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Every Student Succeeds (Except for Black Males) Act

by Keisha McIntosh Allen, Julius Davis, Renee L. Garraway & Janeula M. Burt - 2018

In PreK–12 schools throughout the United States, Black male students are the most underserved and punished population. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) misleads Black male advocates and stakeholders into believing that it ensures they succeed. This article examines ESSA and its implications for educational equity for Black boys. Using critical race theory, the authors argue that, similar to past policies, ESSA intends to ensure educational equity for all students but ignores the ways in which race, gender and other forms of oppression are implicated in the teaching and learning process and constrain Black male youths’ opportunities to learn. This article calls for culturally grounded and social-justice-oriented perspectives in the development of policies for Black male students.

The election of Barack H. Obama as the 44th president of the United States was significant for many reasons, including the appearance of racial progress and the marked change in direction he promised to take this country. Of most importance to us, as critical Black educational scholars (Martin & Gholson, 2012), was what his presence in the White House would represent for Black male youth: the promise and the possibility that systemic racism, and the ways in which it functions within the field of education, would be addressed, and that the subsequent push for equity-based federal policies would encourage others to get in line to dismantle systemic barriers and nurture the intellectual, social, and cultural well-being of minoritized1 youth, particularly Black male youth. Despite the glorification of the Obama administrations educational policies intended to improve the educational outcomes of all students, including Black male youth, these policies have made little to no real impact on the academic and social development of the masses of Black male students in U.S. public schools that will truly liberate them from the effects of racism (White supremacy). Critical race theorys (CRTs) notion of racial realism cautions against accepting so-called gains without deeper analysis (Bell, 1992).

The educational policies that were enacted under President Obamas administration were intended to go further in narrowing the achievement and opportunity gaps that existed between minoritized students and their White peers. Unfortunately, however, Black male student outcomes may have been juxtaposed, interpreted, and filtered through White supremacist lenses on the national, state, district, and school levels, which ultimately has impacted what has happened on the classroom and student levels. Further, neoliberal logics also may mar these well-intended policies and strategies, and render them ineffective to the communities and people they are intended to support (Baldridge, 2016; Curry, 2015).

Signed into federal legislation in December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was designed to build on previous federal policies as well as remove some of the federal oversight and return more of the decision making to the states. In this article, we examine ESSA through a CRT lens to determine if it measures up to meeting the needs of Black male students. Like past policies, ESSA continues the trend of appearing to ensure educational equity for all students but ignores the ways in which race, gender, and other forms of oppression are implicated in the teaching and learning process and constrain Black male youths opportunities to learn.


CRT is an outgrowth of the critical legal studies (CLS) movement and discourse. In the late 1970s, the CLS movement was developed to reevaluate the merits of the realist tradition of legal discourse (Tate, 1997, p. 207). CLS scholars created a movement aimed at analyzing legal ideology and discourse as a mechanism that functions to re-create and legitimize social structures in the United States (Tate, 1997, p. 207). Although CRT was born out of the CLS movement, it was a separate entity from the earlier CLS movement and discourse (Ladson-Billings, 1999) and was a logical outgrowth of discontent with CLS scholars failure to address issues of race and racism in the laws, policies, and practices. Given CRTs legal analytical roots, it is an appropriate theoretical tool to examine how recent education policies affect Black male students.

Although many scholars refer to Gloria Ladson-Billings and William Tates (1995) CRT in education article, which laid out foundational theoretical constructs of intellectual property and whiteness as property to examine issues of race and racism in education, Tate (1993) actually introduced critical race theory to the academy in his critical race analysis of standardized testing practices in mathematics and the mathematics education of Black students. Ladson-Billings and Tate built on this work by arguing that race and property rights were important constructs to understanding how racism operates not only in society but also in schools and classrooms.

Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) argued that social constructions of race and property values determined the quality and quantity of the mathematics, science, and foreign language curriculum and course offerings Black students receive. The different types of intellectual property in the form of curriculum and course offerings at an upper-middle-class White school differ dramatically from those at a predominantly Black urban school, subsequently shaping students opportunity to learn mathematics. Ladson-Billings and Tate argued further that mathematics standards that detail what students should know and be able to do must be accompanied by real property (e.g., certified and prepared teachers, technology) to support their learning.

