Author: Michael Holzman

The Confederacy of Illiteracy

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…

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.

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New York’s Jim Crow Schools

There has been a persistent theme in the media, explicitly, and in scholarly studies, implicitly, that economic class is much more important as a basis for analysis than race.  This…

There has been a persistent theme in the media, explicitly, and in scholarly studies, implicitly, that economic class is much more important as a basis for analysis than race.  This is, of course, a Marxist position, one clung to by the Communist Party of the United States to its dying day.

But the basis of American society, as even some Communists admitted, is division by race. This was embodied in the original wording of the Constitution, with its three-fifths rule for counting enslaved Africans and their descendants. It dominated debates in the Senate until the imposition of the “gag” rule, barring discussion of slavery; led to the Civil War, and as Jim Crow, determined social structures and social relations in much of the country until the 1960s.

Despite Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act and similar legislation, de jure Jim Crow did not vanish; it was transformed into “Jim Crow by another name,” primarily through the operation of schools and prisons. The stronghold of what Michelle Alexander branded as “The New Jim Crow” is the “black belt” of counties in the former Confederacy, running from Norfolk Virginia to, say, Waco, Texas, with satellites in various urban centers, especially in the line from Louisville, Kentucky to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but also including Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and New York.

Among the northern urban centers, New York City, because of its size and cultural and political significance, is of particular importance. New York City has an African American population of 2,089,000, a larger number than any other city in the country, more than in many states. How well do the New York public schools perform their task of educating all children, including Black children?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the standard by which education is measured in the United States.  Among NAEP’s many assessments, that for reading is particularly crucial as an indicator, particularly reading at grade 8, when the schools have had sufficient time to overcome many issues arising from home and community.

Results for grade 8 reading for New York City show that 46 percent of White students are Proficient and above (compared to 42 percent nationally) as are 15 percent of Black students (compared to 15 percent nationally).  Forty-four percent of Black students in the city’s public schools and 15 percent of White students were at the Below Basic (difficulty reading) level in 2015.

New York City’s public schools educate three times the percentage of their White students as their Black students to read at grade level in the crucial grade 8 year.  And they leave nearly half of Black middle school students unable to read easily, therefore unlikely to graduate from high school “college and career ready,” unlikely to qualify for or to obtain middle class jobs and incomes.

The failure of the New York City public schools to educate Black students is particularly troubling for male Black students, only 9 percent of whom are at Proficient or above in grade 8 reading in 2015.  Which means, of course, that 91 percent are not.

Student educational attainment in New York is also sharply divided by income.  Thirty-six percent of White students from families living in or near poverty, and therefore eligible for the National Lunch Program, in the New York public schools reach the Proficient and above levels in grade 8 reading. Other White students, from more prosperous families, read at grade level 57 percent of the time by eighth grade.  Among Black students, 13 percent of those eligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above the Proficient level, while 18 percent of those from more prosperous families do so.  A White student from a comparatively prosperous family in New York is more than four times as likely to be brought to grade level in grade 8 reading than a Black student from a low-income family.

Notice, however, the different sizes of the gaps between students from relatively poor and relatively prosperous families among Black and White students. It is 21 percentage points among White students, five among Black students.  Or, White students from more prosperous families are 58 percent more likely to read at grade level than White students from less well-off families, while with Black students it is 38 percent.  NAEP’s records for New York City assessments of this type go back only to 2003, but if we analyze those, we find that the family income differences for White students are pretty steady, over time, but for Black students they are narrowing, from 13 percentage points in 2007 to 5 percentage points in 2015.  The reading ability of New York City’s Black middle class students is declining, according to NAEP, while that of Black students from lower income families is remaining relatively flat.

How can this be interpreted? New York is one of the nation’s most segregated cities, as are its schools.  While since the (Lyndon) Johnson administration formal housing segregation has been illegal, in New York City even middle class Black professionals are ghettoized. Therefore, their children go to the same schools as do the children of the poorest, single parent, families.  In theory, this should not matter.  In theory, all schools would provide educations of equal—high—quality to all students.  Now, there’s this bridge in Brooklyn I want you to look at . . .

