Middle School Matters: Improving the Life Course of Black Boys


Middle School Matters: Improving the Life Course of Black Boys

July 23–24, 2012
Cincinnati, Ohio

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Black male middle school students express their aspirations and challenges, and their mentors and educators discuss how they are creating environments that promote learning and personal growth.


View a Statistical Profile (PDF) from CDF/ETS's Addressing Achievement Gaps Symposium.

In 2011, ETS and the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) started a multiyear initiative to focus on improving the education and development of Black boys and young men in the United States. Presently, Black males produce among the lowest education and career outcomes of major population groups in the country. Our goals are to raise the visibility of the plight of Black males from birth to age 24, and inform the nation about recommendations to help produce more positive outcomes.

Our approach was to divide this population of Black boys and young men into four age groups, address their specific challenges and search for opportunities for improvement. We kicked off our Addressing Achievement Gaps Symposium series with "A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys for Educational Success," which focused on boys under the age of nine. In 2012, we turned our attention to "Middle School Matters: Improving the Life Course of Black Boys", which concentrated on the 1.5 million Black boys between the ages of 9–13 who are in middle school.

During this transition period, young people are moving from the early years in school when they are taken care of to the first time in their lives when they are starting to take responsibility for themselves. While this period is exciting, it also marks a time when young people face a number of challenges involving academic pressures, socialization, friendships, sexuality and personal development, among other issues.

Our goal was to create a positive environment for young Black boys to stay the course and flourish during these years.

Identifying Opportunities for Success

In 2012, the Middle School Matters symposium was held during the CDF's "Pursuing Justice for Children and the Poor with Urgency and Persistence: A Community and Youth Empowerment Conference." Symposium speakers, policymakers, practitioners and advocates focused on the latest research, strategies and community-building models aimed at changing the life condition of middle school Black boys in the U.S. education system. The purpose was to highlight the special challenges facing this vulnerable population and to examine the most-effective practices in schools that can help close achievement gaps and foster academic success.

The symposium concentrated on the following:

  • Understanding the social-emotional, psychological and developmental experiences and needs of middle school Black boys
  • Evaluating the reading, writing and inquiry performance requirements Black boys should meet in contemporary middle school
  • Examining the academic expectations, classroom management, and school climate that fosters the engagement and success of Black boys in middle school

Employing effective leadership strategies to construct and deliver the appropriate educational experience and conditions required to position young Black boys for educational success.


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