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The impact of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project on the lives of 30 African-American males

Dissertation
Author: Benjamin Davis
Abstract:
This dissertation explores the impact of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an academic intervention and mentoring program for African-American males, on 30 African-American high school graduates. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project has a fifteen year history. What makes the project unique is that it is - unlike many such programs -fully funded by local school board and state funds. Several factors made this study relevant: (1) the high level of financial commitment by the school district, (2) its longevity, (3) the fact that thousands of students have matriculated through it, and (4) the fact that it has never been formally studied, made this study relevant. By examining the academic and career choices of 30 African-American males graduates who participated in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project during high school, the researcher indentified elements of the program that may have led to the participants' choices to set and achieve high goals. The researcher, using a qualitative case study methodology, collected data via surveys and interviews. The surveys and interviews yielded responses that gave insight into elements of the program (i.e., counseling, mentoring, academic support, trips, celebrity speaker, etc.) which increased the student's desire to go into postsecondary education. The analysis of these responses, which were charted, compared and narratively sampled, formed the raw data of the study. The results show that mentoring alone is not a sufficient tool for redirecting the academic outcomes of African-American males; rather, academic intervention, mentoring and counseling, together, can be used to help African-American males succeed both in and beyond high school.

TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION 1 The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project 3 Purpose of the Study 5 Definition of Key Terms 6 Problem Statement 9 Limitations of the Study 10 Intended Audience , 10 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 11 CHAPTER TWO REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE 15 Introduction 15 Educational Leadership 18 The Purpose of Public Education 21 The Present State of Public Education 24 The Social Impact of Failure for Students and Society 29 The Crisis for African American Male Students 29 Intervention Strategies 32 Adolescent Boys 38 Mentoring 41 Connecting the Literature to the Study 45 CHAPTER THREE METHODOLOGY 48 Participants 52 Small Samples 53 v

Instrumentation 54 Data Collection 56 Data Analysis 57 Statement of Ethical Research for Protection of Human Subjects 59 CHAPTER FOUR DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 60 Introduction 60 The Program 61 Participants 63 IRB Approval 65 Obtaining Consent 66 The Instruments 67 Data Collection 68 Data Analysis 70 Analysis of the Surveys 72 Analysis of the Interview Responses 82 Interview Patterns 87 Factors Not Mentioned by Participants 88 Re-engaging the Literature 89 CHAPTER FIVE CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 98 Recommendations 103 Limitations of the Study 104 REFERENCES 106 APPENDIX A SURVEY QUESTIONS 113 vi

APPENDIX B SURVEY MATRIX 114 APPENDIX C 5000 ROLE MODELS OF EXCELLENCE PROJECT 131 APPENDIX D INTERVIEW QUESTIONS 135 APPENDIX E INTERVIEW MATRIX 137 APPENDIX F INFORMED CONSENT (INTERVIEWS) 146 APPENDIX G LETTER TO PARTICIPANTS 148 APPENDIX H VERIFICATION 150 APPENDIX I STUDY SUMMARY FOR PARTICIPANTS 151 APPENDIX J INFORMED CONSENT (SURVEYS) 154 APPENDIX K PROTOCOL FOR SURVEY 156 APPENDIX L RESEARCH PROPOSAL 157 vn

CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION African Americans have a tense relationship with the American public-education system because their struggle for quality education and equity has been inextricably tied to their fight for full citizenship and social mobility (Crary, 2007; Swain, 2004; Wheatley, 2005). The journey for African Americans in education has also been marred by court battles, violence, rejection, suggestions of inferiority, and the constant need to look for better opportunities inside and outside public schools (Crary; Kunjufu, 2003; Noguera, 2003; Swain; Wheatley). While some progress has been made, many African Americans are still dissatisfied with public education because it has failed to deliver on its most basic promise—quality education for all children (Crary; Kunjufu, 2003; Noguera; Swain; Wheatley). For example, average Black students—if they graduate at all—leave high school with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education compared to their White counterparts (Kunjufu, 2003; Swain). In the larger African American struggle for quality education, Black boys have seen their educational outlook darken (Kunjufu, 2003). These boys represent 23% of all suspensions and 22% of all expulsions, unusually high numbers given that they only make up about 9% of all students (Smith, 2005). Fifty-percent of all Black boys enrolled in high school withdraw and do not graduate (Gewertz, 2007; Smith). Kunjufu (2003) argued that Black boys are unduly represented in special education—asserting that they are three to four times more likely to end up there because of middle-class teachers who are biased. Smith (2005) echoed this by writing: 1

Studies have found that Black students nationwide are 2.9 times as likely as Whites to be designated as mentally retarded. They also have been found to be 1.9 times as likely to be designated as having an emotional problem and 1.3 times as likely to have a learning disability. Since twice as many Black boys are in special education programs as Black girls, it is difficult to blame inherited or home environments for these figures. In some metropolitan districts, 30 percent of Black males are in special education classes and of the remaining 70 percent only half or fewer receive diplomas, (p. 18) These are paltry results when one considers that White students graduate at a rate of nearly 75% (Mishel, 2006). It should also be noted here that these dismal numbers have nothing to do with a lack of intelligence in Black children; rather, it is symptomatic of their long-term exposure to poor quality schools, uncertified teachers, teachers with no degree in the subjects they teach and low teacher expectations (Kunjufu, 2003; Noguera, 2003; Swain, 2004). Low levels of graduation eventually result in economic disadvantage: African American males earn an average of "$9,200 less per year than high school graduates and about $1 million dollars less over a lifetime than college graduates" (Bridgeland, Diliulio & Morrison, 2006, p. 2). Additionally, they are three times more likely than other college graduates to be unemployed and nearly equally as likely to end up poor (Bridgeland et al., 2006). These negative outcomes seem more and more inevitable and irreversible. The goal of equal educational opportunity and success for African American males is not being met (Campbell, 2003; Noguera, 2003). There is a desperate need for academic intervention for these students (Gewertz, 2007; Mishel, 2006). While numerous 2

academic intervention programs have been introduced over the years to improve outcomes for minority students, there has been very little tangible success (Noguera, 2003). More than a decade ago, Delpit (1995) identified this problem in a groundbreaking study on ineffective teaching practices for minority children called Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. The problem in public education is that this crisis has persisted for years while efforts to combat low academic performance has yielded little in closing achievement gaps or changing life outcomes for African American males (Kunjufu, 2003; Noguera, 2003; Smith, 2005; Swain, 2004). Additionally, the postsecondary outlook for Black males has been bleak. According to Smith (2005), there were more Black young men in prison (791,600) than in college (603,000). The unemployment rate for Black males continues to hover in double digits (16-19%) nationally (Smith). Matthews and Williams (2007), having grown tired of the rhetoric, said, "[e]nsuring that Black young men are afforded equal educational opportunities, access and outcomes in education remains the most pressing challenge of modern schooling", (p. 187) The crux of this is that they, like many educators, have not absolved American public education of the responsibility to fulfill its mission (Kunjufu, 2003; Matthews & Williams; Noguera, 2003; Swain, 2004). The real question is whether the decision makers in public education have the will to develop programs that meet the needs of this underserved class (Kunjufu, 2003; Noguera, 2003; Swain). The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project This program was founded in 1993 by Wilson, then a school board member and former principal, now a State of Florida Senator, who felt there was an unaddressed 3