If we are done with that, it is obvious that all but 15 percent of Black children (and 9 percent of male Black children) in New York City are being provided with inferior educational opportunities because they are Black.  And of those, comparatively successful students, many are the children of school teachers and other highly educated parents, in effect, home schooled: the home environment making up for the deficiencies of the school (rather than the idealized opposite).

The racism of the New York City public school system is more or less overt, as witness the unspeakable racial imbalance of the system’s selective high schools, which year after year admit so few Black students that those could be accounted for by the number of children of Black United Nations diplomats. The outcome of all this is that the 65 percent of Black students entering grade 9 in New York City who were given diplomas four years later include about 40 percent who could not read at grade level when they were in grade 8 and probably could not read eighth grade material when they were given diplomas. More than one-third of the system’s Black students do not graduate from high school, two-thirds or more of those who do are far from “college and career ready.”

If a system fails in its professed purpose—say, educating children—more often than chance would indicate, and continues to do so over time, it is probable that it is, in fact, achieving its actual purpose, in this case, perpetuating racism.

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Charters Highlight Inequity

There have been, and no doubt, are now taking place, many studies of how the results obtained by the nation’s public charter schools differ from those of other public schools…

There have been, and no doubt, are now taking place, many studies of how the results obtained by the nation’s public charter schools differ from those of other public schools with similar student populations. Depending on the study you cite, either charter schools do better than traditional districts in improving student or do no better. But one thing is known: None of these studies compare charter school students with those in traditional public schools who did not attempt the lottery.

The most-recent of these studies, from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found in its Urban Charter Schools Report in 2015 that “urban charter schools on average achieve significantly greater student success in math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading.” This isn’t to say charters are doing well everywhere, which CREDO points out throughout its study; these are averages, after all. In fifteen of the 41 regions in math and 18 of the 41 regions in reading there was no difference or the charters did less well then traditional public schools.

A crucial issue that I have not seen explored is that of the possible causal factors in student learning that differentiate charters from traditional public schools.  That is, there seems to be an implicit assumption that the differentiating causal factor is the sheer fact of chartering.

There is something to this. One of the motivations for charters, in the first place, was that the administrations of at least some districts were so incompetent (to be polite), that they interfered with the operations of their schools.  There is also the common American ideology that competition is beneficial, that if a school independent of the district administration did well, then others would imitate its innovations and all boats would be floated with the rising tide.

However, the situation today is increasingly one in which there are charter school operators, or as I call them, systems of charter schools, so that the comparison is not so much that between independent schools with adventurous teachers and teacher leaders and schools chained to district administrations, but between systems of charter schools, on the one hand, and traditional school systems on the other.  This changes what it means for a school to be a charter, as opposed to a traditional public school.  Instead of meaning that decisions will be school-based in the one and system-based, in the other, it means that either is possible for each, or, as likely as not, decisions will be system-based in both.

In our search for those independent variables that might be causal for differences in student outcomes between charter schools and traditional public schools, we might look at one aspect of the situation in New York City.  Among the various systems of charter schools operating in New York, the KIPP group, with six schools in the city, has a good reputation and good results. KIPP has a strong system-wide culture of support and in-service professional development for its teachers and school leaders. In New York City, on average, 45 percent of the students in KIPP schools were judged Proficient on the state’s grades 3-8 English Language Arts tests in 2016, as compared to 24 percent of the students in the four geographical school districts in which they were located.

So far, so good.

Let’s do some poking about in the weeds to see if we can find out what it is about the KIPP charter schools to which we can attribute these results.  First, student factors: In New York City, about one-third of Black and Latino school age children live in poverty.  That figure rises to 50 percent for Hispanic families in which a woman is the householder and there is no husband present.  Thirty-eight percent of Latino residents of the city speak English “less than well” (as do seven percent of Black residents).  Eighteen percent of Black adults and 34 percent of Latino adults have not graduated from high school.

The KIPP schools have racial and ethnic enrollments nearly identical with those of the local traditional public schools, as well as nearly identical percentages of students with disabilities.  They have a higher percentage of English language learners, an identical percentage of students eligible for free lunches (a measure of poverty) and more than twice the percentage of the slightly less impoverished group eligible for reduced price lunches.  Their class sizes are slightly, but not significantly, larger than those in the local traditional schools.

However, there are important differences to be found in the data about teachers. Eighteen of the KIPP teachers have been teaching three years or less, as compared to 14 percent of the teachers in the local traditional schools.  Among teachers with five years or less of experience, the turn-over rate in the KIPP schools was 43 percent and overall it was 42 percent, while in the local traditional schools annual teacher turnover rates were 24 percent and 19 percent respectively.  In other words, every two years each KIPP school had an almost entirely new, younger, teaching staff, as compared to between  every four and five years for the local traditional schools.

The situation in regard to qualifications is even more dramatic. Thirty-seven percent of the KIPP teachers have no valid teaching credential, 37 percent are teaching outside their certification areas, 38 percent of classes are not taught by highly qualified teachers and 37 percent are taught by teachers without appropriate certification.  Just 13 percent have pursued graduate degrees.  The comparisons with the teachers in the local traditional schools are stark: just two percent of those have no valid teaching credential, 17 percent are teaching outside their certification areas, 15 percent of classes are not taught by highly qualified teachers and 16 percent are taught by teachers without appropriate certification. Forty have pursued their own studies to the M.A. level and beyond.  In sum, the local traditional schools are staffed with teachers who are better educated and better credentialed than those in New York City’s KIPP charter schools.

Why then do the KIPP schools have better results than the local traditional schools?

One theory would be that education and credentialing do not make better teachers and staff stability does not matter for the quality of the education students receive.  There is enough data to suggest this – and teacher quality is the most-critical factor in how schools educate children. But it only one factor..

The second theory is that charter schools can sort out children they don’t want to serve through application processes that don’t apply to traditional public schools. The problem with that argument is that charters such as those run by KIPP also must go through a lottery process with various safeguards which ensure that the socioeconomic profiles of the students are nearly identical to that of districts. These lotteries exist because there are far fewer charter schools than there are traditional public schools.

The third theory, one that interests me, is that the determination of parents and legal guardians to get their children into charters is a filter that differentiates kids in charters from those in traditional public schools.  There are, no doubt, many Black and Hispanic New York residents who have not graduated from high school, who do not speak English well, who are living in poverty, who will file a KIPP charter school application for their children.  It is equally likely that there are those, and others more fortunate, who will not.

Few doubt that the concentrated parental attention on education that many middle class children receive is a factor in their educational success.  In places where, as in New York, many traditional public schools fail to educate their students to their potential. For parents looking for a way out, they notice the success of charter systems like KIPP and apply to their lotteries.  We might then guess that this has become a feed-back loop: increasing numbers of students with highly motivating parents yield ever better educational outcomes and attracting ever more students with highly motivating parents.

Of course, the motivated parent argument is an old one and we must be careful in considering it. It is often an excuse for traditional public schools to not properly educate children, especially those Black and Latino, with the fewest personal resources. At the same time, we must keep in mind that in the case of charter schools, the potential of those schools to provide more children with high-quality education can be limited by the lack of support for those with the fewest resources: Thee youth who don’t have parents or permanent legal guardians or whose parents and guardians are struggling too mightily with other issues (including deportation) to go through the charter school application process.

Benevolent social systems are limited in their impact when they cannot adequately help the child with the fewest personal resources. [They are also limited when there aren’t enough of them in the first place — and there aren’t enough high-quality public education systems of any kind.] Choice certainly has value. But so does ensuring that even the neediest children can gain the knowledge they need and deserve so they can survive once they leave schools.

What we have right now are collections of public education systems that fail to achieve the goal of providing all children equal opportunities for a high-quality education, a goal essential to the wellbeing of an increasingly sorely-tried American Republic. These issues aren’t an indictment of charter schools. But their existence, including their success, does highlight our failure to address this persistent inequity.

