Education Secretary Arne Duncan denounced the inequities in America’s schools cited in the U.S. Department of Education’s survey, Data Collection. Duncan: “The inequities are socially divisive, educationally unsound, morally bankrupt and economically self-destructive, adding, this must compel us to act.” This is an apt description of continuing race-based (racist) disparities in schools, but neither Duncan nor the report offer an explanation for the stark disparities between Black students and almost all other students. The explanation is racism.
One of the report’s findings will surprise even hardened pundits. Most of the nation’s schools offer only part-time pre-school programs. And although Black students account for less than a fifth of those in pre-school, they make up almost h almost half of the students suspended from pre-school multiple times!
We may understand the race-based derivation of education disparities and are tired of research that confirms the obvious but must realize the value of education research requires it take into account causal factors and potential solutions.
Here are some current factors that contribute to race-based inequities in public education: Last year, Black students nationwide were expelled at triple the rate of their white peers. Five-percent of whites were suspended compared to 16% of Black students. Black girls were suspended at the rate of twelve-percent—far greater than girls of any other race or ethnicity. Students of color have less access to experienced teachers. Most of these students are stuck in schools with the most new teachers and many Black students attend schools where as many as twenty-percent of teachers do not meet license or certification requirements. One in four school districts pay teachers in less-diverse high schools $5000 more than teachers in schools with higher Black and Latino enrollment.
Such discrimination lowers academic performance for minority students, especially Blacks, putting them at greater risk of becoming drop outs. The new research also shows the failure of decades of legal and political efforts to ensure equal rights in education. The Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling banned school segregation and affirmed the right to quality education for all children. The 1964 Civil Rights Act guarantees equal access to education. Neither has lived up to its promise.
Daria Hall, K-12 policy director at the Education Trust said the Collection Data survey confirmed that students of color get less than their fair share of access to in-school factors that matter for achievement. She said, “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 some current efforts to address the host of well-known race-based inequities: Common Core standards, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and My Brother’s Keeper are in first stage implementation.
Common Core is a nationwide initiative to standardize curriculum and instruction in mathematics and language arts in public schools. I described Common Core in a previous column as both a challenge and promise; 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 the President’s initiative that focuses on young Black men and boys. It also includes Latinos and Asians—which means funding and other resources must be equitable, not equal, because equal means Black students receive the same amount of funding as all others. Since their needs are frequently substantially greater than other groups, funding should be commensurate with those needs.
The Local Control Funding Formula is a California legislative initiative that enables school districts, rather than the state, to receive and allocate funds to those schools most in need. Again, the concern is equity, i.e., school boards must allocate funds so that schools most in need receive more funds than others in order to actually meet their needs. Schools with substantially Black student population in the Los Angeles Unified School District are without question among those most in need and Black parents and school communities must constantly demand equitable funding for their schools.
Given race-based (racist) inequities, solutions must also be tied directly to the needs of students, Blacks especially, because they are the most victimized. Of course, solutions are extremely difficult to come by and public education was not designed to address the needs of Black children. The chief goal is for the community and Black leadership to come together and work collaboratively with allies to exert sustainable pressure that eventually results in policy and practices that improves out comes for all students, Black students, especially, because they are among those most in need. This is a daunting but inescapable challenge.