There has been plenty of chatter since last week’s release of the report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce declaring that there are 30 million “good jobs” for young men and women who don’t have a baccalaureate degree. Which sounds good on its face.
But a deeper look at the report offers another reason why school reformers must continue to push American public education to provide the college-preparatory education all children, especially the most-vulnerable, need so they can become part of the middle class and be successful in life.
Certainly the Georgetown report is correct in noting that there are still plenty of jobs paying that pay the kind of wages high school dropouts and graduates without some experience in traditional colleges, apprenticeships and technical schools need to become part of the nation’s middle class. This include jobs in traditional manufacturing sectors such as welding, machine tool-and-die making, and construction, as well as in service sector jobs such as nursing, computer service technicians, and bookkeepers.
The problem is that there are fewer of these jobs available in the first place. As the Georgetown team led by Anthony Carnevale admits, the percentage of $35,000-plus jobs held by dropouts and high school graduates without a baccalaureate declined by 25 percent (from 60 percent of jobs to 45 percent) between 1991 and 2015. There are also six million fewer jobs for them than there were 25 years ago, a 16.7 percent decline (from 36 million to 30 million) in that period.
The six decades-long decline in manufacturing and other traditional blue-collar fields, a trend that will continue into the future, is a major reason why so few jobs are available for dropouts and high school grads without higher education of some kind. Thanks in large part to advances in technology (including the increase in the number of robotics used to handle low-skilled jobs once done by people), those jobs aren’t coming back.
But the bigger reason lies in the reality that the jobs that pay middle-class wages require higher levels of education than dropout and high school grads without higher education have mastered.
Between 1996 and 2016, some 4.1 million jobs were gained by high school graduates with some form of higher education other than a baccalaureate, while dropouts and grads without higher education lost one million jobs. Because so many sectors require higher levels of knowledge (as well as at least 60 college credits), those who don’t finish high school or don’t gain some form of higher education lose out on brighter futures. This is especially true for healthcare, which accounted for more than a quarter of the jobs gained by high school grads with at least some higher education, and the financial services sector (which accounts for another quarter of those jobs).
Even traditional manufacturing has become a place where workers must have higher education. Machine tool-and-die work makers who work on computer numerical control machines, for example, must both have strong math skills and be well-versed in computer programming languages. With robots having an even greater presence than ever in factories, those working in them must master computer programming languages such as C in order to do their work.
Given that higher levels of education are necessary for attaining most jobs, it becomes clear that all children need high-quality college-preparatory education. Especially since the kind of high-level math and science skills needed for success in white collar jobs requiring baccalaureate and graduate degrees are also necessary for the new blue collar jobs that can only be gotten after attending tech schools, community colleges, and apprenticeship programs (which are often run by state universities and community college systems).
The need for college-preparatory education goes beyond the jobs of today. Thanks to other advances in technology, including the rise of artificial intelligence and automation of even tasks such as crafting basic legal documents, even jobs requiring baccalaureate and graduate degrees are at risk of disappearing in the coming decades. As seen in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report last February on the decline in the number of teens in the labor force, the lack of high-quality education for current generations of adults has led to them taking jobs flipping burgers and other work that used to be the domain of adolescents who, are in turn, are now focused more on greater educational attainment. [By the way: The need for teens to learn more is something lost on the likes of U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, who penned an op-ed this past weekend in the New York Times bemoaning their lack of summer employment.]
College-preparatory education is critical in providing children with the knowledge they can use in any job or career, helping them to remain employable for future challenges and remain employable no matter what happens. Even if they don’t choose to initially attend a traditional college after high school, the knowledge they learn will help them when they inevitably end up going to campus in order to find a career path more-suited to them.
But as Dropout Nation readers already know, the problem is that American public education does a poor job of preparing kids for success in adulthood. Seventy-fie percent of the nation’s 12th-graders tested below grade level (Below Basic and Basic) in math on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The numbers are even more bleak for children from poor and minority households. Ninety-six percent of Black high school seniors eligible for free- and reduced-priced lunch, along with 95 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native seniors, 92 percent of Latino 12th-graders, and 86 of poor White high school seniors scored below grade level.
