Here’s What’s Holding Black Students Back from Pre-School Through College (LA Times, 10/24/15) addressed barriers that prevent Black students from receiving a quality education and the same barriers remain today. Removing these obstacles is of vital importance to Black children and the Black community. Excerpts from the story are presented here to help increase knowledge and understanding of factors that prevent Black students from succeeding in public schools.
One in five Black high school students in California drop out before they can graduate. And when do graduate, in California, they are also the least likely to graduate from community colleges, Cal State Universities or the University of California.
Why is this? Nationally, (in addition to race), many factors play a role in Black students’ performing below virtually all other students: Housing discrimination reinforces school segregation; there aren’t enough Black teachers; school administrators and public employees treat Black students differently. A report from the non-profit education advocacy group Education Trust-West tries to answer those questions. Its data show that at every benchmark in Black students’ lives, from pre-school through college, they face greater challenges than most of their peers. The report, called, “Black Minds Matter,” also includes examples of districts in the state that are addressing these issues with tangible results.
California is different from most states in that it serves many students of color, but most are Latino. Black K-12 public school students are only 6% of the state’s public school population. A third of those students are in Los Angeles County.
The challenges for Black students start at a young age. Their enrollment in preschool or kindergarten is the same as the statewide rate—60%. But that’s largely because Latino students have a lower pre-school and kindergarten enrollment and account for the majority of students. White and Asian students have better representation than Black and Latino students.
Early education is extremely hard to measure because most public school systems start in kindergarten and there is little regulation or definition of what counts as pre-school or pre-kindergarten. California is trying to improve access to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes by requiring districts to offer transitional kindergarten to students. Black students begin to face racism in the classroom that early. That persists throughout students’ education. Teacher discrimination is well documented. “One study found teachers more quickly develop negative responses to student behavior when those students are Black. Another, found teachers are more likely to suspend a student who conducts a minor offense by using a cell phone or violating the dress code, if that student is Black.”
“Structural racism is real, individual acts of racism are real,” said UCLA education professor Tyrone Howard. “That’s a problem the state’s educators need to face in order to create long-lasting improvement,” he said. Trauma is also an issue that affects students’ performance and disproportionately that of Black and Latino students, Howard added. And Black students in 7th, 9thand 11thgrades were more likely to feel unsafe at school, according to the report.
Although Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to end segregation in schools decades ago, schools around the country are highly segregated; California is no different.
Black students typically attend schools in which 69% of students are Black, Latino or Native-American. Compare that to a typical white student’s school where 38% of the students are Black, Latino or Native-American and the rest are white or Asian—the two ethnicities with the most access to schools in middle- and upper middle-class neighborhoods that better prepare them for the CSU and UC system, as a 2014 UCLA study notes. (No surprise), Black students in California are also more likely to attend schools with a large, low-income student population. Those schools have historically performed worse academically and have less access to high-level classes for students.
Despite California’s Local Control Funding Formula, meant to allocate resources to low-income students and underserved communities, schools in poorer areas have fewer sources of additional funds from resources like fund raisers and parent funding.
The Education Trust-West report highlights the Riverside Unified School District, which is still trying to address the lack of African American students meeting Cal State University and UC requirements by creating a mentorship program. Through the $250,000 annual program called the Heritage Plan, school counselors and teachers identify Black students in 10ththrough 12thgrades who could fulfill these requirements but aren’t on track, according to the district’s assistant superintendents. They notify the students and families of what needs to happen to meet those requirements and why it’s important, and offer mentorship and constant support through a teacher on each campus. “They have another adult on campus that is not assigning them a grade that they can go to for support or direction.” The plan started in the 2013-14 school year. About 900 Black students are in those grades and more than 500 participate.
In the 2010-11 school year, 25.8% of graduates in Riverside Unified completed their required college entrance requirements. In the 2013-14 school year, that had risen to 33.2%. There’s still a ways to go before they meet the rest of the district’s rate of 41%.
These facts are just a snapshot of systemic/ policy neglect and malfeasance that continues to harm Black students. They are often called failures, they are not. The basic problem is public education’s failure to meet its responsibility to educate them.