problem of poor academic outcomes for African American boys. Wilson sought funding from the community, the Miami-Dade County School Board, and the State of Florida to develop a program that would increase opportunities for at-risk students to receive additional support throughout their secondary educational experience. The program began as the 500 African American Role Models of Excellence program, but it was later changed to the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project. Throughout its existence, the project had as its objective the goal of improving academic and life outcomes for boys aged 9-19 through the intervention of volunteers, counseling, field trips to various correctional facilities, college tours, tutoring, and guest speakers (Wilson, 2008). Success for participants in the program was more than mere graduation; it was defined as going on to higher education and professional careers. The key elements of the program were its ability to provide students with a wider exposure to life—namely access to professional, African American males (6,000 volunteers who act as father figures), out-of-town trips, teen summits, employment and career counseling, Take an Apprentice to Work Day, and police and youth conferences. Overall, students who participated in the program did not just graduate but went on to college and successful careers. The graduation rate in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project was 83%, which was higher than the school district's overall graduation rate of 49%. Students in the Role Models Project also chose higher education at a rate higher than other district students. Program participants were exposed to presentations from notable names in politics (e.g., Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton); entertainment (e.g., Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Montel Williams, Bill O'Reilly); 4

publishing (e.g., Maya Angelou, Jawanza Kunjufu, James McBride); and sports (e.g., Alonzo Mourning, Tiger Woods, Shaquille O'Neal). In essence, the program provided a multifaceted view of the world (Wilson, 2008). Another key aspect of the program was its complete integration into the Miami- Dade County Public Schools, from which it receives the majority of its funding. The program is active in 101 of 351 schools in the district and has grown to an active student participation level of 6,000. The students engaged in program activities during school hours and were not penalized for their absences from class but expected to keep up with assignments and excel. There was no clear indication as to which one element or combination of elements led to success for program participants. The program was more than a decade old but had never been studied at the initiation of this inquiry. This study provided a chance for the researcher's academic growth and provided an opportunity for structured research into the problem of how to engender success among African America males, a group traditionally undereducated, underserved, and left behind. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to examine the elements of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an academic intervention program, to determine how it created success for African American males in high school. This study sought to closely analyze how the 5000 Role Models Project gained national prominence by providing support systems for a targeted group of at-risk students—namely, African American males— despite the national trends of dropping out of school and failure common to this segment of the public-school population. Through an analysis of the program and surveys and 5

interviews of with former participants, this study will attempt to identify key features that have caused this program to be successful where others have failed. Definition of Key Terms The Key Terms listed here represent words regularly used in this study. While they may have different meanings or connotations in other settings or when used by other writers, the researcher preferred the interpretations given below: 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project. An academic intervention program that was founded in Miami-Dade County by a former principal to combat the problems of dropouts, poor academic performance, and low graduation rates for African American students. Academic achievement. Focuses on the performance results of all students in the classroom as well as on standardized tests administered by the respective states. Academic intervention. Programs designed to change academic outcomes for minority students prone to dropping out and not graduating. Academic intervention seeks to combine mentoring and academic achievement as a way of encouraging students to reach stated objectives. African American. People of African descent, born or having immigrated to America, whose ancestry parallels and intersects with American history but is distinguished by certain watershed events such as slavery and segregation. African American boys. For purposes of this study, young men in high school who have not yet graduated. 6

Antisocial behavior. Behavior against the basic principles of civilized society. However, for purposes of this study the focus is on choices and behaviors that do not lead to academic and life success. At-risk. Students who have any one of a number of traits that tend to limit or inhibit chances of academic success such as limited English proficiency, immigrant status, poverty, race, geographic location, or economic disadvantage. While not inherently harmful, these factors are commonly found among students who fail to reach the highest levels of academic performance or expectations. Community-based mentoring. Regular meetings between mentors and their mentees for the purpose of providing structure, modeling productive behaviors, and building bonds between adults and juveniles that may encourage success. Crime. A violation of law, no matter how small, that leads to a penalty that impacts future success. Crisis. The phenomenon of social disadvantage that results from a failure to obtain academic success and the host of related problems that follow, such as drug usage, incarceration and exposure to violence. Dropouts. A term used in education to describe students who discontinue their formal education prior to graduation from high school. Dropout prevention. Strategies to retain students until completion of their formal education. Ethnicity. A term for classification or affiliation based on commonality of history, culture, social affiliation, and language. 7