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More Meaningless Diplomas

During the first part of Dropout Nation‘s study of the value of high school diplomas, we looked at graduation rates and eighth grade reading proficiency for Chicago, New York and…

During the first part of Dropout Nation‘s study of the value of high school diplomas, we looked at graduation rates and eighth grade reading proficiency for Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. We will now look at five more districts: Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, in the north, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Duval County (Jacksonville), Florida, in the south.  As none of these had statistically significant Asian enrollments, we will consider only Black, Latino and White students.

Black student graduation rates are reported by these districts to the U.S. Department of Education as 64 percent in Cleveland, 77 percent in Detroit and 55 percent in Milwaukee; 87 percent in Charlotte and 71 percent in Duval County.  Latino students are reported as graduating at a rate of 61 percent in Cleveland, 81 percent in Detroit and 59 percent in Milwaukee; 80 percent in Charlotte and 74 percent in Duval County, while White students are reported as graduating at a rate of 82 percent in Cleveland, 62 percent in Detroit and 68 percent in Milwaukee; 94 percent in Charlotte and 81 percent in Duval County.

The difference between White graduation rates, on the one hand, and Black and Latino rates, on the other, is rather small, as these things go nationally, varying from about 20 points for Cleveland to about 10 points for the others, except for Detroit, where the difference is inverted—higher Black and Latino than White graduation rates. Charlotte’s graduation rate for Black students is higher than that for White students in the other districts.  Detroit’s graduation rate for White students is lower than that for Black students in all the other districts except Milwaukee.  All of these districts graduate most of their Black, Latino and White students.  Charlotte’s success in this matter is quite notable.

We can now assess the degree to which those districts are successful in actually educating those students, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career preparation. Here, again, the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ assessment of eighth-grade reading proficiency will be the yardstick.

At eighth grade, 19 percent of Cleveland’s White students read at or above grade level (“Proficient” and “Advanced”), as compared to 12 percent of the district’s Latino students and just 8 percent of the district’s Black students. Too few of Detroit’s White students to measure tested at or above grade level, but 16 percent of the district’s Latino students and a quite astonishing 5 percent of the district’s Black students did so.  Charlotte’s results were 25 percent for Latino, 18 percent for Black, and 59 percent for White students scoring “Proficient” or above on eighth grade reading.  In Duval County, the district’s schools also taught just 18 percent of Black students to read proficiently by eighth grade, as compared to 30 percent of their Latino students and 41 percent of their White students.  Milwaukee did not report data for the most recent year.  In 2013 the district reported 7 percent of Black students, 19 percent of Latino students, and 29 percent of White students reading proficiently at eighth grade.

High schoolers in Cleveland’s district such as those at John Adams High are more-likely to graduate than to read at grade level.

Only Charlotte taught most of any group to read proficiently by eighth grade, 59 percent of its White students.  This was three times the level of the district’s Black students. Yet Charlotte’s results (and those of Duval County) compare well with those of Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, which had results so bad for their Black students that chance effects may have accounted for any success in the districts’ reading efforts for them.

Now, with this information in hand, we can arrive at some kind of judgment of how well-educated are students receiving diplomas from these cities.

Comparing NAEP Eighth grade Reading Proficiency for the Charlotte groups, we found the following: NAEP Eighth grade Reading percent at or above grade level: 18 percent for Black students; 25 percent for Latino students; 59 percent for White students. And these for high school graduation rates: 87 percent for Black students; 80 percent for Latino students; 94 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios:  4.8 for Black students; 3.2 for Latino students; 1.6 for White students.

Close to twice the percentage of White students, more than three times the percentage of Latino students and nearly five times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Charlotte schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Cleveland, we found the following for NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level: eight percent for Black students; 12 percent for Latino peers; 19 percent for White students. The high school graduation rates? Sixty-four percent for Black students; 61 percent for Latino peers; and 82 percent for White students. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: 8.0 for Black students; 5.1 for Latino students; and 4.3 for White students.

