Ronald Williams is a vice president of the College Board, which manages college entrance exams and works to improve academic achievement of poor and minority students.

The plight of minority males in the nation's educational system really hit home with Ronald Williams, an accomplished and longtime educator/administrator, in 2007.

"I was reading the Urban League's Book – they put out a book every year called the State of Black America… That year it was called, 'The Plight of the African American

Male.' I think it had 14 chapters in it," recalled Williams.

"The first chapter was depressing. The second chapter was sort of trauma inducing. The third chapter was mentally suicidal. And it just went on and on and on. I mean everything got worse. You looked at health, education, imprisonment, recidivism. You pick the topic, everything was falling apart in this community."

Williams thought that the College Board, a non-profit membership organization that administers the SAT, works with groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is headed by former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, might be able to use its "big voice" to draw attention to the issue.

In researching the issue further, Williams discovered that, "while African Americans are central to the conversation, they're not the only group. Latinos aren't that far behind in terms of the disabilities. I looked at the (American) Indian community, I saw the same thing. I looked at the Asian community and I saw that if you took out Chinese, Indians, Koreans and Japanese they had the same problems, Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asians."

Williams said those populations – largely ignored in America in the past -- cannot afford to be ignored by the country in the future.

"We've often ignored parts of our community. But for the first time in the history of this country we're going to have to figure out a way to develop all of the talent. And that's a problem because all of the talent now is different from all of the talent in 1950. All of the talent is becoming largely you," he told the three dozen participants at the Young Latino Male symposium.

He said the rapid growth of Latino population will only continue for decades to come.

"That's a critical issue. That's not guess work. These people are alive and they're in the society already. They're just going to come through the pipeline. So the question is what does this society do with them? Does it allow them to lay fallow? Or does it allow them to grow so that they can become productivecitizens?"

Williams said America is at a crossroads, not sure how to deal with these growing populations.

"Those are the populations that are growing and also the populations that we haven't done to well by. We haven't figured out how yet educate them. And as a result of not figuring out how to educate them, we've created conditions within which they fail. At least fail according to our standards."

Williams said in order for Latinos to get these education issues addressed, they'll have to address other issues like political empowerment.

"In my experience, nobody solves your problems for you until you raise some hell…It's you own hell that you raise that then actually gets people to pay attention. It seems to me that you've got to create the energy within the group to do that, to raise the visibility of the particular problems that we've got."

In a comparison of the academic achievement of 30 top countries in the industrialized world, "data suggest that the United States is losing ground. What's hidden in the data is that it's the change in population that's causing us to lose ground. The white population is still competing fairly well internationally. If you desegregate the data, it's actually the Latino population and the black population that actually creates the issue."

"People are beginning to understand that. They're beginning to understand that unless we can fix that problem, the United States as a whole will decline. No ifs, ands or buts, it will decline."

For Latinos, lack of education will translate into lack of job opportunities, Williams said.

"We've exported all the jobs that actually you can use your body to do…The jobs that are growing are the jobs that demand your mind."

The good news, Williams said, is that "if you look at the last couple of years, we've actually seen tremendous increases in fulltime freshman enrollment in schools, colleges and so on. The good news here is the percentage. The bad news is, of course, with the base from where you start."

But "the killer," Williams said, was a few years ago when he heard the terms "prison pipeline" for the first time.

"I understood what it meant but I tried to figure out what actually the pipeline was. What was weird to me was that kids knew the expression. The 15 and 16 year-olds understood the expression. They used it because they saw school as a mechanism not for getting them to college but getting them to prison. Fifteen-year-olds were thinking that."

In deconstructing that thinking, Williams started by noting the different behaviors between girls and boys in elementary school where 82 percent of the country's teachers are women.

"They have different expectations from men in the classroom. As a result of that differentiated expectation, boys' behavior tends to be seen as disruptive. Well, disruptive behavior gets you kicked out of a classroom. Being kicked out of the classroom stops your education, right? This issue is not inconsequential…because here's where it leads: you get suspended enough you figure it's not so bad being in the streets. Then they decide to make the street not the exceptional day but the normal day, so the drop out numbers are horrific."

So the good news that more Latinos and African Americans are enrolling as freshmen in college is tempered by these statistics: "Hispanic males are eight percent of the population, you're 22.2 percent of the prison population. African Americans are even worse off. They're seven percent of the population and they're 42 percent of the prison population."

"That's bad enough. Here's the worse news. Once you go in, it's damn near impossible to get out. The recidivism rate is about 65 percent within three years. So you get in, you're in. You will be rearrested within three years at the rate of I think over 70 percent and you'll become convicted at a rate of about 60 to 65 percent."

Williams said the solutions are not simple and are multi-faceted. "Can education alone be the answer?" he asked. No, he said adding that in the Latino community solution

could necessitate attacking poverty, lack of access to resources and lack of access to information.

And for Latino males, the issue is still about getting noticed.

"Forty years ago women complained that if they were raising their hands in the classroom, they were ignored…Now it's flipped around. Boys are complaining about the same thing, that they are largely ignored in the society."

Williams said he was trying to launch a study on young males' plight in education and went to seek Congressional support for the concept.

"I remember the first Congressman's staff to whom I spoke said to me, 'We've got a problem. The Congressman talks about women's issues. I mean that's his wheel house. How are we going to get him to talk about men's issues without people perceiving him as having shifted away from the women's issues?' That's a huge political question."

In closing, Williams said in order for change to occur, "It's absolutely critical that activism be part of the conversation. Not simply research, not simply the cool reflective sort of look at the statistics. I don't know any power that relinquishes power without the challenge. There is legitimacy in reacting badly to being exploited which I think our populations are right now."

Discussion/questions from participants

QUESTION:

Could you please tell us a little bit about the goal of advocacy and the role that you believe the College Board should play in addressing this question?

WILLIAMS:

"In the last year, we've (established)…the Policy and Advocacy Center. Gates

funded it with $3.5 million to get it off the ground. We subsumed under the center a number of projects that already existed and now we're growing other projects out of it." Williams said projects include:

1. A major study of teachers "that I now want to link to the male issue."

2. A project to study whether privatization of prisons has reduced educational opportunities inside them for inmates.

3. A study of first and second-year students from the four underrepresented minority groups – African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders/Southeast Asians, "to hear in their own voices the problems that they perceive. Then we want to contrast that with what schools are defining is the problem and their reactions to the problem…Then we want to use those conversations to drive a set of policy conversations in K-12 and in higher ed."

4. A literary review that will publish "everything that has been done in the area, all four groups."

5. A project to assist students to transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions.