Author: Michael Holzman

What Scott Walker Hath Wrought

Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask,…

Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask, when directing our attention to Milwaukee, the largest city in the once progressive state of Wisconsin – and part of the home base of now-politically endangered Gov. Scott Walker – what has come of that duty of care?

The latest release of findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “gold standard” for such matters, shows that nationally 13 percent of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program—a good enough proxy for poverty—read at or above grade level in  eighth grade.  This is half the percentage of White, non-Hispanic, students at a similar family income level and a quarter of the percentage of White, non-Hispanic students from more prosperous households.  Less than a third of Black students from families with incomes high enough to make them ineligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in grade 8.  The issue appears to be the layering of economic deprivation over racial discrimination in educational opportunities: multi-generational economic deprivation as a consequence of continuing racial discrimination.

In Milwaukee there are considerably higher percentages of Black K-12 than White K-12 students in the city’s schools.  There are more than twice the percentage of White than Black college students (and three times the percentage of White male (44 percent) than male Black college students (14 percent)) These distributions are considerably different from national figures, which show approximately equal Black and White enrollment at every level.  Just over a quarter of White residents of Milwaukee have only high school diplomas (including equivalents), as do considerably more, just over a third, of Black residents.  On the other hand, 34 percent of White residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 13 percent of Black residents have that increasingly necessary qualification.

In a nutshell college graduation is achievable for a third of White residents of Milwaukee, but for only just over a tenth of Black residents of the city. This is unusual. Nationally, although the figure is the same for White, non-Hispanics, it is nearly twice as high as the comparable Milwaukee figure for African-Americans (20 percent?).

Just five percent of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in  eighth grade. More than half—nearly two-thirds—of these economically deprived Black students in Milwaukee are assessed as being at the “below Basic” level.  They can’t read middle school material.  Five percent is meaningful beyond its comparative value. It points to chance factors predominating in measurement:  students answering questions at random and getting lucky; transfer students from Ghana; children of university faculty; cosmic rays.

For all reasonable intents and purposes the Milwaukee public schools are not teaching Black students to read.

The percentage of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program scoring at or above “proficient” in Mathematics in eighth grade is 3 percent. Cosmic rays as a causal factor for this achievement seems most likely.

The Milwaukee public schools are not teaching math to their Black students.

In Milwaukee, African-Americans go to school, but they rarely receive a good enough education so that they can read proficiently or perform elementary mathematics tasks or to take them into and through college. It is not then surprising that the unemployment rate for Black residents of the city is between two and three times that of White residents, that the percentage of Black residents of the city in white collar jobs is half that of White residents, that median Black household income is half that of White household income and that the poverty rate for Black families is nearly three times that for White families.

These issues are so common as to seem abstract, or to be accepted, like the weather.  But like the weather, or, rather, the climate, they are not either abstract or acceptable.  The condition of the descendants of enslaved Africans now living in Milwaukee is directly attributable to the decisions of politicians at the state and local level.  Those decisions have reduced funding for the public schools, segregated housing and employment opportunities, criminalized daily life.

All of this brings us back to Gov. Walker, who is likely to lose his post this November (though, as he has proven in elections past, you can never fully count him out).

He has been governor of Wisconsin since 2011.  Before that he was Milwaukee County executive and before that he represented a district in Milwaukee County.  He has been responsible for the well-being of residents of Milwaukee, its surrounding area and the state for a quarter of a century. If residents of Milwaukee seek a monument for him, they have only to look around them.

No Comments on What Scott Walker Hath Wrought

D.C.’s School Problem for Black Kids

Certainly Washington, D.C., is at the center of a rapidly growing metropolitan area. But the Nation’s Capital is itself a relatively small city. Just 680,000 live within the heart of…

Certainly Washington, D.C., is at the center of a rapidly growing metropolitan area. But the Nation’s Capital is itself a relatively small city. Just 680,000 live within the heart of the Beltway, of whom approximately 320,000 are Black and 280,000 are White. Or, to be clearer, it is two cities, one White and increasingly prosperous, the other Black.

Black Washington is not in any meaningful way in the same socio-economic category as White Washington, and that is clear by every economic and educational measure. Which makes all the discussions about D.C. Public Schools’ graduation fraud scandal even more important than it already appears.

While the unemployment rate for White Washington is just 1.5 percent—hardly measurable—that for the Black population is nearly nine times higher: 13 percent. The White unemployment rate has slightly decreased since the 2007 financial crisis; the Black unemployment rate has increased by three percent, a difference that is itself twice the current total White unemployment rate.

Eighty percent of the employed adult White civilian population work in middle class occupations: in management, business, science and the arts.  Just eight percent are employed in service occupations. In contrast, less than 40 percent of the employed adult Black civilian population work in middle class management, business, science and arts occupations, while a quarter of employed adult Black civilians work in service occupations.  White residents of the District are managers; many Black workers serve them in one way or another.

In Washington, D.C., nearly 90 percent of the District’s White residents have Bachelor’s or Graduate degrees, qualifications attained by just a quarter of Black residents 25 years of age and over.