Exposure. Used in this study as an academic support tool. Students from less privileged backgrounds are allowed to interact with more affluent and socially adept mentors whose influence encourages higher academic performance. Group mentoring. Involves one adult and up to four young people, allowing programs to reach a greater number of youths than using the traditional mentoring approach. High school. Secondary school including Grades 9-12 with the intent of receiving a diploma for either future employment or further academic study. Incarceration. Lengthy stays in prison of more than 1 year, a life outcome that often results in the lack of ability to access pathways to success. Integration. The melding of academic and mentoring components so that they are not separate but a single academic system that provides more than the unusual level of adult supervision for at-risk students. Intervention. The act of attempting to turn behavior toward more productive ends. Intervention in academic settings is performed by a number of persons whose goal is to encourage a student to stay in school, performing at a higher level to complete requirements for graduation. Intervention strategies. Aimed at those patterns of academic programs whose mission is to halt or reverse poor academic performance for groups of at-risk students— especially African American males. Mentoring. Structured relationship building that brings young people together with caring adults who offer guidance, support, and encouragement aimed at developing higher academic performance, social competence, better life outcomes, and character for the mentee. 8

Mentors. Wise, loyal advisers who choose to intervene in the lives of students for the purpose of ensuring a more productive life result. One-on-one mentoring. A type of mentoring that involves one adult and one young person. Poverty. The condition of economic disadvantage with respect to money, goods, or means of subsistence that is known to impact a student's ability to be ready to learn. Socioeconomic. The combination of social and economic factors that are intertwined and impact the life outcomes and opportunities for success of children. Success. For purposes of this study, a student graduating from high school and entering a postsecondary institution. Team mentoring. An approach that consists of several adults working with small groups of young people with the common goal of improving their quality of life and expectations for the future. Unemployment. Lack of employment and/or the ability to obtain gainful work opportunities. Problem Statement The purpose of this study was to examine the elements of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an academic intervention program, to determine how it created success for African Americans males in high school. Several important research questions served as guiding principles for this study: (a) Was this a successful academic intervention model for African American males? (b) If so, what were the elements of the model? (c) Could that model be modified or replicated for introduction into larger 9

educational settings to combat the crisis of poor academic performance among African American males? (d) What elements of the program were unique or essential to producing successful academic outcomes? (e) Why did this program succeed where others failed? Limitations of the Study This study was inherently limited by its narrow focus on a single academic- intervention model. The researcher chose to conduct a case study that analyzed the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project because of its unique focus in addressing the crisis of low academic performance and poor outcomes for African American males. Additionally, the study was limited because of the small sampling, which affected the researcher's ability to make extensive and one-gender generalizations about potential findings. Finally, the study was also limited because it did not compare this program to other academic support models that sought to completely integrate teaching, learning, mentoring, and social exposure. Also, because of the unique position of this subgroup, there were limitations about whether findings in this study may be duplicable in other settings with other groups of at-risk students. Intended Audience The intended audience for this study was high school educational leaders, school counselors, designers of academic intervention programs for secondary students, teachers, parents, teacher-training programs, administrators, and community-based organizations that partner with schools to produce better outcomes for minority children. This study was intended to aid its audience in identifying the elements of a successful 10

academic intervention program that could be instrumental in improving graduation rates for an underserved segment of the student population. Organization of the Remainder of the Study This case study allowed the researcher to investigate the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, using survey and interview-question responses from graduates who had managed some academic success at least 1 year beyond high school. The researcher used the following approach: First, the researcher reviewed the program's overall structure and identified its key components. Particularly, the researcher sought to identify which elements of the program were instrumental in changing the course of students' lives, and yielding success where failure was almost assured, or at least was a likely outcome. Second, the researcher administered surveys to recent graduates identified by Wilson, executive director and founder of the program, in their natural settings to determine how this program helped them to overcome difficulties while other programs have failed. Third, the researcher administered surveys and conducted interviews to learn how this program impacted the academic and career choices of participants. The goal was to see if the program's success could be duplicated in other academic intervention/mentoring programs. Surveys and interviews were used in this study. The researcher conducted a survey of 30 participants to determine if a single element or an identifiable set of elements of the program were responsible for favorable academic and life outcomes for this group of participants. The researcher also conducted interviews of a subset of 5 of the same participants to further try to target the elements of the program that led to favorable 11