Another important theoretical construct introduced to the educational research community from legal studies in Ladson-Billings and Tates (1995) groundbreaking article was whiteness as property. Borrowing from the scholarly works of Harris (1993), Ladson-Billings and Tate described property functions of whiteness, which include: (a) rights of disposition; (b) rights to use and enjoyment; (c) reputation and status property; and (d) the absolute right to exclude (p. 59). The right to disposition is fully transferable to students who conform to White norms or sanctioned cultural practices. The right to use and enjoyment is a property function that operates from the premise that white skin allows Whites to use and enjoy properties of Whiteness legally and socially without question. Relatedly, the reputation and status of property emphasize that the status and reputation of schools and programs in education diminish when Whites are not associated with those schooling activities. While the absolute right to exclude property function states that whiteness is socially constructed as the absence of blackness, Ladson-Billings and Tate contended that whiteness as property rights are essential to understanding how the field of education operates counter to the needs of minoritized students.

The interest convergence principle documented by Bell (1980, 1992) argues that progress for Black people, in our case Black male students, is only ascertained if the goals of Black males converge with the needs of Whites. This principle also posits that Whites will not support policies that threaten their socially constructed status of being racially superior. This principle also suggests that perceived gains in civil rights should be approached with caution regarding accepting gains at face value. The interest convergence principle hinges on legal cases surrounding the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) court order, which supposedly ended state-supported racial segregation in schools. The interest convergence principle serves two dual purposes of Bells scholarship: (a) it contributes to the intellectual discourse on race in American society, and (b) it promotes political activism to achieve racial justice (Tate, 1997). Civil rights legislation that conferred basic rights to Blacks ultimately benefited Whites for centuries and only came to Blacks when it converged within the direct self-interest of Whites. Historically, gains that coincide with the self-interest of Whites typically do not make substantial differences in the lives of the masses of Black male students in the field of education and society.

Racial realism is another tenet of CRT. Bell (1992) asserted that racism is a permanent feature of American society and operates from four themes: Racial realism (a) recognizes that there has not been any linear progress in civil rights; (b) recognizes that there needs to be less of a discussion regarding ethics and more discussion along the lines of economics; (c) denounces any viewpoint that insists on measuring lifes success based on achieving specific goals (e.g., standardized tests) and while failing to take notice of the process of living (e.g., systemic and systematic racial oppression); and (d) recognizes the need to take a realistic look at racism. Ultimately, the basic tenet of racial realism rests on the premise that a realist approach must be taken to understand the permanence of racism and the role it plays in American society, schools, and classrooms (Bell, 1992). In other words, to examine the impact of institutions such as schools, there must be an analysis that includes an acknowledgment that race and racism are a part of the dynamic.

Solórzano and Yosso (2002) made important contributions to the discipline by defining the five elements of critical race theory in education that are crucial to our examination of how policies and practices affect Black male students:

(1) race and racism are endemic and permanent features of American society and


(2) CRT challenges the dominant ideology;

(3) CRT is committed to social justice;

(4) CRT centralizes the experiential knowledge of people of color; and

(5) CRT uses an interdisciplinary approach to better understand racism, sexism, and

classism. (p. 26)

We operate from the premise that race and racism are endemic and permanent elements of American society, educational institutions, and classrooms that severely affect Black males. The ideas presented in this article represent our challenge to the dominant narrative about Black males while also representing our commitment to working toward social justice for them as well. We also recognize the importance of Black males experiential knowledge as we draw on that body of research. As Black scholars, the ideas we present come from our interdisciplinary perspective. Of the utmost importance to us is that our critique fully engages a CRT perspective and includes solutions to improve the educational and social conditions of Black males.  


Although we focus on Black male students, we do so recognizing that Black female students experience similar, if not some of the same, issues. We think that similar analysis needs to occur for Black female students as well. We also state our position early in this article to denote that our thinking about Black girls is not afterthought, but very much a critical part of our thinking. We also want to be clear that we are not juxtaposing Black male issues against Black female issues. We do, however, think that there are some distinct differences between Black male and female experiences, and we follow Howards (2013) lead and guidance not to engage in Oppression Olympics to describe how Black males oppression is worse than Black females (Yuval-Davis, 2012). Oppression experienced by both Black males and females needs to be addressed.

We use CRT to support our analysis given our view and belief that Black males are seen and treated as property and that issues of race, racism, and other forms of oppression affect their academic and social development. CRT in education helps us to see the intersectionality of how Black male students status as property and their race, gender, and socioeconomic status are important elements to consider to better understand how they are further oppressed by educational policies and practices. Therefore, we proceed in this article by engaging in critical analysis of how Black males are constructed and situated academically and socially. From our analysis, what can be perceived as a mere tolerance for Black male students in school and classroom settings translates into them being seen and treated as defective, unwanted, and disposable property unless they conform to standards of whiteness and their interests converge with and benefit Whites.

We are not the first scholars to use CRT to examine the experiences of Black male students and how policies shape their educational and social experiences. There are some scholars in other disciplines that have used CRT to illustrate how issues of race, racism, gender, and other forms of oppression affect Black male students (Duncan, 2002; Reynolds, 2010). These scholars have used CRT to conduct research on and teach Black males across the kindergarten-through-graduate-school pipeline (Berry, 2008; Davis, 2014; Howard, 2008; Jett, 2011; Terry, 2011). Surprisingly, Black male mathematics education researchers are among the leading scholars to use CRT to examine the experiences of Black male students (Berry, 2008; Davis, 2014; Jett, 2011, Terry, 2011). Given the importance of STEM majors and careers and mathematics achievement to the nation, school districts, families, and other stakeholders, the salience of race and racism in their mathematical experiences is an important and consistent finding, and one that must be addressed in policies and strategies. In fact, issues of race and racism are salient findings across disciplinary boundaries that impact the educational and social experiences of Black male students. Even when specifically focusing on Black males as the central theme, issues of race and racism are often ignored in the development of educational and social policies. In this article, we demonstrate how educational policies fail to adequately address issues of race, gender, and oppression and how such policies disadvantage Black male students.


ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and reauthorized the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is the national educational law for public education in the United States Whereas ESEA expanded the federal governments role in public education, and NCLB continued that tradition, ESSA is viewed as the law that has narrowed the federal governments role in public education and provided more autonomy for states to determine the direction of their educational programs. ESSA is not a radically different educational legislation than NCLB. A key distinction between ESSA and its predecessor, NCLB, is that under ESSA, the federal government allows states to determine how to rate their schools, figure out how to help struggling low-performing schools, take responsibility for accountability standards, and ensure that pre-K is incorporated into the law.

ESSA is promoted as ensuring that all students in the United States be held to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers. Although ESSA does not supposedly require Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it is discussed specifically in the law and the administration of Race to the Top funds to get 48 states to adopt CCSS. It has referenced CCSS in most of its policies and provided grants for states to align their state assessments to CCSS. Though the administration has been consistent in saying that CCSS is not required, their actions and funding support communicate something different to states and school districts. CCSS is also forwarded as providing clear goals to fully prepare all students for success in college and careers. ESSA retains annual standardized testing for students in Grades 38, and once in high school. Data are presented on the whole school as well as subgroups of students based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and special education designation.

States still have to submit an accountability plan to the U.S. Department of Education and must incorporate at least four indicators into their accountability systems: proficiency on state tests, English language proficiency, graduation rates, and subgroup information. Subgroups are not supposed to be combined to function as a catch-all for students. Regarding weighing indicators, individual states can determine weights, but standardized test results and graduation rates have to weigh more than indicators that focus on students opportunity to learn and postsecondary readiness. ESSA requires states to have accountability goals attached to student proficiency on standardized test and graduation rates and sets state expectations that will close the so-called achievement gap and improve graduation rates of student groups who are the furthest behind. State officials also have the responsibility to track and intervene with low-performing schools at the bottom 5% of statewide student assessment scores. ESSA legislation is also designed to mandate that schools with subgroups of struggling students be identified. Through ESSA, NCLBs requirement of highly-qualified teachers is no longer in effect, and changes have been made to Title II funding for teachers.

ESSA and its predecessors are touted as the federal governments long-standing commitment to providing equal educational opportunities for all students. However, Black male students continue to lag behind on all academic indicators and are at the top of all punitive discipline-focused indicators. More specifically, Black male students are consistently reported as having the lowest standardized test scores in reading and mathematics, are overrepresented in special education categories, and are disciplined, suspended, and expelled at higher rates than their White peers (Davis, 2014; Howard, 2008). They are reported as being underrepresented in gifted and talented, advanced placement, honors, and international baccalaureate courses and programs (Berry, 2008; Thompson & Davis, 2013; Thompson & Lewis, 2005). Black males are more likely to attend schools with a history of inadequate funding, resources, and teachers, yet there are no specific provisions in ESSA to address the specific issues, which are well documented, that Black males face in school settings. Titles III and VI of ESSA address injustices to Native American and Puerto Rican students by way of support for language instruction and Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education, but there are no provisions for African Americans/Blacks in general, and Black males in particular. Given the educational debt (Ladson-Billings, 2006) to African Americans/Blacks, especially Black males, we contend that federal, state, and local policies must address specific issues related to this group to truly address long-standing barriers to their academic and social development. We address four major areas of ESSA: academics, discipline, educational funding, and students with disabilities.

In the area of academics, we discuss and critique standardized testing, academic standards, and teacher quality in ESSA. ESSA requires states and school districts to adopt challenging academic standards, but the standards have not been critically examined. In the construction of ESSA, very little consideration has been given to the history of eugenics and standardized testing practices in the United States (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). Standardized tests are intended to give the impression of objectivity and neutrality because of the use of numbers. In the field of education and larger society, Black male students performance on standardized testing in mathematics and reading revolves around international, national, and state test results. From these tests, there is great emphasis placed on the so-called racial achievement gap between Black male and White male students in mathematics and reading (Davis, 2014; Martin, 2009b). Scholars in the field of mathematics education have been critical of the so-called racial achievement gap and standardized testing practices (Davis & Martin, 2008; Martin, 2009b). We think that these critiques also apply to English/language arts.

Davis and Martin (2008) argued that the so-called racial achievement gap and standardized testing practices in mathematics are linked to the larger eugenics and White supremacy efforts to prove through science that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. They argued further that the scientific community has participated in trying to validate the so-called superiority of Whites over Blacks and in the process has created a racial hierarchy based on intelligence to justify the mistreatment of, and the false notions of intellectual inferiority of, Blacks. Davis and Martin argued that standardized testing practices are a modern-day version of intelligence testing that is intended to justify the so-called inferiority of Black students and so-called superiority of White students in mathematics.

In discussions of the so-called racial achievement gap, Black male students are often reported as the lowest performers in all tested subject areas. Their mathematics and reading achievement is always compared to that of White male students. For example, National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) standardized test results indicate that only 11% of Black eighth-grade boys are proficient in mathematics, compared with 32% of White boys (U.S. Department of Education, 2015a). Similarly, the NAEP reading scores of Black boys reveal that only 11% of Black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 35% of White boys (U.S. Department of Education, 2015b). The standardized test results are widely accepted as factual and indisputable evidence that Black male students are inferior to White male students in mathematics and reading (Davis, 2014; Martin, 2009b). Martin argued that the so-called achievement gap forms a racial hierarchy of mathematical ability that constructs and positions Black male students as inferior, mathematically illiterate, and less-than-ideal learners of mathematics in comparison with White male students. Davis and Martin argued that White male students are not the highest performers in mathematics and should not represent the standard of mathematical achievement for Black male students. When White male students do not perform at the level of Asian male students, there is no discussion of a so-called racial achievement gap (Martin, 2009b). Instead, their poor performance is often explained as a problem with teacher knowledge and curriculum issues (Martin, 2009b). Although Martins (2009b) analysis focused on mathematics, we contend that it also applies to discussions around the achievement gap in reading.

