BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A task force formed by the Maryland State Board of Education laid out recommendations to close the education achievement gap among Black boys.

“Our black boys are in crisis in Maryland. They’re in crisis in this country,” task force chair Vermelle Greene said. “This is not a zero-sum game. Just because our girls do well, that doesn’t mean our boys can’t do just as well.”

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The report laid out how Black boys are significantly behind in reading and math proficiency and graduation rates. Its recommendations focused on three main areas: social, emotional, and behavioral supports; recruiting and training educators; and curriculum.

“Our boys at the top of suspension rates and the bottom of test scores,” Green said.

The task force wants districts to focus on finding mentors and recruiting skilled, trained educators, particularly Black male teachers.

“Our boys tend to go through a whole day—in some cases Kindergarten to Grade 12—never having a black male teacher,” Green said.

Consistency and frequency are key, said Damion Cooper of Project Pneuma, an after-school mentoring program featured on WJZ in 2019.

Many students who come to him are two or three grades behind, Cooper said. And Covid-19 is compounding that, he said.

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“It can’t just be once a month or on the weekends,” he said. “Instead of being 2 to 3 (grades behind), you now may be 3 to 4 because of COVID.”

Project Pneuma has teamed up with Sylvan Learning to tutor almost two dozen students one-on-one.

Data shows Black boys in Maryland are at the top of suspension rates and the bottom of test scores. The report offers behavioral and curriculum support and another critical recommendation: recruiting and retaining educators, especially Black male teachers.

“Our boys at the top of suspension rates and the bottom of test scores,” Green said. “Our boys tend to go through a whole day—in some cases Kindergarten to Grade 12—never having a black male teacher.”

“They’re more than an athletic commodity. We have to focus in on those things where they’re learning and they’re growing,” Cooper said. “Beyond just doing the mentoring, you have to be consistent with it. It can’t be just once a month or on the weekends.”

Project Pneuma just partnered with Sylvan Learning to mentor 21 boys one-on-one, Cooper said.

“Instead of being 2 to 3 (grades behind), you now may be 3 to 4 because of COVID,” Cooper said. “Having teachers who look like them and understand their challenges often helps than someone who may not understand their communities.”

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The report can be read here.

Paul Gessler