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Why don’t we educate young black men? This has been the question raised over the past few weeks in a series of reports, including Center for American Progress researcher Ary Spatig-Amerikaner’s study on lower education spending on students of color; the Civil Liberties Project’s collection of research, including one on out-of-school suspensions by my colleague, Daniel Losen; and the reports the Schott Foundation has published, including A Rotting Apple on New York City’s Zip Code Education policies, and The Urgency of Now report released this week.

The Center for American Progress and related reports establish that school district administrations give schools serving black and Latino kids – especially those living in poverty – less money than they give to schools serving white middle class peers.  The Civil Rights Project’s school discipline report, in particular, shows that schools punish black children, and to a lesser extent, Latino kids, with out-of-school suspensions much more often than their white peers.

Then there are the reports Schott has published in the past few months. The first, on New York City, establishes that the diversion of school funding to more prosperous from less prosperous neighborhoods is established practice in New York City, that many, if not most, poor kids are not even tested for eligibility for Gifted and Talented programs, and that the city’s selective high schools select students on the basis of a test that for all practical purposes cannot be passed by kids whose parents cannot afford to given them private tutors.

This week’s report on graduation rates, the latest in the series on public education and black male students, documents the enormous differences in educational outcomes that result from segregation and inequitable funding. Although graduation rates for young black men has increased by ten percentage points between the classes of 2002 and 2010, the achievement gap between black and white males has only narrowed by three percentage points. At this rate it will take something like 50 more years to close the gap between male Black and White, non-Latino high school graduation rates. And with only three states – Maine, Arizona, and Vermont – with graduation rates that are higher for young black men than for young white men (and four more, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska, with higher graduation rates for black men than the levels for young white men eight years earlier), too many young black men aren’t being educated.

Even if more young black men are graduating, they aren’t necessarily being educated. This can be seen in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress’ measure of students reading at or above proficient levels in eighth grade. Although the percentage of young black men in middle school reading Below Basic has declined, just 11 percent of young black men are reading at proficient or advanced levels [editor’s note: only two points better than in 2002, according to Dropout Nation research]. Simply put: Nearly 90 percent of young black men heading into high school, are not reading at proficient levels. Remember: Reading is the essential skill for education and by grade eight, schools and districts have had time to provide that basic skill to their students. It is even worse when you consider this: Nineteen percent of Connecticut’s young black male eighth-graders read at proficient levels, the same level of proficiency as for young white male counterparts in West Virginia.

The U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights database shows that the ratio of  young black men to white peers in gifted-and-talented programs ranges from one-to-nine in Memphis and Nashville down to one-to-one in Montgomery County, Md., and Milwaukee. [Data for New York City was either incomplete or inaccurate, an issue I have raised earlier this year, and part of a national problem with the federal database upon which Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle has opined.] That is, young black men have an equal chance of receiving the increased resources characteristic of such programs as White, non-Latino, students in Montgomery County and Milwaukee, and barely more than one-tenth that opportunity in Memphis and Nashville.

The ratio of young black men to young white men classified as Intellectually Disabled (the term that federal officials use in place of “mentally retarded”) is as high as eight-to-one in Atlanta and six-to-one in Wake County despite decades of research showing that such disabilities are evenly distributed in the population.  It is noteworthy that the ratio is one-to-one in many northern urban districts. [Editor’s Note: Which hits upon the perniciousness of special education policies.]

Young black men were assigned to Advance Placement math courses at less than a tenth the rate as white male peers in two Louisiana districts, and similarly inequitably in many other districts, while being assigned to Advanced Placement math at approximately the same rate as young white male peers in the predominately Black districts of Newark, Atlanta and Cleveland.  Disparities in access to courses like Advanced Placement Mathematics are traceable to district policy decisions, as the College Board has repeatedly advocated an “open admissions” policy for its Advanced Placement program.

Out-of-School suspension ratios vary from approximately eight-to-one in Newark and Atlanta (and six-to-one in two other Atlanta metropolitan area districts) down to less than twice the percentage of young black men compared to male white non-Latino, students being given these punishments in districts like Boston. The absolute percentage of students gives out-of-school suspensions also vary widely.  Research has shown that out-of-school suspensions are highly detrimental to student learning and are strongly influenced by racial attitudes of teachers and school administrators.

It looks like some progress is being made, notably in graduation rates, but much more needs to be done.  The large gaps in basic skills achievement levels are particularly troubling.  Unless students are proficient in basic skills by grade 8, there is little chance that they will do well in high school or complete further education.  There is strong evidence that students, particularly young black men, who do not finish high school land in prison as young adults, while their children will grow up in poverty in neighborhoods with inferior schools, thus perpetuating the cycle that is limiting all too many American lives.

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