Happy Father’s Day: How a Father Impacts a Black Boy’s Education

By David McGuire

Many would argue that a great school, quality teachers, and a well-rounded curriculum are the most important factors to educating a black boy. They wouldn’t be wrong in arguing these points. All of which are important; however, one factor that seems always to be neglected from the argument is the role and the importance a father plays in the education of that black boy. 
Many black boys grow up in a neighborhood and household where the father is not present. They grow up never seeing a father supporting them especially when it comes to school. Their father isn’t there to take them to school on the first day, they are not there to attend the parent-teacher conference, they are not there to come to their talent show, and they are not there to see them received their certificate for honor roll. Even worse the father is not there the day they accomplish a significant milestone like graduating high school and college. 
Numerous studies suggest that a black boy who grows up in a household where the father is not present have the highest chances of being incarcerated at some point in their life. They also have the highest chances of having some behavioral issues in school and are more likely to be suspended. It is the Father’s role especially in a black boy’s life to provide guidance, structure, and the expectations. When those pieces are missing the boys seeks other avenues and very rarely does education become a priority. 
Nationwide there are efforts to combat the issue of fatherless boys. Former President Barack Obama launched an initiative in 2014 entitled My Brother’s Keeper. The purpose was to create and expand opportunities for black boys with one of the focuses being on education. Across the country, there are many communities that are fortunate enough to have schools that help address the needs of fatherless black boys in education. In Ohio, there is Ginn Academy. In Chicago, they have the national recognized Urban Prep Academies In New York, there is Eagle Academy, and in Indianapolis, there is Tindley Preparatory Academy. These are all steps in the right directions, but things would be so much easier if there were fathers present to support the schools and their sons. 
In his 2007 book Raising Black Boys author, Jawanza Kunjufu stated many black boys are suffering what is called “post-traumatic missing daddy disorder.” He also talked about that it is important that boys have a mentor, but there is no one a black boy wants more than to have his father in his life. 
As we celebrate Father’s Day today. We cannot underestimate the importance of the impact a father has on a black boy’s education. We salute the Fathers who are present in the lives of their black boys. We encourage those that are not in their son’s life that it is not too late to step up and get in their child’s lives. More importantly, we must focus on raising our black boys up that we can reverse the statistics of black boys growing up fatherless that we raise our black boys to be men that will be in the lives of their black boys. 

Instruction Over Discipline

Black male teachers are often called on to handle school discipline problems.  However, many Black male teachers want their districts to know that they are also excellent instructors who are able to manage their classrooms and lead students to success.

“We can be instructional leaders” and “not just pushed down to discipline.” 

Read more here





Training for a Trade

In Memphis, barber Timothy Cogbill is exposing a group of young men to the trade of barbering.  The “Boys to Barbers” program is designed to teach young men how to barber and hopes to enable these young men to build clientele while learning the skill.

“Cogbill, who started cutting hair when he was 13, said his passion for being a barber helped him avoid turning to crime and drugs like some of his friends did”

Read more here

One size fits all

By Marlena Little

If you walked into a department or big-box store about 20 years ago, you were bound to see a shirt or a hat that read “One Size Fits All”. Even if the intentions were good and the singular sizing was meant to accommodate the masses, there were always the outliers – those individuals who couldn’t fit the item of clothing on either side of the spectrum.

As the outliers increased and time moved on, the tagline adapted as well, moving to “One Size Fits Most”.

Even now, there are those who don’t fit in the “most”, those who definitely never fit in the “all”.

Thank goodness we don’t subscribe to the “One Size Fits Most” mantra in education.

Or do we?

The Achievement School District, began as the national model for school turnaround and education reform in Tennessee.  It’s vision to take the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee, primarily in Memphis, and elevate them to the top 25% in 5 years was ambitious, yet necessary.  For far too long these schools in the bottom 5% underperformed their counterparts and a modification to “business as usual” was essential and crucial to the economic stability of Memphis.  The ASD sought to achieve this goal by governing charter school management organizations/operators who directly ran low-performing schools.

The Achievement School District had 5 years to prove itself.

The five years are now up.

Within the last five years, the Achievement School District has realized some success and faced equal challenges. In 2014, the Center for Reinventing Public Education rated the ASD’s model as “top in the nation”, however, there were still mixed results on the progress of specific schools.  As with any educational reform initiative, the undertaking was not free of challenges.  

