Increasing Prosocial Behavior and Academic Achievement among Adolescent African American Males

By Martin, Don; Martin, Magy et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Increasing Prosocial Behavior and Academic Achievement among Adolescent African American Males


Martin, Don, Martin, Magy, Gibson, Suzanne Semivan, Wilkins, Jonathan, Adolescence


Behavioral Issues

Recent studies have indicated that African American adolescent male students are more prone to truancy and aggressive behavior in school environments than peers of other races (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2001). Within this at-risk group, African American adolescent male students stand alone in terms of the vast accumulation of negative factors affecting their future (Smith, 2004; Comer, 2004; Ferguson, 2000). For example, in the Minneapolis School system, enrollment of black and white students is nearly equal, but 43% of all suspended students were black males versus 14% of white males (Fremon & Renfrow-Hamilton, 2001). Research has shown that when black male students are compared to other students by gender and race, they consistently rank lowest in academic achievement (Ogbu, 2003), have the worst attendance records (Voelkle, Welte, & Wieczorek, 1999), are suspended and expelled the most often (Raffaele-Mendez, 2003; Roderick, 2003), are most likely to drop out of school, and most often fail to graduate from high school or earn a GED (Pinkney, 2000; Pollard, 1993).

Achievement Gap

The linking of academic achievement with clinical assessment and remediation has not been fully examined when attempting to help African American male adolescents. Because of the lack of skill achievement within this population, federal monies have been earmarked for improving skills and fulfilling the expectations of "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation and state proficiency testing.

In the United States, African American adolescents disproportionately attend large, urban, comprehensive schools that have a high concentration of low-socioeconomic-status. Academic achievement and graduation rates in many of these schools are very low in comparison to national averages (Baker, 2005). These students are at higher risk for school failure, special education assignment, suspension, expulsion, and school violence (Ferguson, 2003).

Other researchers have attempted to connect high dropout rates and school failure of African American male adolescents with increased violence among this age group (Noguera, 2003). For example, African American male adolescents lead the nation in homicide, both as victims and perpetrators, have the greatest rate of suicide, and have the highest rate of incarceration, conviction, and arrest. One factor that has been consistently associated with the achievement gap among these students is poverty. For example, one out of three African American male adolescents is raised in a poor household (Carnoy, 1994). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2003), 24% of adolescents attending urban schools represent the highest percentage of households that are at the poverty level. These students also experience a lack of access to health care, inadequate nutrition, crime-ridden neighborhoods, and access to sufficient education (Clark, 1991; Noguera, 2003). School facilities are limited, funding is scarce, and the community often does not provide support for their schools.

In almost every category of academic failure, African American male adolescents are excessively represented (Dallmann-Jones, 2002; Entwisle, 2004). One study documented that only 2% of African American boys enrolled in the public school system of a large Midwestern U.S. city achieved a cumulative grade point average of at least a 3 on a 4-point scale. The consensus among researchers is that minority students are lagging behind their counterparts and not achieving academically (Dimitriadis, 2001). According to the Education Trust, 61% of African American students performed below basic levels on an eighth-grade measure of math attainment in comparison to 21% of Caucasian students. By the end of high school, African American students' math and reading skills are comparable to white eighth graders (Hoffman & Llagas (2003).The graduation rate in 2001 for black adolescents was 55%, a 2% increase since 1988 (Greene & Winters, 2002). …

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