The lack of preparation for higher education is why the percentage of Black adults with middle class jobs not requiring a baccalaureate barely budged (from nine percent to 11 percent) between 1991 and 2015, according to Georgetown, while the percentage of White adults holding such jobs declined by 16 percentage points over that same period.
The problem begins long before secondary education. As a team led by Amy Claessens of the University of Chicago determined in a study released two years ago on the effects of academic content on the learning of kindergartners, “all children benefit from exposure to advanced content in reading and mathematics”. In this case, advanced mathematics for kindergartners included advanced number concepts, and basic arithmetic such as addition and subtraction usually taught in first grade. Yet few children are provided high-quality content in math (as well as reading) in the early grades, ensuring that they will struggle academically by high school.
Continuing the overhaul of American public education, an effort complicated over the past couple of years by the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act and its evisceration of both accountability and the ability of the federal government to advance college-preparatory curricula standards, must be kept apace. It will take new approaches to make it happen.
Providing kids with college-prep curricula that aligns with Common Core reading and math standards is key to making the promise of high-quality content a reality. It is also about building upon efforts such as Project Bright Idea in North Carolina as well as the work of the St. Charles Parish district in Louisiana.The work of providing kids with high-quality education must begin early. This includes providing intensive math instruction, especially on helping kids understand that numbers represent quantities, as well as basic arithmetic, in kindergarten.
The work must accelerate, especially once kids get into secondary schools. This includes providing all middle schoolers with Algebra 1 as well as with statistics, both of which help them with the hard math work that will come. Continuing to expand access to Advance Placement courses in high schools to poor and minority students will also help. But as the Education Trust details in a report released last week, districts and other school operators must provide youth with the support they need, as well as streamline practices such as setting master schedules for schools, in order to help improve their achievement.
Meanwhile it is important to help kids understand the relevance of what they learn to what they will do in adulthood. This includes efforts such as the Minddrive program in Kansas City, Mo., which helps kids see the connections between math courses and real world activities through the uses of 3D modeling, trigonometry, and electrical engineering in designing and building cars. Adding such courses will even help kids who are focused primarily on attending traditional colleges and careers requiring baccalaureate degrees.
The Georgetown report is another reminder that providing all children with high-quality education is critical to helping them gain economically. We can’t afford to give them anything less.
On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle reviews College Board’s latest data on SAT performance and explains why this is one sign of the need to continue overhauling American public education.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean. A new Dropout Nation Podcast debuts this week.
There has been plenty of outcry since Wednesday over the Trump Administration’s move to ban transgendered Americans from serving or joining in the nation’s military. For good reason. Seventy years after President Harry Truman issued the executive order that desegregated the nation’s armed forces, the current occupant of the White House and his staff declared symbolically that the federal government will explicitly (and unconstitutionally_ promote discrimination against a group of taxpayers and citizens it is supposed to serve.
But for school reformers, the Trump Administration’s move is another reminder of the reality that they can no longer count on federal policymakers to aid their battle to build brighter futures for all children, especially the most-vulnerable.
This was clear to reformers back in March, when now-deservedly embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the rest of the administration repealed the Obama Administration’s executive order requiring traditional districts and other public school operators to allow transgendered children to use bathrooms of the sex with which they identify. So determined was the administration in refusing to defend the civil rights of vulnerable children that it even ignored Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos demand that it seek feedback from civil rights groups before proceeding with the move.
Before that move, many reformers became alarmed about the Trump Administration’s aggressive efforts to detain and deport undocumented emigres who contribute greatly to the nation’s economy and society. With some 3.9 million children facing the prospect of their parents (and even themselves) being sent back to place in which their lives and economic prospects are endangered, districts such as Chicago Public Schools and charter schools have told their principals to not comply with requests from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit.
The most-important wake-up call came last month when news leaked out that the Department of Education was scaling back investigations of civil rights violations — including overuse by districts of harsh school discipline against Black and other minority children — as part of the administration’s overall refusal to enforce civil rights laws. In a memo leaked by ProPublica, Deputy Assistant Secretary Candice Jackson, who oversees the agency’s Office for Civil Rights, told regional directors that it would no longer obtain three years of past complaints filed by against a district or charter when investigating a new complaint. Essentially this means investigators can no longer use previous complaints as evidence of a district systematically overusing suspensions, expulsions, spankings, and even restraints and seclusion (solitary confinement) against particular groups of kids. This move was a reversal of the Obama Administration’s support of efforts to reform how districts and charter schools discipline children in their care.
So the Trump Administration’s ban on transgenders in the military is no surprise to reformers, especially the civil rights-oriented players and centrist Democrats in the movement. Nor are they surprised by the administration’s filing Wednesday of an amicus brief in a case before the Second Circuit arguing that federal civil rights laws don’t cover sexual orientation, and therefore, aren’t applicable to gays.
If anything, the administration’s latest moves confirm what your editor pointed out over the past seven months: That the federal government — especially the Department of Education — can no longer be trusted to play a role in advancing systemic reform.
Even before DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education, she refused to condemn then-President-Elect Donald Trump for his campaign of race-baiting and bigotry. Since taking office, she has proven incapable of standing up strongly and successfully on behalf of our most-vulnerable children against the machinations of this administration. Her appointment of Jackson, whose career has been marked by opposition to civil rights laws, as the overlord of enforcing them has proven how little concern she has for the important role the federal government plays in ensuring that poor and minority children access high-quality education.
Certainly she can be applauded for bringing former 50CAN executive Jason Botel into the fold as her point person on implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. She also deserves some credit for giving him plenty of leeway in demanding revamps of state plans, as well as protecting him so far from criticism for doing so by Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander.
But that is merely faint praise, especially in light of how DeVos is failing to defend children on other fronts. The Trump Administration’s proposed $250 million increase in funding for the federal Charter School Fund (as well as another $1 billion in Title I funds devoted to expanding intra-district choice for low-income children) is offset by the elimination of $2.2 billion in funding for Americorps, the program that helps districts provide poor and minority children with Teach for America recruits proven to improve their academic achievement. That the White House proposes to also cut another $519 million in funding for science and technology education efforts that are directly under the education department’s purview (as well as other education dollars overseen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). This proposed move that makes the president’s decision this week to donate a mere $100,000 in salary to host a STEM camp on the grounds of the education department even more callous than it appears.
Even the proposed expansion of the Charter School Fund is less than it seems. This is because it doesn’t include setting-aside funds to help families and communities launch their own charters, a key to making families lead decision-makers in education and expanding choice. Nor does the plan require states to set-aside a portion of those funds for those purposes. The only players who will get those additional dollars are existing charter operators, many of whom already have enough resources to finance expansion. Add in the fact that congressional leaders are unlikely to approve such an expansion (and that the Trump administration lacks the ties to Congress needed to make it a reality), and the proposed increase is a mirage.
Most reformers have long ago disavowed (or never held) the notion of the current president embracing the school reformer-in-chief mantle embraced by every occupant of the White House since Ronald Reagan. Given DeVos’ difficulties in competently running the Department of Education as well as her lack of clout within the administration and Trump’s well-proven record of bigotry, this was sensible. Given that Congressional Democrats, despite their energetic efforts, lack the majorities needed to oppose the administration’s agenda, and that moderate Republicans are generally uninterested in advancing reform, it means that they must fight harder than ever with different approaches on behalf of all children.
Even conservative reformers, many of whom backed DeVos because of their dependence on her family’s fortune (and have been pleased with the administration’s roll-back of the Obama administration’s school discipline reform efforts) are becoming disillusioned. Thursday’s news that neither Trump nor Congressional Republicans will expand school choice through the creation of education tax credits (even after heavy lobbying from the DeVos-backed American Federation for Children) is one more sign that they have no influence inside the Beltway. That the Trump Administration’s bigotry on other fronts has angered centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reform allies is also complicating the efforts of conservative reformers to advance other efforts at all levels.
