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Public education’s criminal neglect of Black students, especially Black males, is a recurrent subject of this column. Locally, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), among others, continues to fail these students, who are mostly poor and live in the inner city. LAUSD’s pronouncements of concern for these students evaporate in the face of its systemic indifference, virtually ensuring that Black students languish at the lowest achievement levels.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) promises to focus on the specific needs of Black children, albeit they are a small percentage of the Latino student population. Hopefully, PLAS will improve the quality of education for Black students.
LAUSD policy has never focused on Black students; its inequitable standards and resource allocation are the norm and students most in need are always on the short end. Although always cellar dwellers, Black students receive even less attention now because of demographic changes, but deserve more attention and resources than ever.
The Schott for Public Education for over five-years, has tracked the performance of Black male students in public education throughout the nation. It recently released, “Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50-State Report on Public Education and Black Males.” The report details the drastic range of outcomes for Black males, especially their tragic plight in most of the nation’s largest cities. Is
Past efforts by the Schott Foundation were designed to raise the nation’s consciousness about the critical education issues affecting Black males; low education rates, high rates of placement in special education, the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions, etc.
This report documents that states and most school districts with large Black enrollments educate their White children, but do not educate the majority of Black males. Key examples: More than half of Black males did not receive diplomas in 2005-2006; the state of New York has three of the ten districts with the lowest population rates for Black males; one million Black male students enrolled in the New York, Florida and Georgia public schools are twice as likely not to graduate with their class; Illinois and Wisconsin have nearly 40-point gaps between how effectively they educate their Black and White male students. “These trends, and others, are evidence of a school-age population that is substantially denied an opportunity to learn and of a nation at risk.”
Graduation rates are an indication of whether schools, districts and states are fulfilling their minimal responsibility of providing students with a K-12 education meeting local standards for a high school diploma. Out of school suspensions and expulsions effectively remove students from educational settings, very often resulting in “dropouts” before graduation. These are disproportionately given to Black males disproportionately limiting their educational opportunities.
Measures of educational achievement: In opportunity to learn measures in Special Education classifications and school discipline rates and the percentage of students classified as mentally retarded or gifted, vary significantly from district-to-district, state-to-state and within districts and states for various ethnic groups and by gender. Patterns of disproportionality show that Black males are restricted from opportunities to participate in the general education program on the one hand, and from enriched gifted and talented programs, on the other. Advanced Placement enrollments indicate similar inequities.
Black male students in California graduated at higher rates (54 percent) in 2005-2006 than the national average, while White male students graduated at approximately the same rate as the national average. The three school districts in the state which enroll approximately 10,000 Black male students or more have lower graduation rates for those students than the state average-varying narrowingly from 43 percent in Oakland and San Diego, to 41 percent for LAUSD.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade-4 reading results for California are below those for the nation as a whole for both Black and White male students: California Black males’ basic achievement level is 59 percent, nationally, 65 percent. At Grade 8, twice the proportion of California’s Black male students as compared to Whites read at less than the basic level. Black-White reading rates are similarly disparate.
Approximately 22 percent of California’s Black male students received out-of-school suspensions compared to 9 percent of the state’s White male students. Approximately one-third the percentage of Black male students were admitted to district Gifted and/or Talented Programs as while male students; nearly twice as many were classified as mentally retarded.
The Schott Foundation’s mission is to develop and strengthen a broad-based, representative movement to achieve fully resourced pre-K-12 schools. It believes quality public education provides not only the route out of poverty, but can dismantle structural racism and transform young lives.
It advocates broad collaboration to build public will that guarantees every child the right to high quality public education and fosters the growth of emerging leaders in traditionally underserved communities.
Hopefully, local school district, especially LAUSD, will also commit, in concrete ways, to provide quality education for all Black students.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail