Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name



Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Gerald Oglan


African American male students begin experiencing failure when they enter fourth grade. At this grade, the curriculum becomes more focused, students are expected to complete high-stakes standardized tests, teachers become more distant, and students are expected to become independent learners. Many African American male students are not ready for this transformation. They may not have developed the reading skills needed to understand text books for social studies and science, and are deficient in regard to the math skills needed for problem solving. Understanding which factors are contributing to African American male student failure is important, especially in determining if these factors are consistent across the population or are specific to the student. An ethnographic qualitative study was used to determine how African American male children could avoid the fourth grade failure syndrome. Five African American males who were from 10 to 12 years of age participated in two interviews. They were asked the same set of questions to determine what types of reading materials they preferred, male role models in their lives that could be encouraging them to read, and reasons why they read. The boys preferred reading action adventure stories set in urban areas. They also like to read about sports. These topics had relevance to their lives. They felt that the teachers' assignments were not interesting, but they read them as part of their school work. The boys generally did not read for pleasure, but understood the importance of reading for the future and to stay out of jail. Based on the findings of this study, it appears that having a family who encourages academic success is necessary for African American boys to succeed in school and avoid fourth grade failure. The parents of the five boys were actively involved in their son's education. One of the boys was already focused on becoming an attorney and as a result was willing to read anything necessary to attain this goal. Teachers need to be aware of what the boys want to read to encourage them to read for pleasure.