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Oakland, Calif., Effort for Black Males Should Be a National Model, Study Says

The Oakland, Calif., school district's effort to boost the grades and graduation rates of black male students offers a model for school districts around the country, the first independent analysis of the program concludes.

"Black Sonrise," a University of California-Davis study on Oakland's Manhood Development Program for black males in middle schools and high schools, found that students enrolled in the program had better grades and school attendance rates and fewer suspensions than their peers.

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Introduced in 2011, the program offers leadership training, college and career preparation, and coursework that includes black history lessons and conversations about black men in society.

The classes are taught solely by black men. School leaders rolled out the program at three schools, enrolling 50 students combined. Four years later, there are 450 students participating at 17 schools.

"I am fascinated by the seeds of courage and determination that spurred a school district to make an unprecedented commitment to the education of black males, the study's author, Vajra Watson, director of research and policy for equity at UC Davis, wrote in the report.

The 79-page report is heavy on narrative storytelling and light on statistics, and includes contributions from several members of the Oakland district's Office of African-American Male Achievement.

Oakland was the first district in the country to create a department dedicated to black male students. The effort has sparked similar efforts in other urban districts, including Minneapolis, and attracted the attention of the White House.

Soon after President Obama Barack Obama last year unveiled his racial justice initiative, "My Brother's Keeper," to help black and Latino males, the White House had staff on the ground in Oakland to take a firsthand look at their program.

During the program's infancy, Oakland was attracting a different kind of attention from the federal government. In 2012, The U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights developed a corrective action plan for the district, after finding that staff memberse had been disproportionately suspending black students for years.

The preceding civil rights probe was the result of an Obama administration pledge to work on reducing the overrepresentation of some racial and ethnic groups in school discipline cases.

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