Author: Michael Holzman

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.

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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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Milwaukee: America’s Syria

Aleppo, once, but perhaps not still, the largest city in Syria, is divided into one section occupied by President Assad’s government of Syria and another besieged section.  Recently, Russian airplanes…

Aleppo, once, but perhaps not still, the largest city in Syria, is divided into one section occupied by President Assad’s government of Syria and another besieged section.  Recently, Russian airplanes have been bombing the latter, causing deaths and immense suffering to children as well as adults. The story runs on the news, worldwide, every day.  The United Nations and other entities are in nearly continuous session to consider what can be done.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoMilwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, is divided as starkly into two sections: one White, one non-White. According to one of a recent series of articles in The New York Times, schools in metropolitan Milwaukee “are as segregated now as they were in 1965. Nearly three in four black students attend schools where at least 90 percent of the students are not white . . . Only 15.7 percent of Milwaukee Public School students tested proficient in reading in 2013-14, and 20.3 percent in math . . . Nearly one out of every eight black men in Milwaukee County has served time behind bars . . . The black unemployment rate in Milwaukee County is 20 percent, nearly three times greater than for white people.”

That sounds familiar.  Nearly three years ago, in a Dropout Nation essay, I compared Milwaukee to Mississippi. The bad news is that Mississippi came out better. Back then, I pointed out such data as:

  • More than 40 percent of Black families with children in Milwaukee had incomes below the poverty line.
  • The median household income of Black families in Milwaukee was $26,600. The poverty line for a family of four in Wisconsin was $23,550.
  • Seventy percent of male Black students in Milwaukee scored at the Below Basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 Reading examination. For most purposes that meant they couldn’t read.
  • Of the 3,100 male Black students in grade 9 in the 2007-08 school year in Milwaukee, 1,300 made it to grade 12 by 2010-11 (42 percent).
  • Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for Black people was 4,416 per 100,000, ten times the rate at which it imprisoned White people.

Some things have improved. The percentage of male Black eighth-graders in Milwaukee schools who can read at grade level has increased from three percent to four percent.  At this rate, most Black male eighth-graders will be able to read at grade level by the year 2100, give or take a few years.

On the other hand, of the 2,506 Black male ninth-graders in the 2010-11 school year, 1,004 made it to senior year of high school by 2013-14 (a drop from 42 percent to 40 percent). At that rate, by the year 2100 no male Black students would be promoted from freshman to senior year.

The percentage of Black families with children with incomes below the poverty line has increased from 40 percent to 47 percent. The median household income for Black families in Milwaukee has declined to $24,967 (just above the current poverty line for a family of four of $24,300).

The Times article emphasized housing segregation, using as its human interest hook an affluent Black family to illustrate the ghettoization of Black families achieved by redlining of loans and White hostility.  A nearly simultaneous Boston Globe op-ed focused on the way that now-Governor Scott Walker has manipulated mass transit to isolate Black residents of Milwaukee and increase Black unemployment.  There is little or no access to mass transit for Black residents of Milwaukee and, as Lois Quinn and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, have demonstrated for years, driving while Black in the area is a gateway to mass incarceration.

Milwaukee is not Aleppo. County Sheriff Clarke is not President Assad. Governor Walker is not Putin. It is more banal than that. Black men in Milwaukee have faced incarceration and unemployment as normal events for many years now.  Black families have been forced to live in restricted and deteriorating neighborhoods as a matter of routine.  Black children have been forced into schools that do not educate them—for many years now.  This goes on, year after year.  It is normal.  No conferences are called.  Unless there is violence, as there was recently, occasioning the articles in the Times and the Globe, there are no headlines in the mainstream media.

When will something be done? What is to be done?  Who is to do it?

Speaking of President Putin, about ten years ago he crushed a rebellion in the region of Chechnya, killing large numbers of people and leveling the city of Grozny, which was then rebuilt, sparing no expense. One can imagine Governor Walker sending uniformed forces into Milwaukee with Ferguson-style armored vehicles. One can imagine the Black neighborhoods of the city burning.  However, one cannot imagine Governor Walker and his supporters subsequently rebuilding those neighborhoods, improving the schools, ending redlining and mass incarceration.

They have had plenty of time to do those things. It is quite evident that they like things the way they are.

