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With growing focus on intervention for boys of color, a reminder not to forget the girls

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    And for educators across the nation, few problems have been as persistent as the academic disparity between boys of color and their white peers.

    A little over a year ago, President Obama launched an initiative designed in part to reverse that trend. But as even as the My Brother's Keeper initiative takes shape, nagging questions remain about who is being left out.

    The NewsHour's April Brown reports for our American Graduate series.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    It's a large investment aimed at improving academic outcomes for young men of color in Washington, D.C.

    KAYA HENDERSON, Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools: We will invest $20 million over the next three years to support the Empowering Males of Color Initiative.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    The plan includes the creation of an all-boys public school in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

    This is just one of many recent efforts around the country supporting the My Brother's Keeper initiative President Obama announced just more than a year ago.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in fourth grade. By the time you reach high school, you're far more likely to have been suspended or expelled.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    My Brother's Keeper received more than $300 million in pledges from foundations and private businesses to support literacy, jobs programs and criminal justice reforms for boys of color.

    But the growing emphasis on supporting males of color is being called into question, not for who is being helped, but rather who is being left out, young women of color.

    KIMBERLE WILLIAMS CRENSHAW, UCLA School of Law: There is a conversation throughout the country about some of the crises that boys of color are facing. There isn't a similar conversation about girls of color.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    Kimberle Williams Crenshaw is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia and the author of a recent report called "Black Girls Matter," examining the lives of girls of color in Boston and New York City schools.

  • KIMBERLE WILLIAMS CRENSHAW:

    We found that black girls were 11 times more likely to be subject to discipline in Boston, 10 times more likely to be subject to discipline in New York. And that's a greater racial disparity between girls than there is between boys.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    She says the problems often extend into the classroom.

  • KIMBERLE WILLIAMS CRENSHAW:

    Black girls face the same indicators in terms of attendance to school, in terms of interest in school, in terms of reading levels, mathematical levels. It's far more of a racial problem than it is a gender problem.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    The American Civil Liberties Union shares some of her concerns. The organization is questioning the legality of creating a public school exclusively for black and Latino males, suggesting it may violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.

  • BRODERICK JOHNSON, Chair, My Brother’s Keeper Task Force:

    By helping young boys and young men of color, we're not excluding helping girls and young women of color.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    Broderick Johnson is an assistant to President Obama and chair of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force. He says the White House Council on Women and Girls is addressing the needs of girls of color.

  • BRODERICK JOHNSON:

    We don't want to leave anybody behind, but we especially want to make sure that boys and young men of color understand that there is hope for them, that their success is tied to the success of this country, and that when they are better and they are functioning better, that the girls in their lives, the women, their mothers, are all in a better place as well.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    For male African-American students, the problems are stark. They are twice as likely to be held back in elementary school, only half as likely to graduate from college compared to their white peers, and, if current trends hold, an estimated one in three black males born today can expect to spend some time in prison.

  • BRODERICK JOHNSON:

    I would say to you with no apology that the disparities that affect boys and young men of color are profound. They have been profound for generations, and we need to break that cycle.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    Residents of Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood face high levels of violence and low graduation rates in school, but there's an effort under way to break the cycle.

  • HOWARD JOHNSON, Mentor, Higher Achievement:

    I came from this community, so I understand that there are many obstacles that these kids face, but I also know that there is potential in these kids.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    Howard Johnson is an engineer by day, and he spends many of his nights as a mentor at Higher Achievement, an after-school and summer academic program founded in 1975 that works with My Brother's Keeper.

    Higher Achievement offers tutoring and a culture of high expectations for middle school students like Darryl Brown and Ricardo Jones.

  • RICARDO JONES:

    I'm just thinking about college right now, where am I going to be, where am I going to end up, even when I'm — where am I going to end up even after college? And that's why Mr. Howard is that guy to talk when you're — when you need that type of question. He will tell you the answer.

  • DARRYL BROWN:

    He also helps me. He looks for other activities for me. I have been doing way better. This past report card I have got — gotten, I have straight A's.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    Higher Achievement started in Washington, D.C., and has expanded to Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. The program has served young women of color for decades.

  • JORDIN MCFADDEN:

    At first, I didn't really like school. I hated school. I thought it was the worst thing ever.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    Eighth grader Jordin McFadden says Higher Achievement has helped her raise her grade point average to a 3.0, and become more confident.

  • JORDIN MCFADDEN:

    I learned to talk out loud, because, at first, I used to be quiet and I used to stay to myself. But when I came to Higher Achievement, they taught me that it's OK. You have just got to warm up to it.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    McFadden now plans to pursue a music career after graduating from Howard University.

    Kimberle Williams Crenshaw believes it will be difficult to make significant progress reducing the achievement gap in minority communities until there are more efforts to support all children of color.

  • KIMBERLE WILLIAMS CRENSHAW:

    Number one, we have to realize that, traditionally, racial justice interventions included everybody, from integration, to the right to vote, to employment, protection. And so the interventions need to be addressed to men as well as women, boys as well as girls.

  • APRIL BROWN:

    And Higher Achievement plans to continue that work with a new $12 million innovation grant from the Department of Education.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm April Brown in Baltimore, Maryland.

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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