Apple (1992) and Tate (1995) have characterized academic standards as a slogan system that is intended to give the appearance that everyone's needs are being met. We liken CCSS to a slogan system that is supposed to give the appearance that it will address the academic needs of Black male students. Apple and Tate raised critical questions about whose interest academic standards represent. They also argued that the standards are designed to give the illusion that the interests of all groups are being met when they are not. However, a deeper analysis of standards would reveal that the interests of those in power are being met, not those of Black male students.

The academic standards also represent the interests of Whites who are in power. ESSA is complicit in promoting the dominant narrative that European men and their North American descendants are the only ones to make important contributions to the disciplines of mathematics and English/language arts through CCSS. The contributions of people of African descent are rarely mentioned in curricular materials and textbooks, and when they are, they often are relegated to passing sentences and paragraphs. Academic standards and the associated mathematics and English/language arts curriculum are presented as objective, culturally neutral, and unbiased when they reinforce and reproduce the notion of White superiority and Black inferiority (Tate, 1993, 1995). This is the case for all academic standards used in schools. The perspective that academic standards and curriculum are used to reinforce White supremacy is further confirmed by their connection and alignment to national and state standardized assessments that reinforce the racial hierarchy of mathematical and reading ability. ESSA should include provisions to ensure that this dominant narrative is not further promoted in schools.

Teacher quality and preparation has been a highly debated topic encompassing concerns such as what qualities constitute a high quality teacher and what knowledge should make up teachers knowledge base (Wang, Lin, Spalding, Klecka, & Odell, 2011). What is missing from the national conversation is discourse around quality teachers for Black male students (Taskforce, 2007). We know that a major contributor to the underachievement of Black males is rooted in how they are seen and treated by their teachers (Howard, 2014). Further, although there have been increased calls to diversify the teaching force, particularly to increase the number of Black male teachers (Lewis & Toldson, 2013), the pedagogical knowledge that makes these teachers effective with Black male students has not been integrated into national teaching standards. Further, despite calls for skilled, culturally competent teachers of Black male students (Taskforce, 2007), Black male teachers continue to be positioned as disciplinarians and role models for Black male students (Brockenbrough, 2015).

In Martins (2007) questioning of who should teach African American students, he identified several critical areas that teachers should engage in:

(a) develop a deep understanding  of the social realities experienced by African American students, (b) take seriously ones role in helping  to shape the  racial, academic, and  mathematics identities of African American  learners, (c) conceptualize mathematics not just as a school subject but as a means to empower African American students, and (d) become agents of change who challenge research and policy perspectives that construct African American children as less-than-ideal learners and in need of being  saved or rescued from their blackness. (p. 25)

We strongly encourage policy makers to seriously consider Martins recommendations and incorporate them into the conceptualization of what constitutes high quality. In our view, teachers who are unable, or unwilling, to develop in these ways are not qualified to teach African American [male] students no matter how much mathematics they know (Martin, 2007, p. 25).

ESSA (2015) requires state and local educational agencies to measure . . . in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement (p. 51). It has been very well documented that Black males are excluded from school at alarmingly disproportionate rates in comparison with their White peers (Lewis, Butler, Bonner, & Joubert, 2010). The disproportionate suspension and expulsion of Black male students has been documented by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and larger educational research literature. These exclusionary practices are linked to increased school dropout rates, unemployment, poverty, and involvement with the criminal justice system (Payne & Welch, 2015). Throughout the country, countless numbers of Black children are being arrested at school, which has brought national attention to discipline disparities and the explicit racism that still exists in schools. Compared with White males, Black males are arrested in school at alarmingly higher rates that demand immediate attention and action (Blad & Harwin, 2017).

However, ESSA fails to specifically mandate that states include school climate provisions that address the conditions in which Black males face harsher discipline and discriminatory practices (Payne & Welch, 2015). Instead, ESSA leaves it up to states to select at least one indicator to measure school quality or student success: (a) student and educator engagement, (b) school climate and safety, (c) student access to and completion of advanced coursework, (d) postsecondary readiness, and (e) state-selected indicator.  With the explicit racism and bias that still exist in schools after many years of reauthorized education laws, it should be mandatory, not optional, for schools to implement a plan to include more than one indicator to address the critical issues faced by Black males.  It is imperative that state education agencies (SEAs) outline support to local schools (location education agencies [LEAs]) to address school climate and safety to be inclusive of a detailed plan to address discipline disparities and reduce referrals to law enforcement (Legal Defense Fund, 2015).  