As a result, the median household income for White residents of the District was $126,000 in 2015; the median household income for Black residents less than a third of that, $38,000.  (By way of comparison, the median household income for the United Stats is $55,000.  Nearly two-thirds of American households have incomes over the District median for Black households.) The poverty rate for White families in Washington, D.C., like the unemployment rate, is vanishingly small, just 1.4 percent, while nearly a quarter of Black families, 23 percent, are poor. 18 percent of Black households have incomes of less than $10,000; 26 percent of White households have incomes over $200,000.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute has found that Washington’s White families have 81 times more wealth, on average, than Black families, and “a higher level of income inequality than any state in the country, with households in the top 20 percent of income having 29 times more income than the bottom 20 percent.  The bottom fifth of DC households had just two percent of total DC income in 2016, while the top fifth had a staggering 56 percent.” The Institute concludes that “race is at the heart of DC’s economic inequality.”

Poverty, like wealth, can be inherited.  According to the Equality of Opportunity Project at Stanford University, a Black child born to Washington, D.C. area parents with incomes in the 25th (bottom) percentile, as an adult, is likely, on average, to have an income at the 32nd percentile, only 7 points higher, while a White child born to parents with incomes at the 25th (bottom) percentile, as an adult, is likely, on average, to have an income at the 43rd percentile, 18 points higher. The upward mobility chances of one of the few White children born into poverty in Washington are between two and three times those of one of the many Black children born into poverty in the city.

Wealth, like poverty, tends to be inherited.  This often comes from home ownership.  In Washington, D.C., due to, among other things, mid-twentieth-century federal policies, approximately half of the White population own their own homes, while only a third of the Black populations own their homes. The median value of those White owner-occupied houses is $739,000; that of Black owner-occupied units is $385,000. If these houses are passed along to the next generation, the children of White homeowners start with twice the wealth, from this source alone, as do the children of Black homeowners.

Certainly D.C. Public Schools is no longer the Superfund Site of American public education. But it still has miles to go before it can receive applause for properly education Black children.

In the nation’s capitol, the caste system that replaced slavery is characterized by a wealthy White, managerial caste and an impoverished, Black, service caste, with the former averaging incomes in the top 10 percent of the national income distribution, the latter averaging incomes far below that.  Black children born into poverty have less of a chance of rising out of poverty than White children; the relatively few Black children of upper middle class parents have a greater chance of falling to a lower class than their White peers.

In addition to inherited wealth, largely unavailable to Black residents of Washington, education is a proven route out of poverty. But this route is also closed to Washington’s Black children — often regardless of whether they attend a traditional district or charter school.

The average Black student attends a school in which 82 percent of the students are poor; the average White student attends a school in which only a quarter of the students are from poor families. The Brown University Dissimilarity Index measures whether one particular group is distributed across census tracts in the metropolitan area in the same way as another group. A high value indicates that the two groups tend to live in different tracts. A value of 60 (or above) is considered very high. The Black-White Dissimilarity Index for the District is 83 out of 100.

Before the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, Washington had some fine schools for Black children. Segregation does not automatically lead to differentiated education achievement; after all, children in public charters schools generally do better than their peers in traditional districts despite stratification based on race. It’s just that the reality in traditional public schools is that segregation usually leads to worse outcomes for Black and other minority children.

In D.C.’s schools, 79 percent of fourth-grade White students whose family income is sufficient  to make them ineligible for the National Lunch program, test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 95 percent Basic or Above).  For all intents and purposes, all the district’s middle class White fourth grade students are taught to read at an acceptable level or beyond that: very well.  And the White students who are not from middle class families? There are too few White students eligible for the National Lunch Program in Washington for NAEP to report their test results.

Over 90 percent of public school students in the Washington, D.C. are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.  Almost all of these are Black. Educational opportunity in the District of Columbia’s traditional district (as well to a lesser extent, in its charters) are distributed by race and income.  It amounts to the same thing.

In fourth grade, 44 percent of the few Black students whose family income is sufficient  to make them ineligible for the National Lunch program test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 80 percent Basic or Above). Just 15 percent of Black fourth-graders whose family income is low enough to make them eligible for the National Lunch program test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 44 percent Basic or Above).

Then in eighth grade, 82 percent of White students, nearly all of whom are ineligible for the National Lunch program, test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 96 percent Basic or Above). Just over a quarter, 27 percent, of Black eighth-grade students whose family income is sufficient  to make them ineligible for the National Lunch program test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 69 percent Basic or Above).  But only seven percent of Black students whose family income is low enough to make them eligible for the National Lunch program test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 39 percent Basic or Above).

These numbers matter.  Literacy is essential for all other education; reading skills rarely change much between middle school and high school graduation (of which more below).

Between grades 4 and 8, the percentage of the relatively few middle class Black students in Washington testing above Basic in reading declined from 80 to 69 percent; the percentage of the much larger number of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program testing at or above Basic in reading declines from 44 to 39 percent. Between fourth- and eighth grades, the percentage of the relatively few middle class Black students in Washington testing at or above Proficient declines from 44 to 27 percent; the percentage of the much larger number of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program testing above Proficient declines from 15 to 7 percent. More time in the District’s schools results in lower rates of educational achievement for Black students.

The educational background of the parents of White students is not apparent in test results. Eighty-five percent of White eighth-graders whose parents graduated from college test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 97 percent Basic or Above).  On the other hand, the children of highly educated Black parents actually do worst than other middle class Black children, with just 15 percent of Black eighth-graders with some form of higher education scoring Proficient or Above in reading (and 52 percent Basic or Above).  The children of less well-educated Black parents do worse yet: just six percent of Black students whose parents only graduated from high school test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 34 percent at Basic or Above).

The District of Columbia school system claimed a 73 percent graduation rate in 2017. The Washington Post recently reported that “one in three graduates received their diplomas in violation of city policy. Wrote the Post:  “Those students had walked across graduation stages despite missing too many classes or improperly taking makeup classes. . . Even if all of the students regarded as “moderately off-track” receive diplomas, the graduation rate would stand at about 61 percent — 12 points below last year’s.”

Would even 61 percent of Washington, D.C. students graduate college and career ready? Not at all. In eighth grade, just 53 percent tested at or above Basic in reading, just 25 percent were Proficient or above. It is probably significant that in 2013 96 percent of students entering the Community College of the University of District Columbia required at least one remedial course; half needed remediation in four subjects. By 2017 it was reported that 98 percent of public school graduates needed remediation after enrolling in the University of District Columbia.

Given this education system, Washington, D.C., will likely remain two cities, one White and increasingly prosperous, the other Black, impoverished, in a context in which poverty is reproduced from one generation to the next. Simply allowing children incapable of succeeding in college and life to graduate isn’t going to help end this racial caste system.

Here’s a suggestion for the District of Columbia Public Schools:  Instead of faking graduation rates, teach your Black students to read.

Comments Off on D.C.’s School Problem for Black Kids

It’s Up to You, New York

For those of us who live in a rational, data-based world, it can no longer be argued that school discipline disparities can be attributed to the fictitious oddities of “the…

For those of us who live in a rational, data-based world, it can no longer be argued that school discipline disparities can be attributed to the fictitious oddities of “the Black family,” socio-economic conditions, cultural differences and the like.

Since the publication of the unchallenged, and unquestionable, report from the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, Breaking Schools’ Rules in 2011, we have known that after having accounted “for the factors most often associated with poor school performance . . . race was a predictive factor for whether a student would be disciplined, particularly for discretionary disciplinary actions.” And further: “High rates of disciplinary involvement among African-American students were driven chiefly by violations that are subject to the discretion of school employees . . . The data . . . provide compelling evidence to show that how a school uses suspension and expulsion is driven in large part by the decisions of officials at both the district and individual school level.”

In other words, school discipline disparities by race are a good indicator of racism in schools and systems.

Which brings us to New York City, the greatest city in the world, for some, and the home to the third most-segregated school system by at least one (widely-debated) study.  According to the just-released school discipline data from the U.S. Department of Education, male Black students are three and a half times as likely to be punished with one or more out-of-school suspensions as are male White students and female Black students are an astonishing eight times as likely to be punished in this way than female White students.

These disparities, by themselves, are prima facie indicators of endemic racist actions (not to speak of attitudes) in the New York City school system among “officials at both the district and individual school level.”  And they are not simply of academic interest, they cause lasting harm.  The Justice Center study also found that “Students who experienced suspension or expulsion, especially those who did so repeatedly, were more likely to be held back a grade or drop out of school than students who were not involved in the disciplinary system.”

It reasonably follows, then, that the decisions of district and individual school level personnel to discipline three to eight times the proportion of Black as White students likely results in disproportionate numbers of Black students being held back a grade or dropping out of school. That is one way racist attitudes and actions work to limit educational opportunities for Black students in New York City.

Another way is the “school choice” system with its apogee in the city’s selective high schools.

This year, as usual, enrollment in New York City’s selective high schools was bizarrely skewed by race, especially at the jewel of the system, Stuyvesant High School.  According to the New York City Department of Education’s own records, out of a total enrollment of 3,323 students across four grades at Stuyvesant, 23 are Black as compared to, say, 35 “Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.”  This is remarkable as the U.S. Census counts over two million Black residents in the city, but notes that there are too few Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders in the city to count.  [However, it is evident that there are at least 35.]

“We continue to pursue a set of initiatives to increase diversity at Specialized High Schools,” the city’s education department said in a statement. Sure.

What will new Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio actually do to build brighter futures for the Big Apple’s Black children? [Photo courtesy of the New York Times.]

Admission to Stuyvesant, and to most of the city’s other specialized high schools, is filtered by means of a test, oddly named the Specialized High School Admissions Test.  Oddly named, as it would be more aptly called the Black Student Elimination Test.  Without getting into the weeds about testing theory and all that, it does seem that there are validity issues with a test that year after year eliminates all but a dozen or fewer Black students from Stuyvesant’s freshman class.

If actions repeatedly result in outcomes at variance with professed goals, it is likely that those outcomes are the actual goals of the actions in question.

Stuyvesant is only one school out of the great sea of the New York City education system, but its diversity failure is a telling indicator of the actual nature of the system.  It is possible that Black students—sorry, all but a dozen Black students each year—do not get into the school for any number of reasons.  The overwhelming number of Black eighth grade students might so dislike the school’s Brutalist architecture that they don’t apply.  Or they might not wish to attend a school with so many more Native Hawaiians than Black students.  Or they could be woefully ill-prepared by their middle schools.

As there is little research concerning the attitudes of Black middle school students in regard to architecture or Native Hawaiians (although there is some anecdotal evidence concerning the latter from interviews with former President Obama, who attended a school with large numbers of Native Hawaiians), we might consider the quality of the city’s middle schools as causal, since Stuyvesant’s admissions data directs our attention there.

The Selective High School Admissions Test is effectively a mathematics test. The recently released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress’s eighth-grade mathematics assessment reports that nearly two-thirds of New York City’s Black eighth graders eligible for the National School Lunch Program score at the below Basic level:  they can’t do middle school math.  Just over half of the City’s Black students from more prosperous families can’t do middle school math either.  Just 8 percent of the Black students from poor families and 15 percent of those from more prosperous families score at the proficient or above levels.  This compares to 26 percent of the National School Lunch Program eligible White students and 57 percent of those White students from more prosperous families who do math proficiently or better at grade 8 in New York City.

White students from families with below average incomes are much more effectively taught mathematics in the City’s middle schools than are (the relatively few) Blacks students from more prosperous families:

It seems that family income has surprisingly little effect on eighth-grade mathematical performance of New York City’s Black students. The difference between the percentage of National School Lunch Program eligible White students scoring Proficient and Above on the NAEP mathematics assessment and those from more prosperous families scoring at that level was 31 points.  For Black students it was 6 points.  Not everyone will agree, of course, but this does seem to indicate that Black students, regardless of family circumstances, attend middle schools with deficient mathematics instruction.

New York City happens, “happens,” to be one of the most segregated cities in the country and its schools are similarly racially segregated.  The Brown University Index of Dissimilarity measures whether one particular group is distributed in the same way as another group.  A high value indicates that the two are separated from one another.  A value of 60 or above is considered very high.  That between Black and White residents in New York City is over 80.  A consequence of this is that neighborhood schools are highly segregated by race.  In other words, Black students from both National School Lunch Program eligible and ineligible families are likely to attend the same schools, as indicated by the small gap in NAEP scores.  The city’s segregated schools do not have to vary in quality by, say, the percentage of Black students in the school, but the NAEP scores seem to indicate that they do.

The administrators of the New York City Schools—the Mayor, the Chancellor, their staffs and advisors—appear to know this, as is demonstrated by the city’s school choice program.  This elaborate sorting of students and schools would be unnecessary if all the city’s schools offered high quality education.  Its very existence is an admission by the city that the quality of schools differ so significantly as to justify this costly and cumbersome system.

They are right, of course, and they know this as they are responsible for those differences in quality, by the way in which they allocate resources, financial and human, in accordance with the racial make-up of each school’s population.  “Them that’s got shall have/Them that’s not shall lose.”

A consequence of the poor educational opportunities for Black children in New York City is the comparative lack of Black intergenerational economic mobility in the city.  According to Raj Chetty’s group at Stanford University, a White male child born into poverty in the city (in a family at the 25th percentile of income distribution) will, as an adult, on average reach the 56th income percentile.  The average male Black child born into poverty in New York City will as an adult reach only the 42nd percentile.  The income of the average male Black child born into an upper middle class family with an income at the 75th percentile will fall to the 52nd percentile as an adult, below that of a male White adult born into poverty.   (The average male White child from a similarly wealthy family will as an adult expect to have an income at the 68th percentile.)

There are certainly other factors at play here.  Racism is not limited to the schools.  There is the criminal justice system with its astonishing racial disparities.  There are racial disparities in higher education and in employment.  But, while some may disagree, the racism in the schools does have strong effects on the later lives of Black students.

Here’s a modest proposal:  Eliminate the Selective High School Admissions Test and fill the selective high schools by admitting the equivalent percentage of students from each middle school.  If the number of grade 9 students in the selective high schools is, say, 10 percent of the total number of grade 9 students in the system, admit the top 10 percent of each middle school’s students. In short order there will be a shift of upper middle class White and Asian families to schools with records of badly preparing their students, so that their children will more easily make the 10 percent cut-off, followed immediately by political pressure from those families to increase the allocation of resources to those schools. Soon, quality differences across the system will lessen

This may take legislation in Albany.  However, legislation in Albany does seem to occur from time to time.  It is not unheard of.  It could occur to produce better educational opportunities for New York City’s Black children.

There are other ways to increase educational and life opportunities for New York City’s Black students.  Maintaining the status quo is not one of them.

Comments Off on It’s Up to You, New York

The Black Kids Are Shortchanged Everywhere

The Duval County school district serves the Jacksonville, Florida, area.  Jacksonville is much more typical of neighboring Georgia than of Florida.  It has a relatively small Hispanic population and a…

The Duval County school district serves the Jacksonville, Florida, area.  Jacksonville is much more typical of neighboring Georgia than of Florida.  It has a relatively small Hispanic population and a history of anti-Black racism dating back hundreds of years.  The district’s website proclaims recent good news:

Duval County Public Schools has emerged as a national leader in mathematics and reading outcomes on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) . . . “If this were the Olympics, you would say we medaled in almost every event,” said Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis. “These results, in addition to our record-high graduation rate, reflect the incredible efforts of our students, our teachers, the district and our community.” . . .  “The new NAEP results confirm that Duval County is one of the highest performing big city school districts in the nation,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council for Great City Schools.