More than four times the percentage of White students, five times the percentage of Latino students and eight times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Cleveland schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Detroit, we found the following for the two groups for which we have NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level:  Five percent for Black students and 16 percent for Latino peers. The high school graduation rates:  Seventy-seven percent for Black students and 81 percent for Latino peers. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we get these ratios: For Black students, it’s 15.4, and for Latino peers, 5.1.

More than five times the percentage of Latino students and more than fifteen times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Detroit schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Duval County , we found the following for NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level: Eighteen percent for Black students; 30 percent for Latino peers; and 41 percent for White students. And this for high school graduation rates:  Seventy-one percent for Black students; 74 percent for Latino students; and 81 percent for White students. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: For Black students, 3.9; Latino students, 2.5; and 1.99 for White peers.

Twice the percentage of White students, two and a half times the percentage of Latino students and four times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Duval County schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

Finally for Milwaukee, we found the following for NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level: Seven percent for Black students; 19 percent for Latino peers; and 29 percent for White students. This for high school graduation rates:  Fifty-five percent for Black students; 59 percent for Latino peers; and 68 percent for White students. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Black students, 7.9; Latino students, 3.1; and 2.3 for White students.

More than twice the percentage of White students, three times the percentage of Latino students and eight times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Milwaukee schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

On average, then, these districts graduate about two and a half times the percentage of White students than are reading at grade level in middle school, while they graduate nearly four times that of Latino students and eight times that of Black students.  Unless remarkable gains are made in reading proficiency in the schools of these cities between grades 8 and 12, there is only a one in eight chance that their Black high school graduates read at grade level, one in four that their Latino graduates do so and less than fifty-fifty that their White diploma recipients can read proficiently. (And given national data, it is unlikely that there are enough gains, if any, between grades 8 and 12 to make a difference.) Of course, those students who are not given diplomas will face bleak futures indeed.

Given the NAEP data on reading proficiency, there is a reasonable assumption that most graduates from the Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Duval County and Milwaukee, like those from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia systems, and, in particular, their Black and Latino students, initially enroll in community colleges. According to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, just 29 percent of White, 30 percent of Latino and 20 percent of Black students graduated within 150 percent of normal time in two-year postsecondary institutions. Or, in other words, 80 percent of Black, and 70 percent of Latino and White students who attempted an Associates degree were not prepared to succeed.

In Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Duval County and Milwaukee, as in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, the vast majority of Black and Latino are either not graduating or are being handed diplomas that mean little. Those diplomas falsely represent preparation for adult life, for further education and training. They are false promises.

The federal government has recently taken a firm line with private vocational schools that give out worthless diplomas.  It might be appropriate for the U.S. Department of Education to do something similar with districts that give diplomas to their students whom they have qualified for little beyond remedial education.

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Those Meaningless Diplomas

The National Center for Education Statistics has now released graduation rates for US school districts, disaggregated for the usual racial and ethnic groups, but not by gender. For the purposes…

The National Center for Education Statistics has now released graduation rates for US school districts, disaggregated for the usual racial and ethnic groups, but not by gender. For the purposes of this analysis, those rates will be used as given.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoMuch progress has been made in standardizing calculations for high school graduation rates and although there remain local oddities, such as a proliferation of types of high school diplomas, particularly in the South, the overall situation is such as to allow a sharper focus on individual districts. We can, then, look at three typical large urban districts—Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—with at least a first order degree of confidence that we are looking at similar data among them. (Chicago’s graduation rate calculations have been questioned—certain groups are said to be excluded—but that discussion can be put aside for another occasion.)

Asian students are reported to graduate at a rate of 91 percent in Chicago, 83 percent in New York City and 80 percent in Philadelphia.  Black student graduation rates are reported as 71 percent in Chicago, 64 percent in New York City and 65 percent in Philadelphia.  Latino students are reported as graduating at a rate of 80 percent in Chicago, 61 percent in New York and 53 percent in Philadelphia, while White students are reported as graduating at a rate of 87 percent in Chicago, 81 percent in New York City and 71 percent in Philadelphia.

The difference between Asian and White graduation rates, on the one hand, and Black and Latino rates, on the other, varies from 15 to 20 percentage points, with Chicago showing the least difference and New York City the greatest difference.  The greatest differences between districts are those in nearly every case between the relatively better rates for Chicago and relatively worse rates for Philadelphia (but see proviso above).

Those graduation rates are indications of the success, or lack of it, for each of these districts in providing their students with diplomas.  How, then, can we assess the degree to which those districts are successful in educating those students, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career preparation?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is of some help in this. The cliché description of NAEP’s data is that it is “the gold standard,” and there is little doubt that its assessments are accurate. Unfortunately, NAEP does not provide district data for its 12th grade assessments.  Therefore, Dropout Nation uses the assessment at eighth grade, selecting among the many subject-area assessments that which is most fundamental, reading.  At grade eight, 63 percent of Chicago’s White students read at or above grade level (“Proficient”), as compared to 24 percent of the district’s Latino students and just 13 percent of the district’s Black students. (There are too few Asian students in the Chicago schools for NAEP to assess.) 46 percent of New York City’s White students and 26 percent of Philadelphia’s White students test at or above grade level in grade eight, as do 15 percent of New York City’s and 9 percent of Philadelphia’s Black students.  Twenty-two percent of New York’s Latino students and 11 percent of Philadelphia’s Latino students test at grade level, as do 41 percent of New York’s and 44 percent of Philadelphia’s Asian students.

Philadelphia is clearly failing to teach reading to most of its students — a remarkable three-quarters of its White students and over 90 percent of its Black students are below grade level in reading on NAEP’s grade 8 evaluation. And although Chicago’s success with White Students is impressive, it fails to teach over 85 percent of its Black students this fundamental skill.

We can, with this information, throw some light on the question of how well-educated are those students receiving diplomas from these three cities.

Comparing NAEP Grade 8 Reading Proficiency for the New York City groups, we found the following for the four largest racial/ethnic groups: NAEP eighth-grade reading percent at or above grade level:  Forty-one percent of Asians, 15 percent of Black students; 22 percent of Latino students; and 46 percent of White students. By the way: the graduation rates are t83 percent for Asian students, 64 percent for Black students, 61 percent for Latino students, and 81 percent for White students.  Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-zero for Asian students; 4.3 for Black students; 2.8 percent for Latino students, and 1.8 percent for White students.

Twice the percentage of Asian and White students, three times the percentage of Latino students and more than four times the percentage of Black students graduate from the New York City schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Philadelphia, we found the following for NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level: Forty-four percent for Asians; nine percent for Black students; 11 percent for Latino students; and 26 percent for Whites. And this for high school graduation rates:  Eighty percent for Asians; 65 percent for Black students; 53 percent for Latinos students; and 71 percent for Whites. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-eight for Asians; 6.9 for Black students; 4.6 for Latinos; and 2.8 for whites.

Nearly three times the percentage of Asian and White students, almost five times the percentage of Latino students and nearly seven times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Philadelphia schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Chicago, we found the following for the three racial/ethnic groups for which we have NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level:  Thirteen percent for Black students; 24 percent for Latino students; and 62 percent for White students. And these for high school graduation rates:  Seventy-one percent for Black students; 80 percent for Latino students; and 87 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we get these ratios: Five-point-three for Black students; 3.3 for Latino students; and 1.4 for White students.

Nearly half again the percentage of White students, more than three times the percentage of Latino students and more than five times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Chicago schools as are reading at grade level in grade 8.

On average, then, these three districts graduate about twice the percentage of Asian and White students than are reading at grade level in middle school, while they graduate three-and-a-half times that of Latino students and five and-a-half that of Black students.

What happens to these recipients of high school diplomas from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia schools?  Do those diplomas mean that they were educated by their schools so as to be career and college-ready?

Nationally, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 83 percent of recent Asian high school completers enrolled in a two or four year post-secondary institution, as did 71 percent of White, 69 percent of Latino and 56 percent of Black recent high school graduates. Given the NAEP data on reading proficiency, there is a reasonable assumption that most graduates from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia systems, and, in particular, their Black and Latino students, initially enroll in community colleges. Again, according to the most recent NCES report, 34 percent of Asian, 29 percent of White, 30 percent of Latino and 20 percent of Black students graduated within 150 percent of normal time in two-year postsecondary institutions.

Or, in other words, 80 percent of Black, 70 percent of Latino and White and 66 percent of Asian students who attempted an Associates degree were not prepared to succeed.  This accords with reports that in New York City, 80 percent of community college students require reading and math remediation.

There is another way of putting this.  In Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—and likely in other large cities—the vast majority of Black and Latino are either not graduating or are being handed diplomas that mean little.  Those that receive diplomas graduate without necessary basic skills.  Of the half to two-thirds who receive diplomas, another half or two-thirds—a quarter or a third of those who began high school—enroll in college.  Of those, one-fifth to one-third graduate in the time expected, that is, 5 percent to 11 percent of the entering high school classes.

These college numbers are from national statistics.  It is probably worse than that for Black and Latino students in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, as well as for peers in Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis.

The first step toward improving this situation is for districts to be honest about their data, in this case, honest when giving out diplomas. The following steps are well-known: providing resources for lower income and especially Black and Latino students at least as generously as they are provided by their schools and families for students from higher income families.  If these things are not done, one can only conclude that those who could do them do not wish to do so.

Down that path is a society divided between a steadily shrinking, and aging, wealthy America and an increasing, and increasingly impoverished, other America: Black, Brown and, yes, White as well.

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Educational Abuse of Black Kids

The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education has recently released data from the 2013 school year, including reported numbers of discipline of students by disability status,…

The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education has recently released data from the 2013 school year, including reported numbers of discipline of students by disability status, race, ethnicity, and gender for districts and schools. This isn’t information many want to see — and others (including the incoming administration and its allies) would rather not ever be collected. But the information is there for everyone to see — and it isn’t pretty.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoJust as crime statistics measure not crime, but police activity, so school discipline statistics measure the actions—and thus the attitudes—of school personnel rather than simply recording the actions of ill-behaved students. School discipline categories are those of the actions of school officials: Corporal punishment, suspension, expulsions, referral to law enforcement and school-related arrests.  Corporal punishment is only used in a few isolated places, such as one or two in Louisiana, by White school personnel on Black students, and therefore can be placed in another category, perhaps that of residual Jim Crow.

Suspensions are either in-school or out-of-school and are counted as those inflicted only once during the school year or once or more often.  Expulsions can be with or without educational services and those under zero-tolerance policies.  There are also school-related arrests and referrals to law enforcement.

We can, then, examine the discipline activities of school personnel in rather fine detail in, for example, three large urban districts: Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Chicago’s student enrollment is 46 percent Latino, 40 percent Black, 10 percent White and 4 percent Asian.  School personnel rarely inflict school discipline actions on Asian students.  Many of Chicago’s discipline categories record no Asian students and in none of the others does the percentage of Asian students punished rise to that of the percentage of Asian students in the district.  Only four White students, all male, were expelled—that out of 19,000 male White students.  As with the Asian students, the only discipline category in which school personnel saw fit to place White students at a rate equal to their enrollment was that involving a single out-of-school suspension.  The number of Hispanic students, also, does not exceed their enrollment representation in any category and in the matter of expulsions varies from 17 percent to 2 percent of those expelled under any heading, as compared to the Latino enrollment of 46 percent.

Chicago’s school personnel, in contrast, are particularly active in inflicting disciplinary measures on Black students.  Sixty-five percent of students receiving one or more in-school suspensions are Black, as are 60 percent of those receiving only one out-of-school suspension.  Seventy-six percent of those receiving more than one-out of–school suspensions are Black; as are 79 percent of those expelled with and 88 percent of those expelled without educational services.  Eighty-three percent of those expelled under zero tolerance policies are Black as are 62 percent of those referred to law enforcement.

A number equal to 44 percent of all male Black students in the Chicago schools was recorded as subjected to one category or another of disciplinary punishment in the 2013 school year.  Of course some of those students were double-counted: suspended then expelled and the like.  And some would have been disciplined even by the most fair-minded adult.  And all are likely to leave school before graduating from high school, likely to be incarcerated, likely to never earn anything above a poverty wage, likely, perhaps, to murder someone or be murdered themselves.

black_kids_discipline

As seen in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, Black kids are the ones most-likely to be targeted for the harshest traditional school discipline.

New York’s student enrollment is 41 percent Latino, 26 percent Black, 15 percent White and 16 percent Asian.  As in Chicago, school personnel rarely inflict school discipline actions on Asian students.  Some of the discipline categories record no Asian students and in none of the others does the percentage of Asian students punished rise to that of the percentage of Asian students in the district.  Only six White students, all male, were expelled—that out of 78,000 male White students.  There was no discipline category in which school personnel saw fit to place White students at a rate equal to their enrollment.  The number of Hispanic students exceeded their enrollment representation in only one sub-category (male students receiving one or more in-school suspensions) and in only 14 male Hispanic students were expelled, out of 206,300.

New York’s school personnel, like those in Chicago, are particularly active in inflicting disciplinary measures on Black students.  Forty-nine percent of students receiving one or more in-school suspensions are Black, as are 54 percent of those receiving only one out-of-school suspension.  Sixty-three percent of those receiving more than one-out of–school suspensions are Black; as are 66 percent of those expelled with educational services.  Forty percent of those expelled under zero tolerance policies are Black as are 53 percent of those referred to law enforcement.

The school discipline activities of New York City’s school personnel are not as frequent as those of their colleagues in Chicago; they are similarly disproportionately inflicted on Black students.

Philadelphia’s student enrollment is 19 percent Latino, 53 percent Black, 15 percent White and 8 percent Asian.  As with Chicago and New York, Philadelphia school personnel rarely inflict school discipline actions on Asian students. No Asian students were expelled or referred to law enforcement and in none of the other categories does the percentage of Asian students punished rise to that of the percentage of Asian students in the district.  None of the 21,000 White students were expelled.  Sixteen percent of students suspended one or more times were White, as compared with the 15 percent share of the district enrollment composed of White students. Hardly any Latino students were recorded in discipline matters—eight in all categories other than school-related arrest, where 15 percent of those in the district were Latino, compared to the 19 percent share of Latino students in the district.  It does seem a bit odd that Philadelphia’s school personnel take so few actions regarding discipline matters involving Latino, other than the very serious items requiring police action, but that is what the district reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

Philadelphia’s school personnel, in contrast, decree 71 percent of one or more in-school suspensions to Black students, 84 percent of only one out-of-school suspensions, and 87 percent of more than one out-of-school suspensions.  Seventy-three percent of students subjected to school related arrests in Philadelphia are Black.

A number equal to nearly a quarter of all male Black students in the Philadelphia schools were subjected to one category or another of disciplinary punishment in the 2013 school year.  The school discipline activities of Philadelphia’s school personnel are more frequent than those in New York, although not as frequent as those of their colleagues in Chicago.  However, they are similarly disproportionately inflicted on Black students.

These disproportionalities hold for both male and female students.

Five years ago the Justice Center of the council of State Governments issued a report entitled “Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Related to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement.”  The study established that racial and ethnic disproportionality in school discipline is a function of school personnel actions and attitudes, rather than student behavior. It also established that those attitudes, and hence attitudes, can be changed by in-service professional development.

In districts as large as those of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia this might be costly.  On the other hand, maintaining the status quo destroys the life-chances, and in many cases the lives, of thousands of Black children.

Featured cartoon courtesy of Rachel Marie-Crane Williams.

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