Meanwhile the Trump Administration’s failures as a governing body make it an unreliable partner in advancing conservative reform aims. This was reinforced over the past couple of days, especially as the Joint Chiefs of Staff refused to enforce the transgender ban until it actually received an executive order (which has yet to be issued), and feuding between the administration’s communication czar and Chief of Staff Reince Preibus spilled out into the open in a stream of profanity-laced vitriol. Add in the spectacular inability of House and Senate Republicans in control of Congress to pass any legislation, and it becomes clear that little will get done on any front.
With an openly bigoted and spectacularly incompetent administration overseeing the federal government, reformers must now pursue new approaches for helping all children succeed. The emphasis on advancing transformation of public education at the federal level is no longer possible at this time. Maybe these realities will finally convince them to build ties to other activists working against the administration on other front — as well as force them to finally build a stronger infrastructure for advancing reform at the state and local levels.
Mississippi and Michigan are the states in the country with the lowest percentage of African-American students reading at or above grade level in eighth grade. Mississippi teaches just 8 percent of its Black students to read to national standards in middle school; Michigan teaches just 9 percent. [The national average is for Black students is 15 percent.]
In both states, about half are functionally illiterate, tested at the “Below Basic” level by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As the percentage of students reading at grade level changes little between 8th and 12th grades, it means that more than 90 percent of Black students in these states are unlikely to graduate from high school college- and career-ready.
It would, of course, be unjust to say that in the 21st century the goal of educators in Michigan and Mississippi is to so limit educational opportunities for Black students that 90 percent cannot read at grade level in middle school, that half are functionally illiterate, that nearly a fifth of Black adults in Michigan and a quarter of those in Mississippi have not finished high school. But what can we say about institutions, and those in responsible positions in those institutions, that year after year fail to meet their responsibilities 90 percent of the time?
Mississippi, the quintessential post-Confederate state, has the nation’s highest percentage of descendants of enslaved Africans: 37 percent. In Michigan, far to the north, only 14 percent of the population is Black, although there are many more African-Americans in Michigan, 1.4 million, than in Mississippi—1.1 million. Mississippi did not repeal its constitutionally mandated restrictions on voting by means of poll taxes and literacy tests until 1975 nor the requirement for segregated schools until 1978 (a quarter century after Brown). Michigan has never had a poll tax or a literacy test for the franchise, nor de jure segregated schools.
While the Black population of Mississippi is fairly evenly distributed about the state, although especially dense in the plantation counties along the Mississippi river, that of Michigan is highly concentrated in its southeastern corner, primarily the formerly industrial cities of Detroit, Flint and Saginaw, with a Brown University segregation index for the Detroit metropolitan area of 80, on a scale where 60 is considered very high.
Despite their similarities, there are major differences in the ways that the two states distribute, or, rather, restrict, educational opportunities. In Michigan, over half of Black families and one-third of White families have incomes low enough to qualify their children for free- or reduced-price school lunches; in Mississippi, over one-third of White families and over two-thirds of Black families have qualifying incomes (or qualifying lack of incomes). Both states educate very few of their children, of either race, from low-income families. Each brings just seven percent of their African-American children from low-income families to reading proficiency in eighth grade. Mississippi manages this marginally better than Michigan for its White students from comparatively poor families: 25 percent to 23 percent.
The picture is quite different among students from more prosperous families. Mississippi does much better than Michigan for those among them who are descendants of enslaved African, educating just over a quarter to reading proficiency in eighth grade, which we should note is more than either state does for its impoverished White students. Michigan only manages to bring 12 percent of its students from the upper half of the Black family income distribution to grade level in reading in middle school. Nearly four times that percentage of middle class White children in Michigan learn to read proficiently in eighth grade.
