMOC.  One of the reasons for low teacher quality is teacher turnover.   Good teachers can transfer out of schools or systems that have disadvantages from their viewpoint.  This is true in both public and charter schools.  What strategies can we use to keep the best teachers in the schools that need them the most?  How do we keep the teachers we have invested in by upgrading their skills there as well?

Putting so much relevant data together in one place is a major service. A shorter version would be a very useful professional development tool.   I am particularly struck by the clarity and power of the data on peer groups and how well it tracks with Theresa Perry’s analysis of the need for counter-narratives of worth.  I would like to hear some teachers talk about how this meshes with what they see.  This might also be a good time to try to shine a light on some the community-based work which seems to be addressing these issues – Brotherhood Sister Sol in NYC, the Baltimore Algebra Project, etc.

As to difficulties in moving on some of these ideas,  one of the most obvious will be developing and sustaining appropriate organizational supports and standards for teachers.  Given what has already been said about lack of resources and high levels of dysfunction in some schools, it might be interesting to think of using Networked Improvement Communities ( Bryk, Gomez, et al 2015) as a vehicle for helping school-communities move to better practice.  They have the advantage of  addressing some of the social and environmental dysfunctions.

Teacher turnover is not necessarily a bad thing. A recent study found that the District of Columbia Schools teacher evaluation system increased student achievement by inducing the departures of lower-performing teachers. Turnover is a problem to the extent that it is widespread, as it is in too many schools with large populations of BYMOC. The available evidence suggests that financial incentives are at best a weak lever for retaining teachers, and that improving working conditions is likely more important. School leadership can play a role in improving working conditions, but reducing the concentration of disadvantaged students would also likely help. Well-designed school choice policies are a promising strategy to both improve the quality of instruction and potentially weaken the link between housing and school segregation.

Teacher tunrover is one issue, but what should also be taken into account is the difficulty in attracting high quality teachers to low performing schools and/or urban schools where significant achievement gaps exist.   The high ratio of substitute teachers, especially in large urban districts, is not often addressed.  The result is that students spend a year with teacher who doesn't have the content knowledge to teach the course and they don't generally get the support and feedback a full time teacher would receive as part of the development process.   

I agree with Ron Ferguson that coaching and mentoring is a high leverage strategy in improving teacher performance.  My questions is: When teachers are developed to become more effective in the classroom does that proportionally impact their beliefs about students' abilities?  

I agree with much of what has been said. Maybe teachers care more about working conditions than money, but salary levels probably influence who goes into teaching in the first place. On top of that the salary structures of most school districts have changed little in recent times. More importantly, working conditions are often directly related to resources. The documentation on inequitable financing of schools and districts is extensive with most high poverty school and districts suffering greatly. The array of needed services and supports for BYMOCs that Ferguson describes cost money--extra money. Without those supports, working conditions are poor or deteriorate and lead to the cycle of teacher turnover, etc. Also, many school districts make bad investments in professional development, often falling pray to slick vendors.

I agree with Petrilli about the charter schools often being a better choice for BYMOCs. Yes, there are successful traditional schools and as Ferguson says their stories need to be told. Charter schools are better at publicizing their successes. Education advocates like those in the Policy Innovators in Education Network need to put high on their agendas spreading the word about the best schools for disadvantaged students.

If we combine the last several comments, we have Charles Payne suggesting a networked learning community, Matt Chingos, suggesting a combination of allowing weak teachers to leave while improving working conditions so that stronger teachers will want to stay, Joan Massey agreeing that coaching and mentoring are high-leverage strategies, and Cynthia Brown suggesting that more money is needed to improve working conditions and raise salaries. She also suggests schools need to be more discerning about how they spend their professional development money, not falling prey to slick vendors.

I agree with Charles that networked learning communities can help develop and distill approaches to a number of the issues—maybe even most of the issues—that the Aiming Higher paper addresses. However, such communities need leaders, analysts, and organizational infrastructures. More organizations will need to step up. I know that Tony Bryk and his colleagues have been trying to spread the approach, but one group can only do so much. I can see the approach being used to work on refining approaches to differentiated instruction in diverse classrooms, helping adolescents construct the peer climates they really want, disseminating parenting ideas and strengthening supports for parents, installing more empathetic responses to misbehavior, and more.

Matt Chingos reminds us that there are teachers for whom teaching may not be the best career, and for whom increased turnover is not a bad thing, and there are others that we really want to retain. Training for school and district administrators should include ways of distinguishing these types from one another. To be fair to teachers, there should be multiple measures of effectiveness, deployed multiple times, over two or three years, before reaching a strong conclusion about a teacher’s effectiveness. To be fair to students, consistently ineffective teachers should be identified and not retained, even if they have tenure. One reason that some people favor charters is that they can make such decisions more easily. In regular schools, we should be lifting up and sharing models wherein administrators and teacher unions are collaborating on building high-performance teaching communities. I do not have detailed knowledge on this point, but my understanding is that there are some good examples.

I agree with Cynthia Brown that improving working conditions without financial resources can sometimes seem next to impossible. However, I was once surprised to find how much variability there is across the nation in the funding available to high poverty schools. Whether too little funding is really a constraint may vary more than people think it does.

Advocates in each locality need to get the local facts in order to decide how much emphasis to place on more money versus reforms in how money is used. Since there are always vested interests attached to current uses, there is no way around doing the politics when it comes to finance. However, the more finance is already in the system, the greater the possibility that win-win ways forward can be identified. I should also add that even holding resources constant, there are always ways to improve. While working to secure more funding, advocates should not allow people to use money as an excuse for not at least trying to do better with what they have.

Finally, Joan Massey asks, “When teachers are developed to become more effective in the classroom, does that proportionately impact their beliefs about students’ abilities?” I think the answer is yes. In the early 1990s, I tracked a program to spread Marva Collins’s ideas from West Side Academy in Chicago into Oklahoma. Collins, a black woman, was famous for achieving things with inner-city black kids that people thought could not be done. Officials in Oklahoma allowed me to survey teachers during the summer training institute before they received the training. The schools had been selected because they were among the weakest in the state.  

My conclusion from analysis of those surveys was that teachers’ low expectations were more about themselves than their students. They mostly acknowledged the plausibility of the proposition that their students could perform at a much higher level, but they also admitted that they did not know how to bring this higher level about with these less advantaged students.

A couple semesters after the summer institute, I interviewed teachers who had received the training and whose students made large improvements on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Some told me they had implemented the methods in their classrooms only because they were under some pressure to do so, not because they really believed it would work. When it did work, they were surprised. When it worked repeatedly, their expectations for themselves as teachers and their students as learners rose. Repeated success was a seeing is believing experience. I heard the same types of stories about teachers in the exemplary high schools that we wrote about in the 2010 Achievement Gap Initiative Report.

So, I think the answer to Joan’s question is that if development really helps them become more effective in the classroom, teachers’ beliefs about students’ abilities do rise. Belief follows success. Action does not require belief. It only requires incentives and resources to act and knowledge of what actions to take. Strong leaders in schools that become outstanding make sure people know what to do and then get them to act even if they don’t yet believe.

Few people in 1950 would have anticipated the progress the civil rights movement made by 1970. My birth cohort was the first for which which large numbers of black students entered elite universities; I was a black freshman at Cornell University in 1968. There were six times as many black students in my class as the year before.  That was among the breakthroughs that the civil rights movement helped achieve. It is plausible to me that we could do something similar over the next two decades: each new generation of boys and young men of color does not have to remain within the current predicament. To make major progress, we don’t have to be true believers, we just need to do the things we would do if we really believed. It's worth a try. Like the teachers in Oklahoma, we can be pleasantly surprised when it actually works.

Teacher attrition can definitely help students if the teachers exiting are the low performers and if they are consistently replaced with more effective new teachers (Adnott, 2016).  Unfortunately, in most underperforming, disadvantaged schools this is not the case.  We know that low achieving / high minority schools lose a far greater percentage of their most effective teachers than do high achieving schools with more white students – and they keep a greater percentage of their least effective teachers (West and Chingos, 2009).  And when effective experienced teachers leave low achieving schools they tend to move to schools that serve more white, affluent, higher performing students (Boyd, 2008).  Meanwhile the spaces they leave vacant are filled disproportionately by teachers with little to no experience or less effective experienced teachers moving in from other similarly disadvantaged schools (Clotfelder, 2007).  Furthermore, once these novice and ineffective teachers enter these schools they systematically receive the lowest performing students (furthest behind academically)…the very students who need the most help and support (CEPR 2010, Dallas ISD analyses, 2007).  Researchers hypothesize that principals may reward their best teachers by assigning them higher performing students as one of the few levers they have to hopefully retain them.  This within-school matching of weak teachers with novice and newly hired teachers is likely exacerbated by the highest functioning families advocating for their child to not be assigned to the new, unproven teacher.  It is unsurprising that even the most promising novice teacher quickly burns out and seeks to exit – hence creating even further instability and yet another vacancy.   

In the medium to long term, reducing the concentration of disadvantaged students in certain schools is essential.   In the short term – so long as low income students and students of color clustered in low performing schools - reversing this negative feedback loop will likely require us to pull multiple levers simultaneously.   As others have pointed out, research consistently show the two most frequently stated reasons for teacher’s leaving a school are 1) lack of support from administrators and 2) poor working conditions.   This suggests that the school leader may be a crucial lever.   Building a pipeline of specially trained, high capacity principals to serve in these schools (e.g. UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership) and giving them the autonomy and power required to shape and retain a high performing faculty could have considerable impact on both improving perceived support from administrators and working conditions.  Other essential levers that would need to be combined with support for a high capacity principal include compensation differentials to attract and retain effective and experienced teachers (comp can also give principals an alternative to assigning higher achieving students as a way to reward their best teachers), introduction of a system of integrated student services to lessen the burden on teachers of dealing with the impact of intergenerational poverty and trauma on their students, and rigorous and systematic coaching of teachers (e.g. My Teaching Partner).   

The last lever – rigorous and systematic coaching - seems particularly crucial.   Research shows that novice teachers in high poverty schools improve over time at a slower rate than their peers in schools serving more privileged students (Sass, 2010).   If we are starting with a group of less effective teachers assigned to teach groups of black, Latino, and Native American boys who have been academically behind since kindergarten in settings that slow – then we must find a way to at once significantly accelerate teacher improvement while simultaneously building their capacity to work effectively with boys of color.  The findings from the Anne Gregory’s evaluation of My Teaching Partner show that an intensive coaching model not only raised student scores by 9 percentage points but also eliminated the black/white disparity in office referrals vs. a control group of teachers who did not receive coaching.  This intervention comes the closest to directly addressing the “predicament” that characterizes the relationship between teachers and boys of color.   The authors hypothesized that coaching enabled the teacher to build stronger relationships with students and deliver more engaging and challenging instruction.   This, in turn, meant that many negative interactions – and the escalation that ensues - might be prevented in the first place.  And when a boy of color does break the rules, stronger relationships can help diffuse conflict and disrupt any preconceived notions or unconsciously held stereotypes. In the authors’ words “when students and teachers trust one another, they may give each other the benefit of the doubt when intentions are not clear. Seeing benign intentions (and not hostile intentions) in classroom behavior may prevent or resolve conflict.”

One last tantalizing finding: Further mediational analyses of My Teaching Partner identified mechanisms for the coaching program’s effects on office referrals; Black students had a low probability of receiving disciplinary referrals with teachers who increased skills to engage students in high-level analysis and inquiry.  In other words, engaging, rigorous teaching that makes a difference!  As Gregory notes, these findings echo a meta-analysis of 119 studies, teachers’ encouragement of higher order thinking and learning was associated with positive behavioral outcomes (Cornelius-White, 2007).  School discipline reforms that seek to limit suspensions and improve school climate should not be seen as separate and distinct from efforts to ensure rigorous, excellent instruction for all.    Both are vitally necessary for boys and young men of color to flourish.

Leadership has been mentioned by several people as an essential ingredient for making significant change in schools and in school systems.  Where will this leadership come from?  What incentives or degree of autonomy do we need to put in place to attract the people who can make these changes happen?

Sorry to go a bit off topic - but a quick note on some of the limitations of no excuses charter schools and school choice as potential solutions for the challenges facing boys and young men of color.    Deming’s 2014 study of the impact of winning a school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on high school graduation, postsecondary attendance, and degree completion demonstrated a positive impact of winning the lottery – but the gains only accrued to girls.  They found “small but statistically significant increases in all three measures for students who win the lottery to attend their first-choice school. However, these gains from school choice are almost entirely concentrated among girls. Girls who attend their first choice school are 14 percentage points more likely to complete a four-year college degree, yet they find no significant impacts for boys across a variety of measures of postsecondary attainment.

