In case you didn’t hear, the Department of Education released a report that essentially told many of us what we already knew: inner city schools are in a bad state. Its Office of Civil Rights’ study on college and career readiness, discipline, school finance and student retention showed that minority children face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curriculum and are taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers.
It noted that while black males make up 18% of students, 35% were suspended once and 39% expelled. Students learning English were 6% of the survey sample, yet held back 12% of the time. It also noted that only 29% of schools with predominantly minority students offered calculus as opposed to 55% of schools with predominantly White populations.
Teachers at high-minority schools were paid $2,261 less a year than colleagues of same experience teaching in low minority schools in the same districts.
You don’t say.
The problems for these numbers have wider implication than just less college enrollment. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the school to prison pipeline for children of color begins with suspension and expulsion. As to what may be cases of excessive discipline, Duncan said he was not ready to immediately point to race as the root cause, but did call out ineffective teacher training and “how we handle how you can expel that child, call the police or figure out what’s happening in the child’s life.”
“There is a multitude of factors, Duncan said. “We are not attributing it to race. I’m much less interested in laying blame but how do we get better tomorrow. It is what it is. I think a lot of it was ignorance and people didn’t have access to some of this data. It’s about where do we go collectively to get a better outcome.”
The fact that there has been success in other areas with children for similar racial and socioeconomic background indicates that there is hope. In Chicago, for example, the city was able to triple the number of minorities taking AP classes and doubled the number passing AP exams. The difference, says Duncan, is access.
During a jam-packed event at Howard University recently, Duncan told the room full of reporters, educators and students that “President Obama has challenged all of us to lead the world with college graduates by 2020. But we cannot reach that goal unless educational opportunities are extended to everyone fairly and accurately.”
He added: “[T]his data represents a historic transformation for our country. For the first time we have this amazing level of transparency.”
But could the self-reported data, which came from a national survey of over 72,000 schools serving 85% of all students, be helpful in the upcoming Supreme Court affirmative action case? Data from studies have been essential to education and civil rights case law such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education.
With the Supreme Court poised to consider affirmative action this year, the data may be able to be used to show that inequities still exist – and those at the short end of the stick, more likely than not, are Black and Latino. Fisher v. University of Texas will present oral arguments from an appeal of a challenge to University of Texas’ affirmative action program by a White female student who claimed less qualified minorities were admitted instead of her.
Part of the solution may come from a suggestion that Howard University School of Education dean Dr. Leslie Fenwick suggested at a recent National Urban League “State of Black America” town hall. Fenwick suggested that training more teachers of color who teach at inner city schools may help.
There is now a virtual absence of teachers of color, though they existed plenty during segregation when “you had models of intellectual authority,” Fenwick said, adding that “today 73% of inner city teachers are white, 91% of teachers in urban centers are white, 68% of inner city principals is white while the majority American inner city students are Latinos and Whites.”
She noted that Black and Latino teachers are less likely to refer students of color to special education, more likely to be referred for gifted programs and students under their supervision are less likely to be suspended or expelled. More importantly, they are more likely to graduate in four years.
“This country needs to diversify its teaching force,” Fenwick said. “It has not en masse been cultivated by Black educational leadership.”
With record unemployment in the Black community, this seems like a no-brainer.