One interpretation of these results would be that while educational opportunity in Mississippi’s public schools is chiefly distributed by income for both Black and White students, while in Michigan, educational opportunities are chiefly distributed by race, with less regard to income. The gap between lower income Black and White students in each state is approximately the same, but the gap between higher income Black and White students is much larger in Michigan. More than twice the percentage of Black students from higher income families in Mississippi read at grade level are brought to grade level in reading than in Michigan.
However, it should be noted that while among White residents of Mississippi, almost two-thirds have incomes high enough to make students from those families ineligible for the National Lunch Program. Just one-third of Black families have incomes sufficient to make their students ineligible for the National Lunch Program. In other words, dividing educational resources by economic class in Mississippi results in increased opportunities for two-thirds of those from White families and decreased opportunities for two-thirds of those from Black families.
At the classroom level, out-of-school suspensions in both states are inflicted on a racial basis. Schools in Mississippi give Black students more than one-out-of-school suspension three times as often as they do to White students; Michigan does this four times as often to Black as White students, resulting in nearly a fifth of Michigan’s Black students being kept out of the classroom at some point in their school careers. Research has shown that out-of-school suspensions have an efficient negative effect on student learning and frequently lead to the need to repeat grades and, eventually, to leaving school without a diploma.
Mississippi reports a graduation rate for its Black students of 77 percent, for its White students, 83 percent, a six-percentage point racial difference, considerably less than the 13 percent national difference. Michigan reports a graduation rate for its Black students of 68 percent, for its White students, 83 percent, close to a 15 percent racial difference. This is bad enough. But if we look at the basic skill of reading mastered by these students when they were in eighth grade, we can conclude that just nine percent of Black students in Michigan and eight percent of Black students in Mississippi graduate able to read at least at the level desired for middle school students. This means that 59 percent of Black students in Michigan are graduating without the necessary skills for college and a career.
The failure of Michigan to adequately educate its Black residents can be traced to the inequitable support of schools they attend. Support for public education in Michigan is directly related to the racial make-up of the schools in each district. In the schools of Ann Arbor—where the University of Michigan is located—the schools are more than 90 percent White. The median family income is considerably higher than the state average, as are teacher salaries. The pupil-to-teacher ratio is lower (better) than the state average.
In Detroit, with a student enrollment that is 80 percent Black and a median family income just above half of the state average, teachers are paid less than the state average and the pupil-to-teacher ratio is considerably higher. Nearly 200,000 of Michigan’s 280,000 Black public school students are in the districts of the Detroit metropolitan area and nearby Flint. The Detroit public schools are under state control and therefore the state government—the legislature and the governor—are directly responsible for how they educate, or fail to educate, their students. The decisions leading to these disparities are not “institutional” or “structural.” They are the decisions of the governor and the legislature of the state of Michigan to give few educational opportunities to the descendants of enslaved Africans, children for whose education they are individually and collectively responsible.
[Some will mention Michigan’s charter schools and the successes the high-quality operators have had in improving student achievement. But the state allows too many low-quality charters to remain open despite lagging performance. Fourteen percent of Michigan’s charters are both low-performing and do little to improve student achievement, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes; while just one of the 11 charters shut down in 2015-2016 were closed because of academic failure, according to data from the Wolverine State’s Department of Education.]
The only districts in Mississippi with large numbers of Black students are the public schools in the state capitol, Jackson, enrolling 28,000 Black students and those in Desoto County, in the far northwest corner of the state, near Memphis, which enroll 11,000. According to NAEP, none of the eighth-graders attending Mississippi’s big-city schools read at grade level or above.
Private schools have little effect on the educational opportunities of Black students from low-income families in either Mississippi or Michigan. Private school tuition in Mississippi for a family with two children, one in elementary school and one in high school, would amount to nearly a third of the family income of the average Black family in the state. Similarly, an average Black family in Michigan, with two children, one in elementary school and one in high school, would have to find nearly 40 percent of its income to pay for their private school tuition.