The authors explain “this suggests that girls are more responsive to gains in school quality—or alternatively, that a change in environment is more costly for boys. While boys and girls chose similar-quality schools on average and started at their new schools in similar courses with similar class rank, only girls remained “on track” throughout high school. By the end of high school, female lottery winners had higher grade point averages, had completed significantly more college-level coursework, and were more likely to take the SAT. Male lottery winners, on the other hand, dropped significantly in class rank, showed no difference in college-level coursework, and were significantly more likely to fail an end-of-course exam in the upper grades. This pattern of results mirrors the results in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO)”

In terms of charter schools, there’s some evidence that the No Excuses approach may prove a particularly poor self – environment fit for boys and young men of color.   While charters as a group don’t have markedly higher rates of out of school suspensions among males of color than traditional public schools, many of the schools in the highest achieving “no excuses” charter management organizations reported startlingly high suspension rates for these populations in the most recent publicly available data (1213).  Here’s the spreadsheet from UCLA with 1213 suspension rates for charter schools disaggregated by race (note: I was part of the team that did this analysis): https://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-... It is worth exploring.

In addition, to high rates of out of school suspension, a 2014 article by Corcoran and Jennings documented the fact that charter schools enroll and retain more girls than boys.   The authors analyzed enrollment data for all U.S. schools over 11 years, and found charters enroll a higher fraction of girls, and that the gap that has grown steadily over time and is larger in secondary grades and KIPP schools. They then use longitudinal student-level data from North Carolina to examine whether differential rates of attrition explain this gap. They find boys are more likely than girls to exit charters once enrolled, and gender differences in attrition are larger than in traditional schools. The difference is not large enough to explain the full enrollment gap between charter and traditional schools in North Carolina, however, suggesting gaps exist upon initial enrollment.

I am optimistic that charters and choice can be part of the solution set – but we will need to get a deeper understanding of the impact of both of these interventions on the educational trajectory of black, Latino, and Native American boys and the ways these approaches can be adapted to better meet the needs of this population.

I really appreciate Tia Martinez’s last two posts—lots of detail complete with citations! Her point that the teachers who leave disadvantaged schools are not typically the most effective is especially important to reinforce. Indeed, her entire post on the topic is worth reading a couple times.

Margaret’s final question is “Where will leadership come from?” I would instead ask, “Who will put in place the institutional arrangements to prepare and support stronger school leaders?” I once participated on a commission in a state that I won’t name, on which my subcommittee recommendation concerned improved training for school administrators. We recommended a project to study the leadership methods practiced in the schools that were doing the best in the state at raising achievement among students from less advantaged backgrounds. Based on the findings of that study, a school leadership curriculum would be developed, including case studies, etc. School administrators would then be required (or at least invited) to participate in something like a networked learning community focused around that curriculum.

State leaders responded that the state already had a number of colleges responsible for school leadership development and that our recommendation was therefore not needed. My interpretation of that response was that implementing our recommendation would have required intruding on the turf of existing leadership development programs, which was not something that state leaders had the political bandwidth to contemplate, especially when our recommendation was itself unproven.

In the end, the most difficult part of making the changes that our discussion implicates may be the need to challenge existing arrangements and to replace them with things that are better, not just different. Finding people with the ability and the interest to become prepared to be strong school leaders should not be difficult. For now, however, existing arrangements for preparing and supporting school leaders—including training, incentives, and community supports—remain part of the systemic predicament that we all need to address.

Let me offer a radical idea regarding leadership: How about letting our young people lead?

What if we committed ourselves, and our systems, to following the lead of boys and young men of color who demonstrated a willingness to do the hard work, and to take the social chances, to climb the mountain to college and opportunity?

We would stop erecting barriers in the way of such boys and young men of color. For instance, if they showed academic promise in elementary school, we would make sure they had access to gifted and talented programs. If they showed up ready to learn, we would make sure their classrooms were free from violence or disruption. In middle school, if they showed aptitude for advanced courses, we would make sure such courses were available--and filled only with students who were also ready for acceleration. If they showed up to high school ready for a rigorous college prep or CTE program we would make sure they had access to one--rather than force them into a faux-college prep track filled with peers who enter many years behind. If they couldn't get the challenge they needed in their home school, we would make sure they had access to charter or magnet or selective high schools, or even private schools via vouchers or tax credit scholarships.

Millions of such boys and young men of color are out there, ready to use education to climb the ladder to opportunity. Today's education policies and ideologies, unfortunately, frequently make them a low priority. We should follow their lead, and change that.

This has been a really rich discussion and it provides a lot for people to mull over as they think about ways to improve educational outcomes for boys and young men of color.  As noted by several of the debate participants, Ron Ferguson’s new paper provides a comprehensive way of looking at what needs to be done.  In the end, it is clear that much more support is needed for students, parents, teachers and school leaders if the “person-environment fit” model is going to become a reality.  The big question is—where will the money come from?  But that is a discussion for a future policy debate.