What can be true for articles of clothing has proven to not be applicable to the schools of Tennessee.

In education – one size cannot fit all or most.

Commissioner Candice McQueen understands the need for various models of educational reform. There is no “default to the ASD” for low-performing schools. There is no one model that can reach every student, nor is there one type of school that can exist to turn around our lowest performing schools.

Tennessee is in fact in a new era of educational reform.

The Achievement School District’s existence provided proof that there are strategies and structures that can assist the performance of low-achieving schools.  However, it also highlighted the external circumstances that also play a significant role, such as community engagement and low enrollment.

The end of an era is indeed near.

As with the end, there is always a new beginning.

The end of the Achievement School District’s era of school reform may be ending but it’s not over for the students and families they serve(d). The thirst for research-based interventions and strategies is still present, with more programs committed to teacher and leader preparation and effectiveness. More charter schools and operators are diligent in offering various educational models that are focused and specific, catering to a smaller pool of students, but doing so with depth and breadth of programming.  The presence of the ASD has also, directly or indirectly, resulted in the improvement of the local school district, which is a win for all.  

The new era of educational reform will lend itself to a world of new outcomes. This new era of educational reform must be rooted in being transformative and personalized, as well as being a proponent of lasting and effective change.  The new era of educational reform will be one where students are a priority and educational models are vetted against the community and demographics they serve. Parents will choose the school that best fits their student and will have the opportunity to receive the best education for their children, whether public, private or charter.

The new era of educational reform must not resemble “One Size Fits Most”.  We can’t afford for it to.  



Under Pressure

The pressure to pass students has many teachers making up grades to avoid getting into trouble with school administrators.  A retired Shelby County teacher and other teachers share more about their experiences with altering grades.

“All the time. As a senior teacher, most of my football boys never did any work the first nine weeks. So I had to spend a lot of time fudging grades because I didn’t want to get called into the office for having too many failures.” 

Read more here

3 Tips for parents to keep their children engaged for the summer

Summer break from school presents kids of all ages with many opportunities to play outdoors, hang with friends, kick back and relax. While children need time to play and deserve to relish in their break from school, it’s important for parents to remember the importance of also helping your children retain the knowledge and skills gained during the school year. As with all things in life, balance and moderation is key. By keeping your children’s brain active over the summer, he or she will have less difficulty getting back into the swing of things, and being an engaged learner and active student when school resumes in the fall.. Encouraging and challenging your children to remain academically focused over the summer, will allow them to return to school without having lost any ground.

Here 3 tips from Campaign for School Equity (CSE) on how to prevent student brain drain over the summer:

1. Reading is Fundamental.

 Summer is the perfect time for children to set and smash reading goals! Encourage your child to read at least two or three books over the summer Studies show that consistent reading keeps children’s minds working during the summer months and beyond. More engagement means less re-teaching and re-learning come fall. The U.S. Department of Education found that, generally, students that practiced reading got higher testing scores. Research also shows that the more parent involvement a child has, the higher their scores will be. Places like Barnes & Noble, Scholastic and of course your local library have reading programs over the summer to help and make reading fun and interesting for children!

 2. Traveling & Experiential Learning.

 Summer can get dull really fast if you stay indoors without access to any creative outlets or new things to see, do, and explore. To make your child’s summer memorable and productive, engage them in experiential learning activities, like visiting museums, parks, art galleries, and other places that promote family-friendly fun. Many of these places will have programs and events especially designed for children that will help to promote social/emotional skills development and creative thinking, allowing for a more enriched summer break experience.

  3. Writing

 Some teachers request or require that students keep a journal over the summer and have them reflect on what they’ve written and experienced at the start of the school year. However, journal writing doesn’t have to be for a verbal or written school report., Encourage your children to practice and strengthen their writing skills by writing a funny short story to share just with family, or creative expressions like poetry or songwriting. These writing activities can help flex the muscles in the brain to get in the habit of writing for school assignments when the summer concludes.

    These three tips have been shown to be the most effective to maintain academic productivity and progress for children over the summer. Try one or try them all and share your tips for keeping your children’s brain active outside of the traditional school year!

Mendell Grinter is the Founder & Executive Director of Campaign for School Equity –  nonprofit organization committed to the equitable utilization of high quality educational options. Grinter is also a member of the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30.


