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 X, James 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)
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:
Equality of Educational Opportunity: A 40-Year Retrospective, Adam Gamoran and Daniel A. Long
“Forty years on, the findings of the Coleman report hold up remarkably well, in some ways distressingly so.”
Report: U.S. should focus on equity in education, Valerie Strauss
Police in the Hallways, Kathleen Nolan
RESEARCH-BASED OPTIONS FOR EDUCATION POLICYMAKING: Common Core State Standards, William Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder (October 2012)
Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education, Michael Hour and Stuart W. Elliott, eds.
I just read and reviewed Hope against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children by Sarah Carr, to be released February 26, 2013. I urge you to pre-order it.
Books on education tend to be deeply misguided and self-promoting or trapped in the “miracle” school/ “no excuses” memes that also dominate flawed education reform.
Diane Ravitch’s recent and upcoming books as well as Kathleen Nolan’s Police in the Hallways are rare exceptions.
I am surprised, then, and eager to recommend Carr’s wonderful narrative of post-Katrina education reform in New Orleans, a crucible of the keynotes of the newest reform movement invested in charter schools and Teach for America.
If you are skeptical of the new reforms and frustrated with the status quo of public education’s failure to address children and neighborhoods most in need, Carr’s book is a perfect story of three people living the reality of both.
See an excerpt at The Atlantic: “The Real Reason More Low-Income Students Don’t Go to College”
While reading, I also compiled a companion reading list, below:
Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School, Kathleen Nolan
“More Challenges to Kirp’s ‘Miracle’ Narrative,” @ The Chalk Face, P. L. Thomas
“Final Words of Advice,” “Where Do We Go from Here?” Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)
Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom and “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit
“Murky Waters: The Education Debate in New Orleans,” Truthout, Adam Bessie and Dan Archer
“The Teaching Profession as a Service Industry,” Daily Censored, P. L. Thomas
“Is There a Christmas Miracle in School Reform Debate?” The Answer Sheet/The Washington Post, P. L. Thomas
“Unpacking TFA Support: Twisted Logic and Assumptions,” Schools Matter, P. L. Thomas
“Current Education Reform Perpetuating, Not Curbing, Inequity,” the becoming radical, P. L. Thomas
“Lessons from the Zombie Apocalypse,” the becoming radical, P. L. Thomas
“Reconsidering Education ‘Miracles,’” OpEdNews, P. L. Thomas
“The New Layoff Formula Project,” The Shanker Blog, Matthew Di Carlo
The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter Woodson
“Poor Teaching for Poor Children in the Name of Reform,” Education Week, Alfie Kohn
“The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching,” Phi Delta Kappan, Martin Haberman
“’They’re All Our Children,’” AlterNet, P. L. Thomas
De-Testing and De-Grading Schools: Authentic Alternatives to Accountability and Standardization
Joe Bower and P. L. Thomas, editors
Introduction by Alfie Kohn
Peter Lang USA
|Alfie Kohn||Introduction: “The Roots of Grades-and-Tests”|
Part I: Degrading Learning, Detesting Education: The Failure of High-Stake Accountability in Education
|Lisa Guisbond, Monty Neill, and Bob Schaeffer (FairTest.org)||Chapter One “NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What Can We Learn from this Policy Failure?”|
|Fernando F. Padró||Chapter Two “High-stakes Testing Assessment: The Deus Ex Machina of Quality in Education”|
|Anthony Cody||Chapter Three “Technocratic Groupthink Inflates the Testing Bubble”|
|Lawrence Baines and Rhonda Goolsby||Chapter Four “Mean Scores in a Mean World”|
|Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski||Chapter Five “Degrading Literacy: How New York State Tests Knowledge, Culture, and Critical Thinking”|
|Morna McDermott||Chapter Six “The aesthetics of social engineering: How high stakes testing dehumanizes/desensitizes education”|
|Richard Mora||Chapter Seven “Standardized Testing and Boredom at an Urban Middle School”|
|Brian Beabout and Andre Perry||Chapter Eight “Reconciling Student Outcomes and Community Self-Reliance in Modern School Reform Contexts”|
|David Bolton and John Elmore||Chapter Nine “The Role of Assessment in Empowering/ Disempowering Students in the Critical Pedagogy Classroom”|
|Part II: De-Grading and De-Testing in a Time of High-Stakes Education Reform|
|Alfie Kohn||Chapter Ten “The Case Against Grade”|
|Joe Bower||Chapter Eleven “Reduced to Numbers: From Concealing to Revealing Learning”|
|John Hoben||Chapter Twelve “Assessment Technologies as Wounding Machines: Abjection, the Imagination and Grading”|
|Peter DeWitt||Chapter Thirteen “No Testing Week: Focusing on Creativity in the Classroom”|
|Hadley Ferguson||Chapter Fourteen “Creating an Ungraded Classroom”|
|James Webber and Maja Wilson||Chapter Fifteen “’Parents Just Want to Know the Grade': Or Do They?”|
|P. L. Thomas||Chapter Sixteen “De-grading Writing Instruction in a Time of High-stakes Testing: The Power of Feedback in Workshop”|
|Brian Rhode||Chapter Seventeen “Demoralizing, Disengaging, Non-Actualizing Education”|
|Lisa William-White||Conclusion “Striving Towards Authentic Teaching for Social Justice”|
A half century seems to be a significant amount of time for change, but Minnijean Brown Trickey’s visit to Little Rock Central High School fifty years after the federal government had to monitor her and eight other African American students entering public school shows that much more time is needed. Felicia Lee captured Trickey’s experience, documented in the HBO film Little Rock Central: Fifty Years Later:
On a recent visit to Central High, Ms. Trickey spoke to a self-segregated classroom: whites on one side, blacks on the other. An African-American student apparently dozed as she spoke. Students and teachers alike spoke blithely or painfully of the low educational aspirations and achievements of too many black students. Central, many said, is now two schools in one: a poor, demoralized black majority and a high achieving, affluent white minority.
Public schools in the U.S., like Little Rock Central, are a snapshot of racial and economic inequity. While the landmark Brown v. the Board of Educationin 1954 ended de jure segregation, the South struggled with school integration well into the 1970s.
Yet, Little Rock Central is not unique to the lingering racial and economic inequities found in schools—including children of color, children from poverty, ELL, and special needs students being assigned un-/under-certified and inexperienced teachers, receiving highly scripted test-prep instruction, and enduring authoritarian “zero tolerance” discipline policies. Children of color and children from poverty also experience the within-school segregation highlighted by Little Rock Central: Fifty Years Later: White and affluent students dominate selective tracks of classes (such as Advanced Placement), and white and African American students self-segregate in class, the lunchroom, and social settings.
Many of these issues of social and educational inequity receive some political and public consideration, but one aspect of inequity remains ignored: The rise of de facto educational segregation, notably in the South.
The Re-segregated South
Race has historically been central to both how the South is defined as well as the social tensions of the region. In a 2012 report for The Civil Rights Project, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley and Erica Frankenberg note that the twenty-first century has revealed a South in which “black and Latino students account for about half of the region’s students, while whites constitute a minority.”
According to data drawn from a larger report, E Pluribus…Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students, the racial dynamics of the South include two powerful elements, as Siegel-Hawley and Frankenberg, focusing on the South, detail:
• The South is a majority-minority region in terms of its school enrollment, second only to the West as the most diverse in the country. At more than 15 million students, the South has, by far, the largest enrollment of any region. Southern students make up almost a third of the national enrollment (32% of all students).
• Latino students account for nearly the same share (23.4%) of the region’s enrollment as black students (25.9%). At 46.9%, whites now constitute a minority of students in the South.
While the South has historically been an impoverished region of the U.S., the racial shifts experienced by the region amplify the problems already faced by public schools disproportionately burdened by the impact of poverty on student outcomes as well as fully funding education. Racial and economic factors are difficult to separate in the South, but the rise in populations of Latino students adds challenges associated with language acquisition to the systemic struggles fueled by racial tensions in the South.
During the most recent era of school accountability, begun in the early 1980s and intensified in 2001 with the implementation of No Child Behind (which specifically charged public schools with documenting and addressing racial gaps in achievement), however, achievement gaps and drop-out rates, for example, remain seemingly entrenched in public education. One other reality of the last three to four decades is that schools are re-segregating:
• Since 1991, black students in the South have become increasingly concentrated in intensely segregated minority schools (defined as 90-100% minority students). This represents a significant setback. Though for decades Southern black students were more integrated than their peers in other parts of the country, by 2009-10 the share of Southern black students enrolled in intensely segregated minority schools (33.4%) was fast closing in on the national figure (38.1%). By comparison, in 1980, just 23% of black students in the South attended intensely segregated schools.
• For the last four decades, contact between black and white students has declined in virtually all Southern states. In schools across the region, white students make up 30% or less of the enrollment in the school of the typical black student for the first time since racial statistics pertaining to schools were collected by the federal government.
• Most of the largest Southern metro areas also report declining black-white exposure. The Raleigh, NC metro had the highest black-white contact although this too has fallen in recent years. In 2009, the typical black student in the metro went to a school where whites accounted for about 45% of their peers, compared to about 54% in 2002).
• In 2009, black-white exposure in the metropolitan area of Raleigh was relatively similar to the overall white percentage in the metro (54%)–indicating fairly stable levels of desegregation. Future enrollment data for the Raleigh metro should be closely monitored to ascertain the impact of recent policy changes to the district’s voluntary integration policy.
• Two metros, Memphis, TN and Miami, FL, had the lowest exposure of black students to white students in 2009, under 15%.
The South is no longer a racial dichotomy between black and white; Latino students now share the inequities found among African Americans:
• The share of Latino students attending intensely segregated minority schools has increased steadily over the past four decades from 33.7% in 1968 to 43.1% in 2009; presently more than two out of five Latino students in the South attend intensely segregated settings.
•At the metropolitan level, Latino-white exposure is higher than black-white exposure across many major Southern metro areas. This is particularly true in Southern metros outside of Texas (where, in general, the lowest exposure between Latino and white students occurred).
• For example, Atlanta has a growing Latino student population, now comprising 13% of all students. As their share of enrollment has grown, Latino exposure to whites has fallen substantially—by nearly ten percentage points since 2002. Yet, Latino students in the Atlanta area still have higher exposure to white students (29.8%) than their black peers (20.3%).
• In ten Southern metros, the typical Latino attends a school where at least 40% of students are white. By comparison, only in the Raleigh metro did black students experience similarly high levels of exposure to white students.
Among black, white, and Latino students, social and educational inequity defines access to education (schools remain reflections of racially and economically stratified communities):
• Black students experience the highest levels of exposure to poverty in nearly every Southern state. (This is different from the rest of the U.S., where Latino students experience higher average exposure to poverty.)
• Virginia, with the lowest share of student poverty in the South, also reports the lowest black exposure to poor students. Even then, almost 50% of students in the school of the typical black student in Virginia are low-income, considerably higher than the state’s share of low-income students (36.8%).
• Stark differences in exposure to poverty for white students, as compared to black and Latino students, exist in virtually every Southern and Border metropolitan area.
• In three Border metros, the typical white student attended a school with less than 30% poor students, and the typical black student attended a school with more than 60% of students from households at or near the poverty line.
The re-segregation of the South should raise essential questions about education reform: How are current reform policies addressing racial and economic inequity? And how are those reforms impacting re-segregation?
Current Education Reform Perpetuating, Not Curbing, Inequity
The current education reform era remains committed to seeking new standards (currently a push for national standards, the Common Core), aligning tests to those standards and then linking those test scores to teacher evaluations, expanding commitments to charter schools, and infusing the teaching core with inexperienced and uncertified Teach for America recruits.
While the education reform movement has ignored that test-based accountability has failed to raise student outcomes, close achievement gaps, increase graduation rates, or boost international comparisons of U.S. schools, the test-based and “no excuses” reform paradigm proves to be even a greater failure when measured against goals committed to equity, as the reports from The Civil Rights Project highlight.
Changing standards ignores that children in poverty and children of color tend to experience test-prep courses regardless of the standards, and thus receive a reduced educational experience when compared to middle-class and affluent (and disproportionately white) students. If education reform were committed to equity, public schools would insure that all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status, would receive rich and engaging educations.
Increasing the amount of testing and the stakes associated with that testing (for both students and teachers) ignores that standardized testing remains more closely linked with the child’s home status than with the child’s learning or their teachers’ effectiveness. If education reform were committed to equity, high-stakes standardized testing and using test scores to label and rank students and teachers would be completely eliminated. Test-driven education stratifies students by race and socio-economic status, discourages teachers from seeking opportunities to work with high-needs students, and misrepresents school quality (see the historical failure of relying on the SAT, for example.)
Charter schools are not producing outcomes superior to public (or private) schools, but charter schools (such as KIPP) are stratifying (re-segregating) schools and focusing education for children of color and children from poverty more on authoritarian discipline policies and test-prep than rich experiences being experienced by their more affluent (and white) peers. If education reform were committed to equity, children of color and children from poverty would be provided public education that mirrors the education being experienced by affluent whites; instead, charter schools are segregated and “no excuses” environments designed for “other people’s children.”
Funding and expanding TFA candidates in high-poverty and high-minority schools ignores that the single greatest inequity experienced by children of color and children from poverty is being assigned un-/under-certified and inexperienced teachers. If education reform were committed to equity, education reform would abandon test-based teacher evaluations as well as supporting TFA, and instead would insure equity of teacher assignment for all students while also acknowledging the importance of experience and expertise for teachers.
Focusing on school-only reform (the tenet of “no excuses” school reform) ignores the corrosive power of poverty. If education reform were committed to equity, education reform would be supported by social reform that acknowledges recent findings on the stress of poverty and child cognition: “These results suggest that prenatal stress may play a role in the intergenerational persistence of poverty.” Poverty is the result of inequity, and schools too often reflect that inequity and thus cannot then raise students out of that poverty.
The bi-partisan test-based accountability movement, driven by a “no excuses” ideology, is deaf and blind to the social and educational inequity of their policies.
Little Rock Central, half a century after segregation was declared over, remains a haunting legacy of how much further society and U.S. schools need to go:
“Central is still pretty segregated,” Brandon Love, the affluent student body president who is the only black person in his Advanced Placement classes, says in the film. “It is just that we do not have to have the National Guard here to get in the school and to go to school.”
The South is currently a bitter pill to swallow in the war on inequity. The South, again, is also a stark message for the entire country: Inequity stains the lives and learning of American children.
The commitments of education reform are perpetuating those inequities, not overcoming them. The segregated South has risen again, and education reform deserves a significant part of the blame.