In California, the talk among K-12 public school parents and concerned others is about more money being available for school districts, accountability for improving educational outcomes for the lowest achieving students and Common Core. (There is no mandatory plan to prepare low- achieving students for the more rigorous Common Core standards. Without such preparation, Common Core will likely harm, not benefit these students.)
Efforts to improve the performance of Black students and other low-achieving students have been basically experimental. (The Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) efforts lacked sufficient leadership, political will and adequate resources. In other words, they were not and could not be successful.)
Last year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan denounced the inequities in America’s schools cited in the U.S. Department of Education survey “Data Collection”. He said, “The inequities are socially divisive, educationally unsound, morally bankrupt and economically self-destructive……which must compel us to act.” This is an apt description of continuing race-based disparities in the schools but neither Duncan nor the report elaborated on the reasons for the stark disparities between Black students and almost all other students. The fundamental reason is racism.
One of the survey’s findings should surprise even hardened education pundits: Most of the nation’s schools offer only part-time pre-school programs. Although Black students account less than one-fifth of those in pre-school, they make up almost half of students suspended from pre-school multiple times!
The race-based derivation of disparities in educational outcomes are known but rarely given proper weight. Research on these disparities confirms the obvious but does not address sustainable solutions. Parents, educators and concerned others should insist that to be of value, education research must take into account causal factors. Currently, factors reflecting race-based inequities in schools include the following: Black students nationwide are expelled at triple the rate of their white peers; five-percent of whites were suspended compared to 16% of Black student; Black girls are suspended at the rate of twelve-percent—far greater than girls of any other race or ethnicity and students of color have less access to experienced teachers. Most of these students are stuck in schools that have the most new teachers and countless Black students attend schools where as many as twenty-percent of the teachers do not meet license or certification requirements and one in four school districts pay teachers in mostly white high schools $5000 more than teachers in schools with higher Black and Latino enrollment.
Obviously, such discrimination lowers academic performance for students of color, especially Blacks, putting them at greater risk of becoming dropouts. Recent research also shows the failure of decades of legal and political efforts to ensure equal rights in education for minority students. Brown v. Board of Education banned school segregation and affirmed the right to quality education for all children; the Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal access to education. However, neither has lived up to its promise.
The policy director for K-12 at the Education Trust said the Data Collection survey confirmed that students of color get less than their fair share of in-school resources relevant for high achievement. “Students of color get less access to high-level courses. Black students in particular get less instructional time because they are far more likely to receive suspensions or expulsions.” Although 16% of America’s public school students are Black, they represent 27% of students referred by schools to law enforcement and 31% of students arrested for an offense committed in school.
The following are current initiatives to improve educational outcomes but do not appear to address well- known race-based inequities: Common Core standards, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and My Brother’s Keeper are still in first stage implementation. Common Core is a nationwide initiative to standardize curriculum and instruction in mathematics and language arts. In a previous column, I described Common Core as both a challenge and promise, i.e., unless Black students receive proper focus and equitable resources, Common Core could actually widen, not eliminate or reduce the achievement gap.
My Brother’s Keeper is President Obama’s initiative that focuses on young Black men and boys, but also includes Latinos and Asians. This is fine if funding and other resources are equitable, not equal. Equalmeans Black students receive the same amount of funding as all others. Since their needs are usually greater than other students’, funding must be adequate for their needs.
LCFF is a California initiative that enables schools districts, rather than the state, to allocate funds to schools most in need. Again, the concern is equity—school boards must allocate funds so that schools most in need actually receive sufficient funds to meet those needs. (Schools with a substantial Black student population in LAUSD are, without question, among those most in need and Black parents and local school communities must demand equitable funding and other resources for those schools.)
Given race-based inequities, solutions must be tied to the needs of Black students especially, because they are the most victimized. Also, keep in mind, solutions are even more difficult because public education in this country was not designed to address their needs. The Black community and its leadership must work collaboratively, with allies, to exert sustainable pressure for new policies and practices that actually improve the quality of education for Black students. This is a daunting but inescapable challenge.