5 Tips for Summer College Prep for Millennials

As the summer season sets in and the last high school graduates walk across the stage, we all remain hopeful for new experiences that the fall season and the start of a new school year will bring. For most graduating seniors, the thrill and exhilaration of high school graduation will wane as the summer break concludes while eagerness and possible anxiety will commence as you await the beginning of your college journey.  Incoming college freshman can be proactive in ensuring you are prepared to succeed in college and beyond. Follow these 5 useful tips to help prepare for your new life on a college campus.  


1) Understand the layout of your campus.

    Knowing how your campus is set up can be very important for success during your college years. If you can choose which dorm to stay in make sure that you find one that is close to where most of your classes are going to be. Take time to explore the campus and find out where each of your classes is held. Unlike high school, not all of your classes will be in the same building Residing close to your class locations means you won’t always have to be in a rush if your morning routine happens to take an extra 5 minutes. We all know how getting up in the morning can sometimes be a pain.

You will also want to know where the dining hall and restaurant options are in relation to your dorm and classrooms. Making a mad dash to get lunch at the same time as 1,000 other students won’t be too much of a hassle if you’re eating near your next class or dorm. In my experience, I have also used the knowledge of my campus to find the perfect spots to study or do assignments. Finding that right environment that encourages you to be productive is also key. I could never study or do work in my dorm room, but you could catch me on the 4th floor of the library any day of the week. Know your campus layout so that you can use it to your advantage.


2) Use your resources.

    There are a plethora of resources to get support and assistance for students on most college campuses. These resources can help you with a range of issues that you may run into as a student from a physical injury to help on that bio lab. It is important to know what resources are available to you and where they may be found. Sometimes emergencies happen, and they can be resolved faster and more efficiently if you know exactly where to go. Academically, the best thing you can do is at least occasionally attend tutor sessions for some of the classes that you have and build a relationship with an academic advisor and/or career counselor. Going to tutoring sessions and maintaining communication with your academic advisor are great ways to remain academically astute and get any unanswered questions addressed. You may also get lucky and have a tutor who is willing to help you with your homework as well. Never be afraid or ashamed to go in and get help from your academic advisor either. As adults, we like to be independent and figure things out on our own, but your academic advisor has been hired by your college or university so that you don’t have to do that. Always remember that there is help for you during your college journey if you know where and how to access it.


3) Keep an eye out for financial aid.

    Most departments within a college or university have scholarships and financial assistance that they will provide to students who apply and meet requirements. It is important to talk to your professors and department staff to stay in the know about scholarship opportunities. Going to tutoring, as was discussed in the previous tip, can also help you get your foot in the door for scholarships. You will be able to connect with older students who can help you as well. You will also need to visit your actual financial aid office and check to see what they can do for you. They may also recommend that you apply to a work-study program. These programs will allow you to make money to help pay for tuition while also working on campus. Money is out there, but it is important to know where and how to obtain it.


4) Invest in the right technology.

    Today’s educational environment can be very saturated with tech. In some classes, you won’t even see a piece of paper because the professor has decided to convert her/his whole teaching style to digital. In this case, certain devices are becoming necessary for the modern student to thrive. Number one gadget: A LAPTOP. This might be the most important for a student today besides their brain (up for debate). And when paper is being used in the classroom, it might also be a good idea to invest in a printer. One of the excuses I’ve heard the most for being late in college was something along the lines of “My paper wouldn’t print at the library.” If you have your own printer then know where else you can go to print. Some computer labs around campus may be able to provide free printing and use of computers in the event you are not able to secure your own. Consider your technology needs when requesting and/or applying for financial aid as well. It is also likely that financial aid for some students will include refund money. Remember that your refund money shouldn’t be used for a shopping spree or a night on the town. Investing your financial resources wisely is essential to set yourself up for success – and technology needs should be part of your investment.


5) Get to know your professors.

    On day one it is very important to speak to all of your professors and at least tell them your name so they can put a name to a face. Some professors do not even see some of their students at all. That student is then reduced to a name, an ID Number, and her/his grades. Don’t be a number. Show your professor that you are a person who takes their education seriously, and they will be very willing to get to know you. There is so much help on class concepts, homework, and tests that can be received from your professor if you know them on a more personal level. Everything that you will apply for from here on out will require at least one letter or recommendation. Who better to talk highly of you than your professor that you have befriended over the course of the semester? Getting to know your professor from the start has nothing but positive outcomes. You never know what kind of opportunities they may open up for you in the future.

Mendell Grinter is the Founder & Executive Director of Campaign for School Equity –  nonprofit organization committed to the equitable utilization of high quality educational options. Grinter is also a member of the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30.

Black People Support Vouchers, Black Leaders Don’t. Who’s Right?

At times, black people, like any group battered and oppressed by the state, may celebrate any perception of forward motion. Folks scour social media pages to see who has what appointment, what political power is being amassed, and what black person has been newly elected.

Although I strongly believe in the need for more representation and more political action, unfortunately, too often, having black people in positions of power—especially politicians—does not necessarily further the educational causes of black children in America. Recently, I wrote about a local legislator who works to ensure other people’s children have the same opportunities he did growing up. But, for many politicians, including black ones, parity between the choices their constituents’ children have and the choices their own children have is always elusive.

In a 2002 New York Times article, “Why Blacks Support Vouchers,” Michael Leo Owens stated that black students’ achievement in schools should have a strong and direct positive correlation with the increase in black political power. Although it is remarkably clear that black people remain underrepresented in America’s legislative bodies, those who are in these positions too often side against the most disenfranchised of their constituencies.

An increase in black and brown political power should have ushered in unprecedented levels of black and brown academic achievement, but it hasn’t. 

The NAACP’s stance against charter schools and the right to school choice for millions of poor black parents starkly symbolizes how black political influence is too often black political cowardice and hypocrisy. 

The NAACP Will Learn the Pain Associated With Charter Schools

Owens remarked that:

… we are desperate for decent education for our children. And people in my generation and those younger doubt the ability of black government leaders to influence public education policies in ways that would benefit our children. Our support for vouchers is essentially a critique of politicians’ ineffectiveness.

In the post-civil rights era, the number of blacks sharing power and responsibility for urban public education has grown dramatically. From 1977 to 1999, the number of black elected officials with influence over public education in cities (mayors, council members, school board members and superintendents) more than doubled, to 5,815 from 2,724 …

The educational achievement of black children and the overall quality of urban public schools have failed to improve significantly.

I predict that if vouchers are funded, black families will flock to them. It is not that they believe they are the cure-all, but it reflects black communities’ desperation for better educational opportunities for their children. Those who strongly oppose vouchers—especially black politicians and policy influencers—are usually the same people who wouldn’t sacrifice their own children for the good of the poor. It is for this reason that black parents will typically ignore those cautioning against vouchers. Just as black folks braved the cautions about what lay north and west when they participated in the Great Migration, black folks know that hope is captured in moving forward, not standing still.

“Those who strongly oppose vouchers—especially black politicians and policy influencers—are usually the same people who wouldn’t sacrifice their own children for the good of the poor.”

The truth is that as much as black families need more school options, vouchers will be harmful in some ways, especially if the U.S. Department of Education fails to regulate them and continues to decline its responsibility to hold all schools receiving public dollars accountable for outcomes—especially for those who continue to suffer the greatest educational inequities.

Owens concluded by acknowledging the limitations of a voucher system in improving the overall educational justice that has been diverted from our communities:

My generation knows that vouchers have serious limitations. We recognize that no voucher program can save a failing public system. Poorly funded vouchers don’t offer much of a chance for poor children to enroll in expensive alternative schools. … And vouchers can’t end the resistance of many suburban schools to black enrollment.

But they offer the only hope available to many poor students trapped in the nation’s worst schools. For a limited number of children, they may make a crucial difference. That possibility is enough for black parents to take a chance.

Owens’s reflections about poor black people’s perspectives about vouchers remind me of Pauli Murray’s poem about hope:

Hope is a crushed stalk

Between clenched fingers

Hope is a bird’s wing

Broken by a stone.

Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —

A word whispered with the wind,

A dream of forty acres and a mule,

A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,

A name and place for one’s children

And children’s children at last . . .

Hope is a song in a weary throat.

Read Owens’ entire article here.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

El-Mekki holds a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and gained his master’s degree and principal certification from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

El-Mekki blogs at Philly’s 7th Ward.

School Shopping…Literally!

The school year is wrapping up. Children will say their goodbyes to classmates and teachers and hopefully, excitedly embrace about 8-weeks of a summer break that gladly awaits them. Despite the ease of summer breaks, many parents, believe it or not, spend their summers looking for options. Not summer camp options, but school options. Parents are faced with the question; “where do I send my children next school year?” If the decision hasn’t already been made, then the summer becomes additional time for parents to shop around anxiously looking for the best option for their students.

