A Successful Education Model for Black Males

By Sheryl Estrada

Program Manager Jerome Gourdine with MDP student Jolondo. Photo is from the report “The Black Sonrise.”

An initiative in Oakland, Calif., to specifically support the academic life of Black males in middle and high schools is receiving high marks.

In 2010, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) made a commitment to the academic achievement of Black males by creating the Manhood Development Program (MDP), the only such program in the U.S. A report released in January says the program may be a successful model for school districts around the country.

OUSD touts the program as “a unique academic mentoring model designed and implementedbyAfrican-American malesforAfrican-American males. Instructors for the program were carefully chosen based upon cultural competency, understanding of youth development, and past experience teaching.”

MDP accepts high- and low-achieving students, as well as mid-level students. The programspecifically seeks to decrease suspensions, incarceration and the opportunity/achievement gap, while increasing attendance, graduation rates and literacy.

“While we are trying to change the school system and improve adult behavior, we need something that is tangible for these students,” said Christopher P. Chatmon, Executive Director of the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement, of which MDP is a component. “It’s about helping students, in real time, who are being treated like villains and suspects when they have done nothing wrong.”

The report, “The Black Sonrise: Oakland United School District’s Commitment to Address and Eliminate Institutionalized Racism,” funded by grants from The California Endowment, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Institute for Black Male Achievement, is the first in a series that examines the work of the Office of African American Male Achievement.

“Oakland Unified School District is one of the only school districts in the country systemically addressing and eliminating institutionalized racism,” Vajra Watson, Director of Research and Policy for Equity in UC Davis’ School of Education, said in a statement. Watson is the author of the report.

“As a qualitative researcher, I am fascinated by the seeds of courage and determination that spurred a school district to make an unprecedented commitment to the education of Black males.”

The study examined MDP from inception to current practices to future goals.

It focused on culture: effective rituals, routines and practices; conditions: necessary policies, structures, systems and support for healthy learning development; and capacities: skills, knowledge and awareness need adults need to reach and teach Black male students.

The study found that following an effective first year, in 20112012, MDP increased from three to six cities. Today the program is operating in 17 schools throughout the district. The majority of students had a decrease in suspensions and an increase in attendance as well as an increase in GPA, self-efficacy and school belonging.

YearMDP EnrollmentMDP School Sites

In 2014, there was a 124 percent increase in enrollment. Oakland youth want to be in MDP class and there is currently a waiting list for participation.

There have also been district-wide improvements such as requiring the OUSD School Quality Review standards to include specific outcomes for Black males in their site plan; and every school is required to include specific goals and outcomes for Black males in its site plan.

More than 200 MDP middle- and high-school participants (11 to 18 years old) were surveyed. And on multiple indicators, the vast majority of students perceive that the MDP class adds value to their lives.

Some of the findings include:

  • 92 percent of students reported their MDP teacher wants them to succeed
  • 82 percent of students reported MDP activities make them feel proud to be a young, Black male
  • 79 percent of students reported MDP makes them want to be successful in school

“They’ve seen victimization everywhere they lookat the hands of police or sometimes at the hands of schools,” Watson told the UC Davis News Service, “and changed that into empowerment to know where they come from, who they are and importantly where they’re going.”

View a video discussing the Manhood Development Program.

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