outcomes for this group of at-risk students. Prior to this study, the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project had not been the subject of a formal study; additionally, the study could lend guidance in the examination of similar types of programs that blend academic intervention and mentoring as a strategy for enhancing outcomes for high school-aged African American males. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project was founded by a former elementary school principal and fully adopted by Miami-Dade County Public schools for implementation throughout the district. Miami-Dade Public Schools is the fourth largest district in the nation. It was originally called the 500 Role Models of Excellence Project. Some 39% of the participating students in the original program were African American, and the majority all participants were members of minority groups, largely Black and Hispanic. These two groups had the lowest national graduation rates of 55% and 53% respectively (Mishel, 2006). In order to investigate the history of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, the researcher met with and interviewed Wilson, the founder and executive director. The researcher sought to learn the genesis of the program, ideas that led to its establishment, and reasons why African American males were targeted. The program began in 1993. The researcher developed a list of its most important features. The objective was to capture the formula, if any, for success. Next, the researcher identified participants who had successfully matriculated through the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project. The researcher sought out former students who were graduates of Miami-Dade high schools and over 18 years of age who had participated in the program from Grades 9-12. These criteria were important because 12

in order for a student to have received full benefit from the program, he had to have spent at least 4 full years under its auspices. The researcher received the participants' contact information from the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project staff with Wilson's permission. The researcher contacted participants by mail with a letter requesting their participation, a summary of the program, an informed consent form, and the survey. Participants were asked to complete the informed consent form prior to completing the survey. Participants were directed to return the survey by mail. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was included for this purpose. On receiving their responses, the researcher coded each participant's survey (e.g., Role Model [RMJ1-RM30) to ensure confidentiality and to maintain anonymity. Five students were later contacted by telephone for a brief post survey interview, in hopes that they would provide more comprehensive discussion of their experiences and the benefits and/or disadvantages of the program. Having already given consent, they were queried at a deeper level about the same factors, focusing more intensely on the participants' relationships with their mentors, the more difficult and easy elements of the program, and ways the participants believed they were different for having matriculated through the program. These responses were also coded and sorted in order to determine whether some additional insight could be gained. This academic-intervention program focused on African American males, a group traditionally deemed bound for failure. The researcher chose a qualitative case-study methodology to identify the elements of this academic intervention program and its basis for success. The researcher wanted to identify elements of this program that appeared to inspire African American males where other similar programs have had only marginal 13

success. If these elements could be found, perhaps they could be duplicated on a larger scale to combat the national crisis of academic failure among African American males. 14

CHAPTER TWO REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE Introduction There is a crisis in public education in our urban centers (Noguera, 2003). Despite the best efforts of skilled educators for city schools, the academic performance of African Americans and Hispanics on standardized tests resists improvement and continues to lag behind that of Whites and Asians (Noguera, 2003). Schools in these areas are mired in long histories of failure and incompetence, and graduation rates for minorities remain dismal (Noguera 2003; Toppo, 2008). Noguera (2003) indicated, If these conditions were limited to a handful of urban schools or districts, this might not be so daunting, but this is not the case. Urban school failure is pervasive. It is endemic to the nation's cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and not uncommon in small towns such as East St. Louis, Poughkeepsie, Camden, and Compton. In fact, wherever poor children are concentrated and employment is scarce, public schools are almost always bad. (p. 3) This is particularly troubling because minorities tend to congregate in urban centers and their presence in public education has sharply increased to 40% since the 1970s (Buchanan, 2004; Flanigan, 2004; Hunter & Donahoo, 2003; Seashore-Louis, 2003). Unfortunately, graduation rates in urban centers are often poor, as demonstrated by cities like Baltimore at 34.6%, Indianapolis at 30.5% and Detroit at 24.9% (Toppo, 2008). These numbers should cause alarm because they portend poor career and life outcomes for students for whom success seems elusive (Toppo). 15

Despite the ideas of the No Child Left Behind legislation, thousands of children are finding themselves excluded from the privilege of equal educational opportunity because of the substandard quality of the education they are receiving (Ipka, 2004; Noguera, 2003). While up to 75% of White students graduate from high school, Blacks and Hispanics are lagging behind in national graduation rates (Mishel, 2006; Smith, 2005). These trends of low performance have persisted over time in terms of achievement gaps in education, despite an undue infusion of capital from federal, state, and local governments, as well as the implementation of draconian legislation (Mishel; Noguera, 2003). While this trend is troubling for minorities in general, no group is impacted by this phenomenon more deeply than African American males, whose graduation rates nationally are disturbing. The national rate of high school graduation of African American males is a dismal 55% (Gewertz, 2007). Graduation rates for African American males in some major cities are as low as the mid- to high-30% range (Barton, 2006). For example, the city of Chicago showed a graduation rate for Black males of only 39% (Barton). Dismal graduation figures are just a portion of the problem; they are the end product of years of educational neglect and mistreatment of Black males by education systems that know of their plight but fail to address it (Gewertz, 2007). Additionally, African American males account for 24% of all out-of-school suspensions, are 13% of all students classified as learning-disabled students, represent 21% of emotionally-disturbed students, and 20% of students classified as mentally retarded (Gewertz). These disproportionately high representations in the negative categories of public education 16

signal trouble in the futures of these students (Gewertz; Kunjufu, 2003). Kunjufu (2003) speculated whether this might be more a result of the make-up of an elementary teaching population—83% middle class, White females—that is too willing to designate Blacks males as "special," rather than a function of the inherent disability of the Black male students. These labels tend to adhere throughout the students' academic careers (Gewertz). This raises the question: why the disparity? Wells (2003) asked, Are Blacks born less capable than others? His answer is No; they are given the same faculties at birth as anyone else (Wells). Kunjufu (2003) suggested that these students are perhaps likely to receive low-quality educations that include instruction from nondegreed and/or uncertified teachers, poor-quality curricula, and unsafe learning environments in addition to the host of social disadvantages they already bring to school. Kunjufu (2003) suggested that their poor performance may be a problem of racial discrimination. A number of questions are raised by these dire conditions. What is being done to counteract these trends? Is there a formula that works that can be duplicated in all schools? Are these students dispensable and should one abandon any effort to save them? These are hard questions that await present and future educational leaders. In order to sort through this dilemma, this literature review will explore the nature and purpose of educational leadership, the purpose of education, the present state of public education, the increasing presence of minorities in public education, the social impact of failure for students and society, the crisis for African American male students, and intervention strategies. The goal of this discussion is to arrive at how one special program has overcome these problems to create high rates of success for graduation and employment for one group of African American males. 17

Full document contains 186 pages
Abstract: This dissertation explores the impact of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an academic intervention and mentoring program for African-American males, on 30 African-American high school graduates. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project has a fifteen year history. What makes the project unique is that it is - unlike many such programs -fully funded by local school board and state funds. Several factors made this study relevant: (1) the high level of financial commitment by the school district, (2) its longevity, (3) the fact that thousands of students have matriculated through it, and (4) the fact that it has never been formally studied, made this study relevant. By examining the academic and career choices of 30 African-American males graduates who participated in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project during high school, the researcher indentified elements of the program that may have led to the participants' choices to set and achieve high goals. The researcher, using a qualitative case study methodology, collected data via surveys and interviews. The surveys and interviews yielded responses that gave insight into elements of the program (i.e., counseling, mentoring, academic support, trips, celebrity speaker, etc.) which increased the student's desire to go into postsecondary education. The analysis of these responses, which were charted, compared and narratively sampled, formed the raw data of the study. The results show that mentoring alone is not a sufficient tool for redirecting the academic outcomes of African-American males; rather, academic intervention, mentoring and counseling, together, can be used to help African-American males succeed both in and beyond high school.