In 2014, Black male students were the second highest racial group served by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and had the lowest graduation rate compared with any other racial group (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, 2016). The opportunity and achievement gap continues to widen, and many Black male students are still getting left behind. Black males continue to be overrepresented in special education, and underrepresented in gifted and talented programs and advanced placement courses (Bryan & Ford, 2014). It is not uncommon for the behavior of Black male students to be misinterpreted, which can lead to further academic failure (i.e., diagnosis and placement in emotional disability programs) and social isolation. With numerous changes in legislation, little has been done over the years to eliminate the vicious circle of segregation often faced by Black males and masked under the guise of special education (Blanchett, 2014).

With the enactment of ESSA, states have more power to determine how to address the numerous issues that impact special education students. Specifically, states can create various assessments (i.e., alternative assessments, innovative assessments) using the required principles of universal design for learning (UDL), but the components of UDL are not clearly defined in ESSA. If states have more authority to create their own accountability systems, what assurance and what benefit will this have for Black male students, who have traditionally lacked access to, and opportunity for, programs that allow them to maximize their potential? Furthermore, what benefit will more power to the states have for Black male students who may attend schools that are already failing to provide them a rigorous, engaging, and safe learning environment?  To effectively improve outcomes for Black male students with or without disabilities, it is imperative that decision makers consider using some of their funding to develop educators cultural competence. Greater access to, and opportunity for, programs and resources to help Black males maximize their potential can no longer be seen as an option. With the optional choices identified in ESSA and less accountability for SEAs and LEAs, opportunities for Black male students with or without disabilities will continue to look bleak.

The federal, state, and local education funding have played a major role in producing the inequities and racism that persist in the schooling of Black male students. Education funding for Black male students is derived from a source of federal grants and state and local taxes that has varied over time for various reasons. Historically, Black people have had to pay taxes for schools that Black male students could not attend, while their schools were underfunded, underresourced, and reproduced racial inequities. In the past, the tax base from the White community funded White schools, and the tax base from Black communities funded Black and White schools. Ladson-Billings (2006) suggested that this history is important to understanding the current educational experiences of Black males.

Educational funding is a consistent theme that runs throughout the issues of academics, school discipline, and special education that we focus on for Black male students. ESSA describes how grants and funds can be used for assessments, assessment data usage, teachers, instructional coaches, principals, families, professional development (e.g., differentiation), books, materials, equipment, computers, and educational programs, and maximize inclusion of students with disabilities. In many states, school districts, and schools, more money has been directly and indirectly allocated to the education of Black male students, but this has not translated into real property to increase their opportunity to learn. This maintains the current academic and social order and racial hierarchies experienced by Black male students.

Tate (1993) argued that the tax system must give the appearance of being neutral, and relying on taxes derived from Black communities is an inadequate basis to fund Black male students education. The educational funding structure puts Black male students in a position to be victims of systemic, systematic, and structural racism without experiencing individual racism (Ladson-Billings, 1999). Black male students usually attend schools that are woefully underfunded as compared with schools serving White male students (Ladson-Billings, 1999), which means that these schools lack the funding to implement policies such as ESSA and for other costs associated with educating Black male students. Tate (1993) helps us to see that Black male students are subordinated by economic policies.

The federal government has been advocating for the adoption of CCSS although suggesting that it is voluntary. Tate (1993) argued that voluntarily federal policies absolve the federal government from any direct and long-term economic commitment. In the case of the federal government's requirement for academic standards, we argue that CCSS are written in the policy as voluntary to relinquish any financial responsibility from them, to give the illusion of providing states with ownership of their standards, and to pass financial responsibility over to states to implement the academic standards. For instance, Tate (1993) noted that new mathematics standards represent an epistemological shift in school mathematics from a shopkeeper (basic skills) philosophy of mathematics pedagogy to constructivist, technology-driven vision (p. 437). He went on further to say that mathematics curriculum with basic skills has a lower implementation cost than a curriculum requiring higher level thinking and technology.