Michigan and Mississippi have separate paths to limiting educational opportunities for the descendants of enslaved Africans. That followed by Michigan is the racially targeted unequal distribution of educational resources. That followed by Mississippi is economically focused disparities in education quality in the context of centuries of Black poverty. They both work equally well to perpetuate the status of descendants of enslaved Africans as three-fifths of an American.
College graduation is increasingly important for employment and other economic and social factors.
In Michigan, college graduation rates for both Black and White adults are lower than national averages: 29 percent of White residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher and 17 percent of Black residents, compared to the national averages of 32 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The college graduation rate for Black residents of Michigan is almost exactly three-fifths of the White college graduation rate in the state. In large part because of the state’s failure to educate its African-American students, while the median family income of White residents is $68,300, that of Black residents is just over half of that: $37,100. The poverty rate for Black families in Michigan is three and a half times that for White families.
In Mississippi, the state’s percentage of Black adults with Bachelor’s degrees (14 percent) is also three-fifths of the percentage of White adults with Bachelor’s degrees or higher (24 percent). The unemployment rate for African-Americans in the state is more than twice that for White residents. The median family incomes of both White and Black Mississippi residents are also considerably below national averages. That of White residents is $62,200, that of Black residents is, again, just over half that: $32,500, hardly different from the ratio in Michigan. The poverty rate for Mississippi’s Black families is three times that for White families.
Recently, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was charged with misconduct in office, a felony, for his role in the Flint water crisis. It is an interesting precedent. The officials – governors, legislators, members of state and local boards of education and others—who have been responsible for restricting educational opportunities for Black residents of these states could act differently. They could provide the resources needed to close the gaps between the education now provided to their Black students and that provided to their White students.
Michigan’s political leaders could improve educational opportunities for all students. They have not. They do not. It is not because they cannot. It is because they will not.
The Great Migration of the early 20th century colonized some northern cities by descendants of enslaved Africans in search of better living conditions than those they had endured in the former slave states of the south. Some were successful in this endeavor, for a time.
Over the past couple of generations conditions for many African-Americans living in northern cities—from Buffalo to Cleveland—have worsened. The realization that the promise of equality that was the “pull” of the migration (Jim Crow constituting the “push”), the realization that that promise was false, has focused attention on the failure of public education in those cities, the rise of mass incarceration, and the maintenance, if not strengthening, of segregation.
While contemplating the hypocrisy of responsible officials in, say, New York City, with their increasingly tiresome expressions of astonishment that their neighborhoods and schools have been segregated into inequality we should not forget the persistence of similar conditions in some of the core states of the Confederacy.
Old times are truly not forgotten in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. In those states an average of just 15 percent of Black adults are allowed to attain enough education for a Bachelor’s degree or better, compared to an average of 26 percent for White residents of those states. South Carolina is the champion in this matter, supporting 31 percent of its White adults in gaining that amount of education, but only the regional average of 15 percent for its Black residents. At the other end of the educational attainment scale, the region leaves an average of 22 percent of its Black adults without any education qualifications whatsoever, but only 14 percent of its White adults are without high school diplomas. The national averages for these measures are 30 percent for college graduates, 14 percent for those without high school diplomas.
In other words, these states educate White residents to U.S. national averages, leaving their Black residents in an educational condition not found elsewhere among the developed countries of the world.
Just like old times.
As a consequence, or, perhaps, just another part of the same effort at maintaining the status quo pro ante, the average Black family income in these states is just over $34,000, that of White families nearly $64,000. Here the champion is Louisiana, with a $35,000 spread, the $68,000 White family income more than double that of Black families in the state. Hence the contrast, for example, between the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and that city’s Garden District. The average poverty rate of White individuals in these states, 13 percent, is actually lower than the national average (16 percent), and, of course, less than half that of the 32 percent for Black “citizens”. The poverty rate of South Carolina’s Black residents is three times that of their White neighbors.
Income is largely determined by education, at least among people who work for a living, rather than inheriting, say, real estate fortunes. Given the racial disparities in educational attainment in these states, the racial disparities in income follow directly. But how do these racial disparities in educational attainment come about?
