“A Separate and Unequal Education System” 2013

The Education Trust-West has released At a Crossroads: A Comprehensive Picture of How African-American Youth Fare in Los Angeles County Schools (February 2013), highlighting:

Nearly 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, too many of California’s African-American students languish in a separate and unequal education system. If current trends continue, only 1 in 20 of today’s African-American kindergartners will go on to graduate from high school and complete a degree at a four-year California university. Indeed, on nearly every measure of educational opportunity, the dream of equal access to a high-quality education is not a reality for African-American students and their families in California. (p. 1)

Despite almost 60 years since desegregation of schools and almost 50 years since the Civil Rights Era in the U.S., the racial and socioeconomic inequities confronted by Malcolm XJames Baldwin, and Martin Luther King Jr. remain persistent in our society and schools in 2013. While educational outcomes such as test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, and college completion present often cited achievement gaps that must not be ignored, much less attention is paid to the powerful and corrosive inequity of opportunity that still exists between African-American children and children of other races, as detailed in the ET-W report on Los Angeles.

African Americans have experienced a decline in their relative status as a minority race, as well as continued to experience socioeconomic inequity, but African-American students also disproportionately find themselves in either inequitable public school settings or charter schools, which also tend to segregate students:

African-American students used to be the third largest subgroup in L.A. County, making up about 12 percent of the student population in 1994. During the past two decades (from 1994 to 2011), however, the African-American population has been on the decline and is now only slightly larger than the Asian student population. Currently, 9 percent of students are African Americans and nearly three-quarters of these students are socioeconomically disadvantaged…. Of the African-American students enrolled in the public school system in L.A. County, the vast majority attend traditional public K-12 schools (94 percent), with the remaining 6 percent attending alternative schools of choice or continuation schools. Nearly 1 out of 6 (15 percent) attends one of L.A. County’s more than 300 charter schools, almost twice the rate of students overall. (p. 2)

One failure of the current education reform movement is focusing almost exclusively on in-school variables as well as school-related outcomes. For African-American students specifically, access to opportunities are a better place to look. Schools tend to mirror and replicate the inequity of the neighborhoods they serve; thus, “doubly disadvantaged” students from high-poverty homes and communities produce outcomes that represent the inequity of opportunity they face in the lives and schools—more so than their quality as students:

At the middle and high school levels, rates of participation and proficiency in math courses provide signals about college eligibility and readiness. Algebra I is a “gatekeeper” course for higher level math classes that students need to become eligible for admission to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Yet Algebra I is effectively closed to many African-American middle school students in L.A. County. Only 60 percent of African-American students took Algebra I in the eighth grade in 2011-12. (p. 3)

For African-American students, separate-but-unequal persists, manifested in tracking and school-within-schools whereby race and class determine whether or not students enter Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses as opposed to test-prep courses focusing on remediation and high-stakes accountability tests:

Unfortunately, African-American students in L.A. County graduate from high school at lower rates, are less likely to complete rigorous coursework while in high school, and are less ready for college-level coursework than their white peers. For every 100 African-American students who walk into a ninth-grade classroom in L.A. County, only 63 students leave high school four years later with a diploma in hand, and just 20 of them have completed the A-G course sequence that makes them eligible to attend a four-year public university in California. The outcomes are even worse for African-American male students: for every 100 African-American male students who enter ninth grade, just 58 graduate on time, and only 15 complete the A-G course sequence…. L.A. County high schools continue their practice of systematic tracking, whereby low-income students and students of color receive less rigorous coursework. For example, although African-American students make up 9 percent of L.A. County’s population, only 6 percent of students taking one or more Advanced Placement (AP) courses are African American….On the other hand, 22 percent of students taking at least one AP course are white, though they make up a smaller share of the overall student population. (p. 5)

If college readiness and college attendance/completion are genuine goals for all U.S. students regardless of background or race, then the gaps that remain in these goals must be traced back to the cumulative effect of access gaps existing in African-American children’s lives from birth and throughout their schooling:

The latest results reveal that the vast majority of African-American 11th-graders in L.A. County lack the skills necessary for college-level English and math work. In contrast, white students in L.A. County are three times more likely to be “ready for college-level work” in English and math…. 2 out of 5 African-American ninth-graders go to college five years later, lagging behind the rates of their white and Asian peers by 20 percentage points to more than 30 percentage points. (p. 6)

Inequity of educational opportunities for African-American students is paralleled by inequitable discipline policies and outcomes, including race-based inequities of the criminal justice system beyond the walls of schools. As Kathleen Nolan and Sarah Carr have shown, zero tolerance and no-excuses policies feed the school-to-prison pipeline and create schools-as-prisons:

Across California, nearly 1 out of every 5 African-American students (18 percent) was suspended at least one time, compared with 1 in 17 white students (6 percent). Suspension rates are slightly lower in L.A. County than the state average, but large gaps still exist: 15 percent of African-American students were suspended at least once, compared with 4 percent of white students…. The California Department of Justice reports that in L.A. County a much larger share of African-American students are arrested for felony charges than white students. Specifically, for every 1,000 youth ages 10-17, 38 African-American juveniles are arrested for felonies, as compared with 7 white youth. (p. 7)

While the education reform movement has argued that teacher quality drives student outcomes—an inaccurate claim—almost no attention has been paid to the inequitable distribution of teacher assignments that disadvantage students of color, ELL students, and special needs students:

These inequitable and often dismal outcomes are the result of many factors. In fact, this educational inequity is set in motion prior to elementary school. African-American children are more likely to grow up in poverty and enter school with critical educational disadvantages…. African-American children are less likely to access preschool than white children; and when they do, they are less likely to be taught by well-prepared teachers. In L.A. County, 59 percent of African-American three and four-year olds attend preschool, compared with 69 percent of white children. Across the state, just 13 percent of African-American children are estimated to be in preschool classrooms in which the lead teacher has at least an associate’s degree in early childhood education, compared with 41 percent for white and 42 percent for Asian children. (p. 8)

These inequities remain embedded in the rise of segregated schools in both traditional public schools and charter schools:

Although African Americans comprise a small percentage of the student population in L.A. County, they often attend schools where they are substantially overrepresented and that are intensely segregated (defined as schools where more than 90 percent of students come from underrepresented minority backgrounds)…. Research demonstrates that African-American students in high-poverty, high-minority schools receive less of everything we know matters most in education—from effective teachers and resources to sufficient interventions and supports. Students in intensely segregated schools are almost three times as likely to have a teacher lacking full qualifications than students attending majority white and Asian schools. And our own research finds that African-American students in LAUSD are less likely to be taught by highly effective teachers than their white or Asian peers. Such segregated schools often suffer from overcrowding, which creates unsafe and ineffective learning environments. (pp. 8-9)

Claims of a post-racial America, a meritocracy whereby each person’s success is the result of her or his “grit” are both factually untrue and terribly misleading as a message for children. The ET-W report ends with a sobering message:

More than 135,000 African-American students go to school in Los Angeles County, and far too many of these children and youth are underserved. Even before starting kindergarten, they are often disadvantaged by poverty, access to quality preschool, and a host of other factors. When they do enter the education system, they too frequently face school segregation, low academic expectations, insufficient resources, minimal educational and socioemotional supports that fail to leverage the assets they bring, and—dare we say it—racism that manifests itself in the form of over-identification for special education and more frequent suspension and expulsion, particularly among African-American male students. (p. 13)

Along with the ET-W report, I recommend some related reading:

“The Real Reason More Low-Income Students Don’t Go to College,” Sarah Carr

“The Fight for Accountability Continues for Trayvon Martin’s Family”

“Parents reflect: Trayvon Martin’s death is ‘lodged deep in our psyches'”

“School Police and Principals Forced to Undergo Trainings in Implicit Racism”

“Handcuffing and Interrogating a 7-Year-Old? The Police State Crashes Into America’s Schools”

“Black students’ learning gaps start early, report says”

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3 thoughts on ““A Separate and Unequal Education System” 2013

  1. Pingback: “The Poor Are Too Free”?: Unlocking the Middle-Class Code | the becoming radical
  2. Pingback: Social Justice? – SCHOOLS MATTER @ THE CHALK FACE
  3. Pingback: James Baldwin (Aug. 2, 1924 – Dec. 1, 1987) | the becoming radical

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