Those newly released 2017 NAEP eighth-grade reading assessments show that while 42 percent of White students in the Duval County public schools can read at grade level (proficient or above), the school system teaches less than half that percentage, 18 percent, of the Black students in its care, to read proficiently at the crucial grade 8 level. Or, looking at that from the other side, well over three-quarters of the Black students in the Duval County Public Schools are not taught to read proficiently.  Of those, nearly 90 percent of the male Black students in Jacksonville are not taught to read proficiently and nearly half of those can hardly read at all. We can take that as an indication of the preparation for life that is provided for Black children by the Duval County Public Schools. It is a rather unusual Olympic medal quality performance.

A primary driver of these racial disparities in educational achievement is not difficult to discover.  Quite some time ago a large-scale research project in Texas demonstrated that disparities in the rate of school discipline actions were based on the racial attitudes of school personnel, rather than the actions of students.  In the Duval County schools the rate at which out-of-school suspensions are given is eight percent for Black students, three percent for White students, a more than two-to-one disparity, which is a good measure of racial prejudice in action.  That happens to be approximately the disparity in reading proficiency.  Of course, correlation does not indicate causation.

There are consequences to this failure of the Duval district to teach most of their Black children, and nearly all of their male Black children, to read easily.

The Equality of Opportunity Project at Stanford University has studied intergenerational economic mobility by race and gender. According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the average Black child in Jacksonville, whose household in the year 2000 had an income at or below the 25th percentile of all American households ($28,000, very poor) would probably have an income at the 31st percentile (just poor) by 2015, about $32,000.  The average White child in Jacksonville, living in a similarly deprived household in 2000, would have had an income at the 40th percentile in 2015, about $43,000: a nine point, $11,000, advantage for being White. While a Black child growing up in Jacksonville can expect to go up six steps on the economic mobility ladder (from very poor to merely poor), a White child can expect to go up fifteen steps, between two and three times as far and within hailing distance of the national median.

This comparative restriction of intergenerational economic mobility for Black residents of Jacksonville cannot be attributed solely to the fact that well over three-quarters of the Black students in the Duval County Public Schools are not taught to read proficiently, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

Well, Jacksonville has a history of slavery, segregation and lynching.  We can look to the free state of Wisconsin for better news . . . can’t we? The answer is no.

The 2017 NAEP eight-grade reading assessment shows that while 33 percent of White students in the Milwaukee public schools can read at grade level (proficient or above), the school system teaches less than one-fifth of that percentage, six percent, of the Black students in its care to read proficiently at the crucial grade 8 level. Or, looking at that from the other side, well over 90 percent of the Black students in the Milwaukee public schools are not taught to read proficiently and of those, 96 percent of the male Black students in Milwaukee are not taught to read proficiently.  Nearly two-thirds of those can hardly read at all.  We can take that as an indication of the preparation for life that is provided for Black children by the Milwaukee Public Schools.  As to causation, the racial school discipline disparities in Milwaukee are similar to those in Jacksonville:  a Black student is more than twice as likely to be punished with an out-of-school suspension as is a White student.  In addition to being an indicator of adult racial attitudes, out-of-school suspensions are likely to lead to students falling behind in their studies and prematurely ending their educations:  dropping out.

No matter where you go, traditional districts are failing the descendants of enslaved Africans.

And as to consequences, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the average Black child in Milwaukee, whose household in the year 2000 had an income at or below the 25th percentile of all American households (very poor) would probably have an income at the 36th percentile (poor) by 2015, about $38,000.  The average White child in Milwaukee, living in a similarly deprived household in 2000, would have had an income at the 50th percentile in 2015, about $56,000: a fourteen point, $18,000, advantage for being White. While a Black child growing up in Milwaukee can expect to go up eleven steps on the economic mobility ladder (from very poor to merely poor), a White child can expect to go up twenty-five steps, more than twice as far and pretty close to the national median.  White children growing up in severe poverty in Milwaukee can expect to participate in the American dream of dramatic economic mobility; the Black children living in that city cannot even dream of it.

Just as in Jacksonville.

Neither district is fulfilling its responsibility to educate all children.  The size of the racial gaps resulting from these failures are similar.  If disparities in school discipline rates are a valid measure of racism (which they are), that, too is similar.  And if the Equality of Opportunity Project’s calculations are correct, as they seem to be, the perhaps consequent restrictions on economic mobility for the Black residents of these two American cities will, similarly, continue from one generation to the next.

The Equality of Opportunity Project researchers point out that the Black/White racial economic disparities are not a result of factors under the control of Black Americans.  Rather, they are the result of factors, such as disparate incarceration rates and the school issues touched on above, that are under the control of the people running the criminal justice and school systems and other social, economic and political aspects of life in this country.  They are under the control of that governor, that mayor, this superintendent of schools, this judge and that chief of police in both Jacksonville and Milwaukee—and those in many other cities and towns in this great country.

Comments Off on The Black Kids Are Shortchanged Everywhere

Education the Military Way

We need not rely on thought experiments in order to visualize a more equitable system of education in the United States. There is the school system managed by the Department…

We need not rely on thought experiments in order to visualize a more equitable system of education in the United States. There is the school system managed by the Department of Defense, a global pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education system serving over 73,000 students. It is, in effect, the nation’s 45th largest school district.

Since President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the military, the nation’s armed forces have progressed from being one of the most segregated to being one of the best-integrated areas of American society. This is not to say that there are not racists in the military, there are, of course, but the absence of systematic racism in the armed forces is exemplary for the rest of our society and has a profound effect on educational opportunities for the children of African-American military families.

There are 1.3 million active duty military personal, of whom 17 percent are Black or African-American, a slightly larger percentage than in the general population. Nineteen percent (206,227) of enlisted personnel are Black as are nine percent (21,921) of officers (2014). We can assume, then, that by and large, decisions in the military, including decisions about the schools of the Department of Defense, are most likely to be taken by White, non-Hispanics.  Very few (less than one percent) of military personnel are without a high school diploma or GED.  Ninety-two percent of enlisted personnel have a high school diploma or equivalent; six  percent have Bachelor’s degrees; 1 percent have more advanced educations. Among officers, the distribution of educational attainment is reversed: 7 percent officers have only a high school diploma or equivalent; 43 percent have Bachelor’s degrees and 41 percent have more advanced educational qualifications.

More than a third (38 percent) of military personnel are married with children, while just 6 percent are single with children. The approximate average annual income of enlisted personnel is $40,400, that of officers $81,000, which gives an average annual income for African-American military personnel of $44,300. In sum, the typical African-American member of the military is more likely to have completed secondary school, but less likely to have postsecondary degrees, has a higher individual income and if a parent is more likely to be married than a member of the general African-American population.

If we look at National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for the key eighth grade reading indicator, incomplete as they are for kids in special ed, we find that over-all, the Department of Defense schools outcomes are considerably better than those for public schools in general, with less than half the percentage of students at the Below Basic level (10 percent v. 25 percent) and 50 percent more at the proficient and above level (47 percent v. 32 percent). Disaggregating these results by race, we find that among White, non-Hispanic, students, the Department of Defense schools again have better, if less dramatic, outcomes:  52 percent v. 42 percent testing at proficient or above; nine percent v. 16 percent testing at below basic. However, the picture for Black students is dramatic, with less than a quarter of those that in the general population test at the below basic level (10 percent v. 42 percent), between two and three times as many at the proficient and above level (38 percent v. 15 percent). Interestingly, the Department of Defense schools results for Black students are approximately the same as those for White, non-Hispanic, students in the nation’s public schools.

The overall difference, then, between the outcomes for eighth grade reading between the Department of Defense schools and the nation’s public schools in general is the strikingly superior performance of the Department of Defense schools in regard to their Black students. To what should this be attributed?  If we look at the adult education and income data, there does not seem to be an obvious causal factor. Parental education differences are pretty much a wash: Black military adults are less likely to have quit school before receiving a diploma, but also less likely to have a Bachelor’s degree or above than other African-Americans. African-American military personnel have higher individual incomes and slightly higher family incomes than the general African-American population (perhaps because all are, by definition, employed).

However, while Black students in Department of Defense schools score at the proficient or above level 38 percent of the time, Black students ineligible for the National Lunch Program (that is, with middle class incomes) in all national public schools do so just 26 percent of the time, therefore family income explains only part of the difference. Nineteen percent of Black students, nationally, who respond to NAEP indicating that they live in home with a father, are at the proficient or above level, compared to 12 percent who give no response. (This is less of a difference than that for White, non-Hispanic, students, where the percentages are 46 percent and 32 percent.) As this probably correlates with income, again it does not seem to explain the difference between the outcomes of Department of Defense and other public schools.

This leaves us with what is usually called “school culture.”  In other words, it is probable that the Department of Defense schools partake of the general, official, anti-racist culture of the military. They give Black and White students equal educational opportunities, equal access to educational resources, and given those, race ceases to be a determining factor in educational achievement. There is a lesson there for America’s non-military traditional districts and other school operators.

Comments Off on Education the Military Way

Virginia Fails Black Kids

It was seemingly appropriate that White Supremacists marched down on the campus of the University of Virginia last Friday as part of the mayhem and terror they would eventually wage…

It was seemingly appropriate that White Supremacists marched down on the campus of the University of Virginia last Friday as part of the mayhem and terror they would eventually wage against Black people and other minorities. The long march for equality and democracy in America goes through the schoolhouse door in Virginia as much as in any other state.

While Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state legislative leaders can condemn the bigotry of the Unite the Right participants (as well as the words of the current President of the United States), neither they nor us should forget that there is a reason why they came to Virginia in the first place. It isn’t just because of some statue of Robert E. Lee. The last gasp of legal Jim Crow took place in Virginia, when that state’s government replied to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown with “massive resistance” to school integration. The Old Dominion’s politicians of the time were so opposed to providing equal education (as understood at the time) to Black children that they shut down entire school districts.

The good news is that some things have changed. The bad news? Some things have remained pretty much the same.

Virginia’s Department of Education publishes “School Quality Profiles” on the Internet, easily searchable by school or “division” (district).  These profiles include the percentage of students tested as achieving proficiency in reading, math, science and social studies.  The results are impressive – if you take them on face value.

For example, the Virginia Department of Education judges that 76 percent of eighth grade students are proficient or advanced in reading.  The state broke this down to 84 percent of White, non-Hispanic, students reaching the proficient or advanced level in grade 8 reading during the 2016-17 school year, as did 59 percent of Black students. The 25-percentage-point gap is troubling, but it is nonetheless encouraging that the state’s public schools teach more than half of its Black students to read at the level expected for middle school students.

Decades after Harry Byrd Sr. and his cohorts fought integration and Brown v. Board of Education, the Old Dominion engages in a new form of massive resistance against educating Black children.

But do they?

We can perform a direct comparison at the state level between student learning as assessed and reported by the Department of Education of Virginia and the National Assessment of Educational Progress results for eighth grade reading for the state. NAEP is widely considered “the gold standard” of student assessments.  If there is a difference between assessments, NAEP is to be preferred.

NAEP’s most recent report on grade eight reading for Virginia show that by its standard 44 percent of White students are proficient and above as are 16 percent of Black students.  This indicates that Virginia’s assessments at grade eight for proficiency in reading for White, non-Hispanic, students should be divided in half, those for Black students should be divided by nearly four.

We might, at this point, observe that inflating student learning achievement in this manner is not useful for the students, who are being given the impression that they have skills that half or three-quarters of them do not in fact possess; nor for educators, who look to these assessments for guidance for their efforts; nor for the state legislature and governor, who might wish to use these assessments in their budgetary and other planning.

As a result of these distortions, students may have false expectations for their futures; teachers may base their lesson plans on an incorrect understanding of the tasks to be accomplished; and district administrations and boards of education, as well as the state government, may not appropriate and allocate resources effectively.

Prince Edward County, once an epicenter of Virginia’s opposition to integration, now primarily educates Black children. Badly.

As a matter of fact, in regard to how scarce resources are allocated, Virginia ranks 29th among the states in per pupil expenditures on education and 42nd on expenditures in relation to personal income. These are indications of the state’s commitment, or lack of commitment, to education. Virginia shows a similar lack of investment in the provision of preschool education, for which, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, it ranks 29th for both access and spending

As far as educational opportunity is concerned, many schools in Virginia distribute opportunities quite inequitably to their students, basing them first on race, then in accordance with family income.  In regards to race, White students are nearly three times as likely to be taught to read proficiently in Virginia’s middle schools as are Black students.

But, it is not enough in Virginia for a student to be White to secure a good education.  It is necessary also to belong to a family that is not poor.  Using the NAEP standards, we find that White students from Virginia families living in or near poverty, and therefore eligible for the National Lunch Program, read at grade level at eighth grade just 20 percent of the time, while other White students, from more prosperous families, read at grade level more than twice as often: 51 percent of the time.

These inequities are compounded for Virginia’s Black students: only 12 percent of those eligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above the proficient level, while twice as many, 25 percent, of those from more prosperous families do so.

The decision by White Supremacists to protest in Charlottesville had less to do with a statue and more with the reminder of Virginia’s legacy of perpetuating the racism they prefer.

A White student from a comparatively prosperous family in Virginia is more than four times as likely to be brought to grade level in eighth grade reading than a Black student from a lower-income family.  A Black student from a comparatively prosperous family in Virginia is more likely to read at or above grade level at eighth grade than a White student eligible for the National Lunch Program. And even an above-average family income is not sufficient to secure three-quarters of affluent Black students the opportunity to read proficiently in middle school.

Virginia has undergone enormous, and accelerating, changes in the decades since Brown and the state’s “massive resistance” to desegregation and educational equity.  It has changed from a uniformly, nearly feudal society, steeped in the heritage of slavery, to one that is highly varied, in parts still agricultural, in others technology-based with a majority of residents who have relocated from the Northeast of the United States.

Educational opportunities are as variable across the state as this picture would indicate. Prince Edward County, in the south-central part of the state, closed its public schools after Brown rather than desegregate them.  The state reports that now 43 percent of the reopened school district’s Black students (who are 57 percent of enrollment) read proficiently in grade 8, which would be 11 percent or 12 percent on the NAEP scale.  The state assessment is of 59 percent for White, non-Hispanic, students, that is, about 30 percent on the NAEP scale.

On the other hand, Fairfax County, in the northern part of the state, a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C., reports 69 percent of Black students (who are just 10 percent of its enrollment) read proficiently by state standards, which would be 19 percent on NAEP, and 81 percent of White, non-Hispanic, which would be 40 percent on NAEP, read at grade level.

Seven decades after Massive Resistance, Virginia still does poorly in providing high quality education to Black children.

In Richmond, the state capitol (and former capitol of the Confederacy), the state reports that 37 percent of Black students (who are 71 percent of enrollment there) and 85 percent of White, non-Hispanic, students read a the proficient or advanced levels, which translate by national standards to 10 percent of Black students and 43 percent of White, non-Hispanic, students: and to 90 percent of Black students who don’t.

It is, then, not unusual in Virginia for a district to fail to bring nearly 90 percent of its Black students to grade level proficiency in middle school by national standards, while succeeding in this fundamental task for 40 percent of its White, non-Hispanic, students. And it is not now unknown for schools in those parts of the state where old times are nearly forgotten to triple learning opportunities for Black students from the level where the traditions of Jim Crow survive.

