In the Broward school district’s quest to improve minority student achievement, Dillard High School’s graduation ceremony last week was more than just another annual event — it was a taste of what success feels like.
Family members and friends packed Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium to cheer on the more than 300 graduates — most of them African-American. Dillard Principal Casandra Robinson boasted that many graduates were leaving high school with job-focused industry training certifications, and the Class of 2013’s overall graduation rate of more than 92 percent was one of the highest in school history.
“We’re kicking butt and taking names,” Robinson told students.
In part by studying Dillard and other high-performing schools — such as Miramar High School, which graduates more than 90 percent of its black male students — Broward hopes to find answers to a longstanding problem that has perplexed South Florida and the nation: How to boost the success rates of young black boys?
Broward is confronting the issue armed with its Black Male Success Task Force, created last fall.
Across just about every Broward school system indicator, from third-grade FCAT scores to high school graduation rates, black male students lag significantly behind their classmates. Roughly 35 percent of black male students score “proficient” or better on the third-grade reading FCAT, 20 percentage points below the district average. By eighth grade, that performance gap only slightly narrows to 19 percent.
At the same time, black males lead the district in the most troubling of categories: suspensions, expulsions, and student arrests.
In 2010, Broward and Miami-Dade counties were put on the defensive when the Schott Foundation for Public Education issued a report that found the districts were among the nation’s worst when it came to graduating black male students. Among districts with a large black population, Broward was deemed the nation’s third-worst, and Miami-Dade the fifth-worst. The Schott Foundation’s methodology, however, did not account for students who transfer between schools, leading to criticism that it may have overstated the problem in a transient state such as Florida.
Regardless, both counties have responded by taking action. Broward’s plan includes its new Black Male Success Task Force, while Miami-Dade has implemented a variety of strategies — tutoring, mentoring, acting quickly to identify at-risk students — that administrators say have paid dividends. Miami-Dade district leaders say the county’s black male graduation rate is up 15 percent versus five years ago; in Broward, there have been even bigger gains, with black male graduation rates rising from 39 percent in 2007 to almost 61 percent last year.
That 61 percent figure includes both charter schools and last-chance alternative schools. If you count only more-traditional public schools, Broward’s black male graduation rate rises to about 72 percent — better, but still more than 10 percentage points below the district average at those same schools.
In the latest Schott Foundation analysis, Broward has the nation’s eighth-best black male graduation rate, and Miami-Dade the 15th-best, although the foundation cautions that this high ranking is driven by the fact that overall U.S. performance is bleak.