We offer recommendations for the development of policies that can positively affect the lives of Black male students throughout all facets of society, school districts, schools, and classrooms. In academia, researchers are calling for culturally grounded and social-justice-oriented frameworks for African Americans (Martin, 2009a; Tillman, 2002). We are calling for culturally grounded and social-justice-oriented perspectives in the development of policies for Black male students. We think that frameworks are needed to determine what is in the best interest of Black male students and what is not. We also think that a framework is needed because it helps to shape the direction of policies. A few frameworks come to mind to help policymakers and initiative creators develop these efforts to better serve Black male students. We have used and presented many of them in this article. We would like to add that African American male theory (Bush & Bush, 2013) is a good theoretical perspective to use to frame policy and initiative development for Black male students. Although the name of the theory focuses on African American males, a deeper read and examination of the theory demonstrates that it can be used for Black males across the Diaspora. This is important for several reasons. Not all Black males in U.S. schools are African American. Policy and initiative developers must take this important point into consideration and recognize the heterogeneity of what it means to be a Black male student. Many people who develop policies at the federal, national, state, and local levels do not have a full grasp of Black males in general and what it means to be a Black male in U.S. society and school contexts.

There is a growing body of research focused on Black male students that is being underutilized in the academy, the field of education, and policy arenas (see Howard, 2008, 2013, 2014; Lewis & Moore, 2014). We are calling for policies focused on Black male students to draw on research of this population. Although we think quantitative and qualitative research is important, we are calling for developers of policy not to privilege quantitative research methods over qualitative research. Instead, we are calling for qualitative research of Black male students to be included in policy and initiative development to better understand the experiential knowledge of these students (Tierney & Clemens, 2011). The voices of Black male students are rarely heard in policy arenas. We are also calling for the researchers who produced this body of work to be included in the development of policies.

In the development of policies focused on Black male students, policy makers often neglect to examine how the past and current policies affect Black male students. For example, policy makers could ask critical reflection questions such as: Did/does the policy or initiative possess any element that focused on Black male students? How did/does the policy impact Black male students? Did the policies improve the academic and social lives of Black male students? Did the policies meet the intended outcome for Black male students?  Policy makers who created ESSA failed to take into consideration how teaching to the test and the heavy emphasis on standardized testing from NCLB disadvantaged Black male students in tested subject areas like mathematics. The mathematics instruction that these students [we]re exposed to emphasize[d] repetition, drill, right-answer thinking that often focuses on memorization and rote learning, out­of­context mathematical computations, and test­taking strategies (Davis & Martin, 2008, p. 20). This type of instruction has left Black male students ill prepared for CCSS, which focuses more on conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and application. Not only were Black male students unprepared, but many of their teachers lacked the knowledge and skills to teach from the constructivist perspective advocated by CCSS. This has to be considered and addressed in the implementation of ESSA and in the call for challenging academic standards.

Given the historical inequities and racism that Black males continue to experience, we think that all educational policies, and those specifically for Black males, should include fully funded year-round programs (e.g., after school, summer). Federal, state, and local policies that seek to better serve Black males at the school level should include fully funded male-focused programs (e.g., mentoring, after school). These programs should be developed using research and findings that draw on and highlight the strengths and assets that Black males bring to educational settings. This research should also include findings from similar programs (e.g., mentoring, informal learning) that Black males participate in.


ESSA was never designed to provide Black male students with an education that would (a) allow them to infringe on the White monopoly of intellectual, material, physical, and fiscal resources, (b) improve the lived realities of the masses of Black people, and (c) allow them to be self-sufficient. ESSA was designed and intended to ensure that Black male students could change their social conditions only through an education aligned to a White standard that would not threaten Whites intellectual, social, and economic interests. CRT provides a theoretical lens to critically examine policies that impact Black male students.


