At the Providence School Board meeting of May 11, with dozens in attendance to support the initiative, Board President Keith Oliveira and Providence Schools Chief of Administration Joseph DiPina presented data on the disparities in achievement for boys of color in the Providence Schools, and advised the Board on proposed solutions to ensure equity, including policy and procedural changes to be made over the coming months. The Males of Color Initiative proposes to address the roots of these disparities, and to ensure that an appropriate and quality education is delivered to all students.
Through the examination of this data, the subsequent convening of stakeholder groups, and the ongoing public awareness efforts, Providence Schools and the Providence School Board have brought to the forefront the issue of very real disparities for boys of color, mirrored locally by what we know to be true nationally.
“This conversation is vital to the long-term success of our students and our schools,” said Oliveira. “We must look more deeply at how we are delivering education to every child in our district. There’s an important analogy here: To give everyone a pair of shoes is equality; to give everyone a pair of shoes that fits is equity. We must examine the roots of these trends and move toward equity in our delivery of education.”
Boys of color graduate at lower rates, drop out at higher rates, participate less in Advanced Placement courses and preparatory tests like the PSAT, and are suspended from school at dramatically different rates than their white counterparts. Boys as a whole also achieve at lesser levels than girls.
The issue has drawn national attention, with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative designed to empower boys and young men of color, and the Council of Great City Schools efforts, with leaders of 60 large urban school districts, including Providence, signing a pledge in July 2014 to improve educational outcomes for boys and young men of color by implementing a set of evidence-based strategies that range from early childhood to graduation.
“This is a pressing problem for Providence as well as the nation,” said Providence Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan F. Lusi. “We are committed to moving the needle for this large and critical group of students.”
The Providence School Board and Providence Schools administration realize the need to effect rapid change to influence outcomes for boys of color, enabling ever-greater numbers of them to become young men and adults who will be productive, well-educated, employable, contributing citizens.
The Providence School Board has recently approved a new Discipline Policy and will revisit the Student Code of Conduct in efforts to make discipline more restorative and less punitive. It is expected to soon take up a Policy on Institutionalized Racial Equity, aimed at confronting the institutionalized inequities that result in lower academic achievement for students of color than their white peers. The district and the Providence Police Department established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the fall of 2014 on the role of School Resource Officers within school communities. The MOU defines a supportive, proactive role for the officers, a shift in practice which has already resulted in significantly fewer in-school arrests in the 2014-15 school year than in previous years.
PPSD and the Providence School Board are actively seeking the support, guidance, and assistance of community members and organizations while undertaking this notable culture shift.