A good way to accomplish this is to limit reading ability. If a person is unable to read at, say, the level expected of middle school students in eighth grade, they are unlikely to learn much in their remaining school years, unlikely to earn a meaningful high school diploma (of which more below), unlikely to go to and graduate from college or to earn an income above the poverty level (see above).
Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina do well at this task. The usual measure used for such comparisons is the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ eighth-grade results. These bi-annual tests are reported out by the U.S. Department of Education as Below Basic (or functionally illiterate), Basic (reads with difficulty), Proficient (meets grade level expectations) and Advanced (hurrah!). The NAEP reports include outcomes by race and whether or not a student’s family income makes them eligible for the National Lunch Program.
The dividing line between “eligible” and “ineligible” is a family income of about $44,000. In Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, about two-thirds of Black students and one-third of White students have family incomes low enough to make them eligible for the National Lunch Program. That is something to keep in mind as we look at reading achievement scores in these states.
First, the overall percentage of Black students in these states who read well enough in eighth grade to be assessed by NAEP as “Proficient or Above” is 11 percent. That is, nearly 90 percent either read eighth grade material with difficulty or not really at all. Thirty-four percent of White students in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina are assessed as “Proficient or Above” when they are tested on eighth grade reading. As a matter of interest, the national percentage for all students in public schools is 33 percent. The schools in these states manage to teach only one-third the percentage of their Black students to read at the national average for all students or as they do for their White students. The champion here is Mississippi, which teaches necessary reading skills to four times the percentage of White students as Black students.
We can look a little more deeply into this. Among the two-thirds of Black students in these states whose family incomes are below the National Lunch Program cut-off, on average just nine percent are taught to read fluently, as compared to 25 percent of the one-third of White students from families with those low incomes. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina have a tight range of these scores for White students from relatively impoverished families: 24 percent to 26 percent. Despite that, Mississippi is the clear winner, with an 18 percent point spread between the seven percent of its Black students and 25 percent of its White students scoring at the Proficient or Above levels.
Among the one-third of Black students from more prosperous families, 22 percent are brought to the level expected of eighth graders, compared to 41 percent of the two-thirds of White students from prosperous families. Here, it is South Carolina that is the definite winner in the inequality competition with a 23 percent point spread, based on a remarkable 46 percent record with its White students from comparatively prosperous families. Perhaps these racial differences among students from families with similar incomes have something to do with differing qualities of education on offer. Just a thought.
The final step in the public schools toward educational attainment typical of that in developed countries is high school graduation. For the nation as a whole, the graduation rate for Black students is 75 percent, that for White students 88 percent.
Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina report that an average of 78 percent of their Black students graduate, as do 86 percent of their White students. This is remarkable, considering that only 11 percent of their Black students and 34 percent of their White students could read at grade level in middle school and just 15 percent of the former and 26 percent of the latter turn out to be well enough prepared to continue on to a college degree.
The regional outlier in these matters is Georgia. That state, with a similar history of slavery, Civil War devastation, Jim Crow and “massive resistance” to school integration, exhibits socio-economic and education indicators remarkably close to national averages. Educational attainment for Black adults (23 percent B.A. or above) is slightly higher than the national average of 20 percent. Median income for Black families is about the same as the national average for Black families and the poverty rate is lower.
Sixteen percent of Georgia’s Black students in eighth grade are brought to grade level in reading, compared to the national average of 15 percent for Black students, and the percentage of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program reading at grade level (12 percent) is identical to the national average for eligible Black students. The percentage of African-American students who are ineligible for the National Lunch Program, those from middle class families is 31 percent. That is quite a bit higher than the national average for this group of 26 percent.
It is probably not great praise to observe that Georgia does not do worse than most states in attempting to overcome the heritage of slavery and Jim Crow, but Georgia’s record is certainly notable in contrast to the disgrace of its neighbors. It shows what can be done and the challenges that remain.