Dr. Shawn Harper previews research findings he'll be releasing formally today about the black and Latino male students who succeed in New York City high schools (and he said there was no reason to believe similar qualities don't help similar students in other urban high schools). The study wasn't of elite charter schools or wealthier parts of the city, but of students who had achieved academic success in regular high schools. Harper found not only that such students exist (no surprise to him, but perhaps to those who lament the dearth of such students) but that many of them have no idea that they would be attractive candidates for admission to some of the most elite colleges in the United States.
Harper -- director of the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania -- attracted considerable attention last year for a study in which he identified successful black male college students and examined the factors that led to their success. This new study is in a way the flip side of that research -- as his focus was on students in New York City high schools who could succeed in college (although he also included a group of New York City high school graduates who were in college for comparison purposes).
But what were the common characteristics that seemed to propel these students to succeed?
- Parental value of education. Many spoke of parents who related their own lack of education to their lack of money, and told their children they wanted better options for them.
- High expectations. The report says that "almost all" of the students in the study "remember being thought of as smart and capable when they were young boys."
- Learning to avoid neighborhood danger. Those who lived in unsafe neighborhoods reported parents who kept them inside whenever possible. Likewise, many of the students reported spending after-school hours in school buildings, in settings where they could study and also socialize in safer environments than were available to them near their homes.
- Avoiding gang recruitment. Many said that by becoming known as smart, and by having parents who didn't let them spend time outdoors, they weren't recruited into gangs.
- Teachers who cared and inspired. Harper asked the students to name and describe favorite high school teachers, and he noted that none of them had difficulty doing so, describing challenging teachers who knew and cared about them. He said that the teachers of these students are working in ways counter to the image of out-of-control urban schools.
- Reinforcement of college-going culture. One student noted that, at his high school, every day that a student was accepted at a college, the entire school was told about this over the public address system. While college-going might not be the norm for his socioeconomic group, he came to think of college-going as the norm from hearing these messages over and over again.