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College-Ready: Preparing Black and Latina/o Youth for Higher Education—A Culturally Relevant Approach

reviewed by Moira Ozias & T. Elon Dancy II - November 08, 2013

coverTitle: College-Ready: Preparing Black and Latina/o Youth for Higher Education—A Culturally Relevant Approach
Author(s): Michelle G. Knight & Joanne E. Marciano
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754129, Pages: 168, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

The acknowledgement that many nations have surpassed the U.S. in rates of college participation and degree attainment also requires a critical focus on the declining educational attainment of children and young adults (Callan, 2006). While there are issues that affect all students, the data persistently show that certain student groups are more severely and disproportionately affected by the failures of society and its educational institutions. In their book, Michelle Knight and Joanne Marciano offer compelling evidence that the structures, policies and cultures of many public schools do not offer the necessary supports and structures to prepare a majority of Black and Latina/o youth to successfully negotiate college-going processes. They draw on the "voices, perspectives and actions" of working class Black and Latina/o students in a large, urban New York City public school, as well as perspectives from their teachers, counselors, administrators and families, to articulate the need for culturally relevant, school wide, college-going cultures to increase working-class Black and Latina/o youth's access to college. Their call is welcome amidst prevailing popular and scholarly arguments that emphasize curricular standards and academic achievement—especially Common Core Standards—while neglecting to recognize the informal networks and knowledge that allow middle and upper-class students to apply for and attend college at much greater rates.

Knight and Marciano set this 4-year critical ethnography in the context of exceedingly poor high school graduation and college attendance rates for Black and Latina/o youth, despite increasing focus at the national and state levels on curricular standards for college preparation. Their study seeks to uncover, however, the structures that students live in, learn from, and negotiate, in order to counter a crisis and deficit focus with the voices and perspectives of the students themselves. After introducing the study, Knight and Marciano share youth, teacher, guidance counselor, administrator, and family member voices to highlight the ways in which youth contexts affect learning about college-going processes. Knight and Marciano argue that current school cultures—even in schools with explicit missions of college preparation—remain culturally exclusive, fragmented, and inconsistently supportive of many working-class Black and Latina/o students college-going processes.

Chapters Two through Six feature the voices of youth co-researchers, as well as teachers, counselors and family members. Chapter Two highlights the mixed messages that youth receive through formal policies, teacher and counselor practices, and college personnel; these mixed messages create tensions and confusion, as well as differential experiences among youth, depending on the curricula in which they are tracked. Knight and Marciano emphasize the need to express expectations for college-going early for all students and to engage working-class youth in learning about college-going processes beginning in the 9th grade. Chapter Three emphasizes the importance of culturally relevant pedagogies for promoting college readiness. Examples from teachers and guidance counselors help readers to see possibilities for their own practice, as well as the ways in which well-meaning color-and culture-blind perspectives disadvantage working-class Black and Latina/o students.

Chapters Four and Five emphasize the role of gender and its intersections with race and culture in schooling experiences by focusing on the voices of Black males and Latinos in Chapter Four and Black females and Latinas in Chapter Five. Chapter Four, written with Hui Soo Chae, highlighted the experiences of Black males and Latinos who either successfully or unsuccessfully negotiated institutional structures in order to succeed within the high-stakes testing culture. From these examples, Knight, Marciano and Chae conclude that both academic preparation for high-stakes tests and extracurricular activities must be culturally relevant for young men; teachers, counselors and coaches must engage them in "college talk" and college-going processes from early in their high school careers in order for them to succeed. Chapter Five turns attention toward the voices of Black female and Latina youth. Here, Knight and Marciano note the critical media literacies that young women develop at home and use in school to facilitate academic achievement and their development of college-bound identities. They also highlight the possibilities of collaborative inquiry projects as culturally-competent pedagogies that leverage peer relations toward college-going processes. Chapter Six builds on the peer group focus, describing how students already use classmates, older peers, friends who are in college and out-of-school friendship networks to gather information about college-going processes and build culturally-relevant academic identities.

Chapters Two through Six each close with a “Teacher Response” by Marciano intended to provide teacher perspective and model the kind of critical reflection emphasized as part of culturally competent pedagogy. These chapters also include questions for personal reflection as well as sets of questions designed for individuals, small groups, and/or whole schools in the interest of professional development. These questions aim to emphasize individual reflection on one’s own sociocultural positions and experiences with college-going processes, as well as critical reflection on school policies, practices and structures and how they affect working-class Black and Latina/o youth. This design makes the content of this book accessible for immediate use in real school settings.

While this book is firmly grounded in the context of New York City’s urban school system, its implications for other schools across the U.S. is clear. Methodologically, it provides a model for other teacher-researchers who might wish to take up similar questions in rural or suburban areas or with different populations of working-class students. While Knight and Marciano recognize that youth identities are complex, intersecting, and potentially fluid, Chapters Four and Five represent gender identities as somewhat fixed, which may have been the expressed experiences of the particular youth in this study; for other youth, however, gender identity, is more complicated, especially as it intersects with and shapes racial, ethnic and school-related identities. Overall, the book is a valuable addition to the literature on the experiences and outcomes of students of color in schools and the education pipeline.


Callan, P. (2006). Measuring up 2006: The national report card on higher education. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education Report #06-5 September 2006.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 08, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17311, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 9:43:13 AM

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About the Author
  • Moira Ozias
    University of Oklahoma
    E-mail Author
    MOIRA OZIAS, MA, MSW is a doctoral student in Higher Education, and Associate Director of the OU Writing Center at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Her research centers on issues of identity, particularly related to literacies and peer-learning. She actively partners with teachers and counselors in high school settings in an effort to increase access to college for students from under-represented groups and from under-resourced high schools.
  • T. Elon Dancy II
    University of Oklahoma
    E-mail Author
    T. ELON DANCY II, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Higher Education, African & African American Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. His research focuses on the relationship between education and identity development for underrepresented student groups, particularly Black boys and young men. With more than 50 publications to his credit, Dr. Dancy is the author/editor of four books including The Brother Code: Manhood and Masculinity among African American Males in College.
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