1. We use the term minoritized to reflect systems of oppression that contribute to the underrepresentation of Black and Brown students and overrepresentation of White students.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 13, 2018, p. 1-20
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22352, Date Accessed: 9/28/2021 4:24:30 AM

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  • Keisha Allen
    University of Maryland, Baltimore County
    E-mail Author
    KEISHA MCINTOSH ALLEN is an assistant professor of education in the Secondary Education Program at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research, teaching, and service focus on critical and asset pedagogies within in-school and out-of-school contexts. Specifically, her work focuses on preservice and in-service teachers’ development of and enactment of critical consciousness. Her recent work also examines the ways in which engaging in youth participatory action research influences urban high school youths’ college decision-making. Recent publications include: Sanders, M., Galindo, C., & Allen, K. M. (in press). Professional capital and the promise of full-service community schools: Exploring the role of teachers. Urban Education; and Allen, K. M. (in press). Transformative vision: Unpacking the racial literacy practices of a Black male teacher with his Black male students. Journal of Multicultural Education.
  • Julius Davis
    Bowie State University
    E-mail Author
    JULIUS DAVIS is an associate professor of mathematics education in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development in the College of Education at Bowie State University. Davis has two main strands of research focused on Black students and teachers in urban schools. His research of Black students critically examines their mathematical achievement and experiences. He also examines how policies shape Black students’ mathematical achievement and experiences. Davis’s research of Black mathematics teachers focuses on content and pedagogical knowledge, academic and professional experiences, and policies that shape their praxis. His research of students and teachers primarily focuses on Black males. Recent publications include: Goings, R. B., Davis, J., Britto, J., & Greene, D. (2017). The influence of mentoring on the academic trajectory of a 17-year-old Black male college sophomore from the United Kingdom: A single case study. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 25(3), 346–368; and Pitts Bannister, V. R., Davis, J., Mutegi, J., Thompson, L., & Lewis, D. (2017). “Returning to the Root” of the problem: Improving the social condition of African Americans through science and mathematics education. Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum, 7(1), 4–14.
  • Renee Garraway
    Bowie State University
    E-mail Author
    RENEE L. GARRAWAY is a doctoral candidate at Bowie State University and the recipient of the Culturally Responsive Educational Leaders in Special Education (CRELSE) grant, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). She has over 25 years of diverse work experience in clinical social work, special education, and school-based administration. Her research centers on the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse students with disabilities. Recent publications include: Garraway, R. L., & Robinson, C. (2017). Increasing cultural responsiveness: Improving transition outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse students. In A. L. Ellis (Ed.), Transitioning children with disabilities: From early childhood through adulthood (pp. 145–167). Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers; and Garraway, R. L. (2017). Transitioning to kindergarten: Improving outcomes for preschool children with behavioral challenges. In A. L. Ellis (Ed.), Transitioning children with disabilities: From early childhood through adulthood (pp. 113–128). Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  • Janeula Burt
    Bowie State University
    E-mail Author
    JANEULA M. BURT is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education at Bowie State University, where she teaches master’s- and doctoral-level courses. From 2014 to 2019, Dr. Burt is serving as co–principal investigator of the Culturally Responsive Educational Leaders in Special Education (CRELSE) grant, a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. She was a 2015–2016 recipient of a Spencer Foundation Grant for her research, Place, Space, and Race: Discovering the Dimensions of Rural and Racial Identities of Adolescents in Segregated High Schools. Her research interests center on areas of access and equity for marginalized students, faculty, and administrators in education, which includes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education for underrepresented groups, African American women in educational leadership, identity development, mentor relationships, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and rural education. Recent publications include: Burt, J. M., & Fears Floyd, E. (in press). The RED owl collaborative: Leveraging sisterhood and social justice. In J. McClinton, D. S. Mitchell, G. B. Hughes, & M. A. Melton (Eds.), Mentoring at minority serving institutions (MSIs): Theory, design, practice, and impact. Charlotte, NC: Information Age; and Jones, K., Burton, R., Forbes, C., Nelson, S. L., & Burt, J. M. (2017). Transitioning to a new regime or more of the same? Examining the efficacy of the Tennessee diploma project to increase data reporting on special education graduation rates in charter schools. A. L. Ellis (Ed.). Sense Publishers.
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