Blog: Latino Ed Beat

UCLA Study Offers ‘Counter Narrative’ on Black, Latino Male Achievement

News stories often state that black and Latino males have lower test scores and graduation rates than their white and Asian peers, that they’re more likely to be disciplined in school and be incarcerated. UCLA professor Tyrone Howard decided to produce a report that offers a different perspective. 

“Countless accounts of these young men have been framed around a plea for help,” says Howard in the report, “A Counter Narrative: Reframing Success of High Achieving Black and Latino Males in Los Angeles County.” Howard, who also directs the university’s Black Male Institute, seeks to humanize this group by giving voice to their dreams and aspirations with a goal “to keep these young men alive, honor their youthfulness, and provide the environment to help them thrive and grow.”

Howard and team interviewed 201 black and Latino high-school aged males at seven schools is the Los Angeles area. The teens had a 2.5 GPA or higher and were identified by their teachers as having exhibited talent, leadership or resilience in school. When asked to define themselves, the most commonly used word was “hardworking.”

The young men who were interviewed often attributed their successes to school personnel, such as caring teachers and role models, as well as rigorous and responsive teaching practices in the classroom. School-based organizations like sports or community programs also made an impact, and many also reported having significant support and encouragement in the home. 

One of the students involved in this study, Martin Capuchino, told the Los Angeles Times that when he was a freshman in high school, his father, an immigrant from Mexico, enrolled him and his brothers in Upward Bound, a program that provides tutoring and college prep services for disadvantaged students. 

Capuchino, now 19 and a sophomore at UCLA, said his father’s insistence that education come first, seeing his brothers go to college and a teacher who encouraged him to be active contributed to his success. 

Another Latino student identified as Alex told researchers his parents’ immigration story pushed him to succeed because he wanted to live up to their hopes for a better life for him and his siblings.

“They gave up their whole life… so I can’t throw it away here,” he said.

“In their responses we can see caring young men who put forth consistent efforts to be the best that they could within their respective families, schools and communities,” says Howard in a news release. “Their words paint a picture of their humanity that we should all see. They are impressive, and a counter to the fear, misunderstanding, and ignorance that exists about young men of color.”

“A Counter Narrative” offers multiple suggestions for schools based on the responses of the black and Latino males studied. Among these were recommendations that school administrators and staff make an effort to learn about students’ cultural backgrounds and home situations in order to understand students beyond the classroom and that they develop a school culture of academic success. Educators should also challenge “traditional notions of masculinity” and stereotypes and rethink the definition of success.

Howard’s final recommendation is for schools to rethink how they measure success.

While many of the young men in our study held grade point averages that were 3.0 and above, not all did. While many of the young men in the study were taking rigorous college preparatory courses, not all did. Nonetheless, what became quite clear in this work was that success needs to be reimagined in schools. All of the young men in this study showed uncanny promise and leadership, participated in extracurricular activities, helped their peers at school, and demonstrated success in a multitude of ways. Moreover, it is important for schools to help personnel see the numerous ways that many young men of color manifest their brilliance, intellect, and promise.