Public Education Programs for African-American Males: A Gender Equity Perspective


Today, African-Americans are experiencing a crisis of poverty and dis-crimination. Unemployment, homelessness, patterns of de facto segregation in housing, crime, and death due to homicide disproportionately affect this group. Furthermore, “a decline in manufacturing and low-skilled jobs, a drop in real mean wages for young black men, and the continued undereducation of blacks combine to deny many black males the realistic opportunity to help support a family on their incomes.” Falling most heavily on urban centers, these conditions threaten the survival of the entire African-American family-men, women, and children.


The crisis presents devastating barriers to African-American children who hope to succeed in urban schools. Increasingly, students in these schools hail from families headed by single women. More and more frequently, they live in poverty, they are racial minorities, and they are raised in non-English-speaking homes. The nations’ schools compound the disadvantages of these children. De facto racial segregation results in African-Americans’ physical separation from whites and provides unequal access to courses, equipment, facilities, teachers, and instruction. In many urban schools, “the concentration of black and other minority students denies selected children the opportunity to participate in educational systems that prepare people to fill the complete range of positions in an increasingly complex labor market.”


Second in importance perhaps only to the family as an institution that develops the next generation, schools provide a key environment for ad-dressing critical social issues. Many commentators focus on public schools as a solution to the current social and economic crisis facing African-American males. In particular, numerous groups have recently proposed the establishment of public schools and programs exclusively for African-American male students. Such single-sex public school programs raise a number of questions for those concerned with gender equity in education:

  • What is the nature of these proposals, and who is involved indeveloping them?
  • How do the proposals define the crisis for African-American males? Are the roots of that crisis different for African-American females, or for male and female students of other races or nationalities? What justifies race- and gender-specific approaches to addressing student needs?”
  • What light does educational research shed on the needs of African-American male students and African-American female students? What does it say about the impact of sex segregation onAfrican-American students?
  • What assumptions, explicit or implicit, do the proposals make about the roles and impact of females as teachers and students?”
  • How do the proposals plan to treat societal attitudes of male supremacy in an all-male environment?
  • How will the curricula of these schools and programs address the role and impact of women in society?” How will pilot programs be evaluated? What are the implications of failure? Of success? If found to be successful, can these pilot programs be replicated for wider implementation?
  • What are the implications of these proposals, in light of efforts to promote educational equity for women and girls since the enactment of Title IX7 in 1972?
  • How should educational equity advocates respond to these proposals?


This article explores these questions from a women’s educational equity perspective: that is, with an eye toward the goal of promoting gender equity in education. The crisis in this country’s public education system has a devastating impact on both male and female students of color. Solutions that separate the sexes may exacerbate sexist attitudes, particularly among boys, and promote sex-based inequality. Targeting one group of victims of discrimination in isolation from the needs of others evades the responsibility of school systems to treat all students without bias. Instead of pitting boys against girls in the race for allocating scarce educational dollars, educators should focus on the following: building on, rather than eroding, the equity achieved in law and social policy during the past thirty years; promoting the implementation of strategies that expand awareness of the forms and impact of sexism, as well as racism, in education; and strengthening the coalition supporting equity in the United States’ public education.


Part I of this article summarizes recent proposals for addressing the crisis experienced by African-American male students. It provides a brief overview of the research on single-sex elementary and secondary education. Part II defines the educational and social crisis facing African-American girls and examines the educational and social context for the proposals for African-American male academies. It argues that such academies undermine law and public policy. Part III of the article outlines an agenda for changing the United States’ public education system to promote gender fairness. It includes strategies for responding to proposals to establish all-male public schools and specific suggestions for action.

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