Program cuts drop-out rate for black male high schoolers

By Carrie Spector, Futurity 

Access to an achievement program called “Manhood Development” significantly reduced the number of black male students who dropped out of high school, a new study shows.

The study found smaller reductions in the number of black female students who dropped out as well, suggesting a possible spillover effect.

School leaders in Oakland, California launched the initiative nearly 10 years ago, the first of its kind in the nation: a program targeted exclusively to black male high school students that was a part of their regular classes during the school day.

Taught by black male instructors, the Manhood Development course emphasizes social-emotional learning, African and African American history, and academic mentoring, drawing on culturally relevant teaching methods to counter stereotypes and create a stronger sense of community and belonging in school.

As hundreds of communities across the country invest in similarly targeted programs as part of the national My Brother’s Keeperinitiative, which former President Barack Obama introduced in 2014, the new study provides leading evidence supporting the promise of these investments.

“Many historically marginalized students experience schools as highly alienating spaces,” says Thomas S. Dee, professor of education in the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE). “The targeted design of this program, and the evidence of its impact, challenges us to radically reconsider how we think about promoting equity in education.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research published the findings as a working paper.


The Manhood Development course is the centerpiece of the African American Male Achievement (AAMA) program, which the Oakland Unified School District launched in 2010. The program created a new model for a targeted curriculum by offering classes specifically for black male students during the school day, rather than episodic or extracurricular programming.

Initially available to ninth graders in three Oakland high schools, the program soon expanded to serve students at higher grades in all nine of the district’s regular, comprehensive (not alternative) high schools.

The classes, which meet daily, include units such as “The Emotional Character of Manhood,” “The Struggle for Liberation and Dignity,” and “The Black Male Image in American Media.” Students also participate in community-based projects, such as oral histories of black residents in Oakland, and field trips that expose them to colleges and careers.


A district review in 2010, when the program began, documented high rates of absenteeism, dropout, and suspension among black male students at Oakland Unified. Though black males made up 16% of the student population, they represented 42% of suspensions annually. Roughly 20% of black male students were chronically absent across all grade levels, and 55% of black males were off-course from graduating on time, compared with 37% of students in the district overall.

“We know that failing to complete high school has dramatic, long-term economic consequences,” Dee says. “It’s catastrophic for success in the labor market. It implies worse health outcomes, lower levels of civic engagement, and increased likelihood of being imprisoned. Completing high school and being college- and career-ready is fundamentally important for almost any dimension of human welfare you can identify.”

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