Black students moving from Prince Edward County or Richmond to Fairfax would nearly double their opportunity to learn to read proficiently. Moving to a suburban Virginia school system would increase the likelihood of learning to read proficiently for a middle class Black student to 30 percent.

Disparate educational outcomes in Virginia are facilitated by two overlapping types of segregation:  racial and income.  Public schools in Richmond, for example, have a Brown University Index of Dissimilarity of 69 on a scale where 60 or above is considered very highly segregated. The average Black student attends a school in which 77 percent of the students come from poor families and 87 percent are Black.  On the other hand, the Fairfax County Public Schools Dissimilarity Index is just 47 and Black students typically attend schools where just 38 percent of their students from poor families.  A reasonable hypothesis would be that differing educational opportunities for Black students between these districts follow from these differences in the intensity of racial and income segregation.

What must now be done in Virginia is ensure that all children are provided high-quality education.

But why is it that the quality of education available to a student varies with that student’s race and family income?  Part of the answer is that expenditure on that student’s education varies with location and the degrees of segregation found there.

Schools in Virginia, as most elsewhere in the United States, are funded by a locally-based tripartite system of revenue from local, state and federal sources.  In Virginia, state funding is higher for districts with lower amounts of local funding (and, as elsewhere, federal funding varies with poverty levels and other special needs).

In Prince Edward County, per pupil expenditure totals $11,300 per year, more than half of which comes from the state, partially compensating for the very low $3,800 per year from local resources.  In Fairfax County, per pupil expenditure totals $14,200 per year, more than 25 percent higher than that provided to Prince Edward County students.  $10,400 of this comes from local sources (close to the total of Prince Edward County’s expenditure), with just $3,200 from state sources and a negligible amount from federal sources.  Almost 60 percent of Prince Edward County’s students are Black, compared to 10 percent of students in Fairfax County’s schools.

Investment in a Black student’s education increases by a quarter if that student moves from Prince Edward County to Fairfax County, both racial and income segregation dramatically decrease and, according to Raj Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity Project, that student’s chances of reaching the top 20 percent of income distribution, given parents in the bottom 20 percent, doubles.

It is high time for Virginia’s politicians, especially outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his successor, to do better by Black children and other vulnerable youth.

Why should total investments in a student’s education, in this increasingly wealthy state, vary with the amount of local taxation revenues? Equalizing per student expenditures across the state to at least the level of Fairfax County would be a major step toward improving educational achievement for Virginia’s students who are the descendants of enslaved Africans, many of whom would have been brought from Africa and sold into slavery by Virginia-based slave traders.

Another factor restricting educational opportunities for Black students in Virginia is the racial attitudes of some school staff.  This can be seen in school discipline data.  Research has convincingly shown that disciplinary actions by school-level staff, such as out-of-school suspensions, are much more dependent on the racial attitudes of teachers and school administrators than on the activities of students.  The latest year for which state-level school discipline data is available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is 2011-12.

In that year, five percent of White students and three times that proportion, 14 percent, of Black students in Virginia and were given at least one out-of-school suspension.  (This is quite close to the 16 percent figure for Black adults in Virginia who have not completed high school and, perhaps coincidentally, the 16 percent percentage of African-Americans in Virginia who live in poverty.) Throwing a student out of class often begins the process by which that student is prevented from completing their education.

Unequal educational opportunities in elementary and secondary schooling in Virginia culminate in large numbers of Black students being denied high school diplomas.  The four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate reported by the state for the 2014-15 school year was 79 percent for Black students, but 90 percent for White students. [The graduation rate of Black students in the Richmond schools is 69 percent, that of White students 90 percent. In Fairfax those rates are 82 percent and 95 percent, respectively.] This

This includes more Black children in robotics as well as in other science and technology classes.

Given that only 16 percent of Black students and 44 percent of White students were reading at grade level in 2011, when they were in eighth grade, it appears that 61-63 percent of graduating Black students in Virginia and about half of graduating White students received their diplomas while having serious deficiencies in their reading skills. This is borne out by the fact that just 17 percent of those African-American students who took the SAT in 2015—and only college-bound students would take that test—met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark.

[This is before we consider the lack of opportunities for Black children in the Old Dominion to gain college-preparatory education, the subject of previous Dropout Nation analyses.]

It is not “natural” that the allocation of resources should vary from district to district within Virginia—or any other state—depending on local tax revenues.  More equitable systems are not beyond the keen of human intelligence.  Nor is it “natural”—must one say this?—that educational opportunities should be greater for middle class White students than for Black students from lower income families.

It is good that one or two Virginia school districts and some suburbs offer greater educational opportunities for African-American students than are offered elsewhere in the state, even if these are simply the by-products for relatively small minorities of Black students of increased investments in the educations of upper-middle class White children.

It is good to take symbolic steps to erase the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow.  However, a decision by the governor of Virginia, and its legislature, is needed to change the state’s education system, root and branch, so that educational opportunities are not determined by the color of a student’s skin, by the size of a student’s parents’ bank account, by the location of that student’s school.

Until McAuliffe, his eventual successor, and the state legislature do these things, the responsibility for the lack of educational opportunities for the descendants of enslaved Africans in Virginia remains theirs.

Comments Off on Virginia Fails Black Kids

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search