For parents like me, you start this “shopping for options” long before the current school year ends and if you’re lucky, you’re done shopping by the close of the current school year. But for some parents, shopping doesn’t even begin until the current school year ends. Like sometimes the complexities of real shopping reveal, waiting this late in the game is sometimes quite frustrating because the good sales have ended and the better slots/spaces in schools have filled.

The challenge for some families is that they don’t know where to even begin the “school shopping” process. It is critical for parents to know what options are available, how to access those options and what are the best options for children based on a child’s individual learning needs.

I attended the American Federation for Children (AFC) Policy Summit where the main topic of discussion was children. To kick off AFC’s Policy Summit this year, the organization embarked upon its first ever grassroots advocacy training for its staff and partner agencies. The five-hour workshop included various pieces of advocacy work such as: an overview of the current educational landscape, the recruitment of advocates, relationship building, cultivation of advocates, media training and a variety of other topics that aligns directly with the work happening to ensure quality options are available for parents to indeed have access to. AFC is just one of many organizations dedicated to ensuring that students have access to high-quality educational options. Most recently, AFC added the grassroots portion to the work they do throughout the country by individually growing out their grassroots teams in the states. Tennessee is included in the states in which AFC does both high level and ground level work around parent engagement, educational advocacy, and school choice.

I was indeed humbled by the opportunity to share with AFC as it moves forward in their efforts for all students and being quite familiar with the work having worked for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) in a similar capacity as the work AFC is now spearheading as well, I am aware of the challenge of “shopping for options” and even having options. Even with the intense and aggressive efforts of organizations like AFC and BAEO, there is still much work to be done on advocacy, school choice, parent choice and ensuring educational equity for all students.

As a mom, I too have the fortunate, yet often frustrating privilege of shopping. However, I do strongly encourage parents to do their best shopping when it comes to selecting the appropriate learning environment for students. From one parent to another, the selection does matter and matters greatly. For parents who may not know where to begin, there is help out there. AFC has a Tennessee representative that works tirelessly with parents with all of this. Our representative is Carra Powell. I know Carra personally. I don’t want parents to feel stressed and alone. There is help. And it’s helpful to have someone to help maneuver through it all. We all know shopping can be tough. And this manner of shopping is probably one of the most impactful you’ll ever do as a parent. The time, energy, and effort are well worth it. Your child(ren) will thank you. Carra can be reached at 901.359.9188 or by email: cpowell@federationforchildren.org

Enjoy your summer school shopping parents!

What’s Next?

Here we are again. It’s one of the most thrilling times for graduating seniors this month as they all prepare to finish their K-12 schooling, turn in all final assignments, pass all final exams, pay any last minute fees, enjoy the final moments of “Senior Status” and prepare to walk across a stage, diploma in hand and walk into their futures, a world that’s awaiting their arrival, and ultimately what I’ve titled; their  “what’s next?”

In the midst of exciting times for graduating seniors, I wonder how many have mapped out their “what’s next?” Does their “what’s next” consists of college, going straight into the workforce, military, travel or taking some time off, sitting still to figure out the “what’s next?”

As exciting as graduation is for students, parents, families of the graduates, schools and even the community at large, I often wonder what goes through the minds of the graduates and the anxiety and fears around it all.

I can remember my moments as a graduating senior – the excitement was that built up and the hype of “going to college!” Times are different now. Students have so many options of a “what’s next, ” and my prayer for them is that they have some idea of what they would like to do with a tomorrow that’s sure to come.

For many, I’m sure tomorrow will come, and plans will begin to unfold for those students who’ve mapped out the next years of their life. My real concern is for students who may have not. I hope that as a city and community help to still offer guidance and direction to the students who may not have it all yet figured out.

We do recognize that walking across that stage signifies an ending but also welcomes a beginning. I salute each of the graduates and celebrate this significant milestone. I pray that they continue to lead productive lives as adults and embrace their “what’s next” believing wholeheartedly in themselves and that they are already on track to greatness only because they’ve completed this one milestone and the momentum is set to continue forward.

Does knowing what your “what’s next” is matter? Yes! It does. Hopefully, our students are prepared, ready and excited about embracing a tomorrow that is and will come!

Congratulations to the Class of 2017!