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The Real Ferguson Effect

Seth Gershenson and Michael Hayes have recently published their research about the effects of the “civic unrest” in Ferguson on student achievement in the Ferguson-Florissant schools.  They state that they…

Seth Gershenson and Michael Hayes have recently published their research about the effects of the “civic unrest” in Ferguson on student achievement in the Ferguson-Florissant schools.  They state that they are interested in the general subject as “educational success is likely to play a key role in breaking cycles of poverty and violence in disadvantaged neighborhoods, given the well documented association between educational attainment and earnings,” something about which we can all only agree.

Gershenson and Hayes document “the negative impact on student achievement of the many months of civic unrest that followed former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting (or murder, as we call it here at Dropout Nation) of unarmed teenager Michael Brown:

We find statistically significant . . . declines in students’ math and reading achievement in Ferguson-area elementary schools relative to other schools in the St. Louis [area]. Smaller negative effects are found in majority-black schools elsewhere in the [area] . . . Effects are relatively large, particularly at the lower end of the math-score distribution. For example, a conservative estimate suggests that the fraction of high-needs students scoring “below basic” in math increased by about 10 percentage points following the unrest.”

The researchers have found that that there was collateral damage from the events in Ferguson following Brown’s slaying: The educations of Black children there and in the wider St. Louis area. As Dropout Nation documented two years ago, the districts in St. Louis were already serving up educational malpractice to black and other minority children before the unrest. Things haven’t gotten better since.

The racial make-up of the population of Ferguson has rapidly shifted over the past fifty years, from nearly all White to majority Black. At the time of the killing of Michael Brown, however, the police department and the rest of the so-called criminal justice system remained not only predominately White, but functioned, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (although not in so many words), as a parasitical instrument for the oppression of Black residents of the area, financed by funds extracted from them by means of traffic stops, court fees and such.

This criminalization of the Black population of Ferguson is not unusual in Missouri. All through the state Black residents are stopped by the police, searched, arrested, fined and imprisoned in circumstances in which White residents would not receive the same attention from the police and the rest of the criminal justice system.

The result is that although Blacks make up 12 percent of the population of Missouri, they account for 39 percent of those in the state’s prison and jails.  The incarceration rate for Black residents of the state is 2,337 per 100,000, more than four times the incarceration rate of 495 per 100,000 for whites. Further, more than twice the number of those currently in jails and prisons in Missouri are on probation or parole, bring us to, say, six percent of the total Black population or, at a back of the envelope calculation, 15 percent of the male Black population between the ages of 18 and 65.

Every sixth or seventh adult Black man in Missouri is in one way or another under the control of the state’s criminal justice system and many more have been at one time or another. This limits their life prospects and those of their families, reducing their income possibilities below those consequent upon the already significant penalty for working while Black, which in turn channels them into inferior, segregated housing and their children into inferior, segregated schools.  And around and around we go, generation after generation.

The median household income in Ferguson is $41,000; one-third of the Ferguson households live on less than $25,000 a year. The Ferguson-Florissant School District is ranked 301st in the state. It is 66 percent African-American. $11,300 is allocated for each student in the district, slightly below the national average. Seventy-one percent of the district’s students are eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch.  Just 40 percent are considered by the state to be proficient in reading, and yet 78 percent graduate. However, only 23 percent of adults in Ferguson have college degrees. Based on other data Dropout Nation presented two years ago, it is clear that many (if not most) of Ferguson-Florissant’s graduates are being given diplomas despite being unprepared for college or career success.

ferguson_child

The consequences of the murder of Michael Brown on children extend beyond choking on tear gas.

It could be worse. It could be nearby East St. Louis.

The St. Louis metropolitan area is divided into two-dozen school districts in Missouri, with East St. Louis across the river in Illinois.  East St. Louis is one of the most segregated areas of the country; 96 percent of the residents are African-American. It is also profoundly poor.  While the median household income in the country is $53,000, in East St. Louis that figure is $20,000 and 60 percent of those households live on less than $25,000 a year. 99 percent of the district’s school children receive Free or Reduced Price Lunch. Only 20 percent are proficient in reading (and yet) the graduation rate is 65 percent, from which we can conclude that two out of three graduates of the East St. Louis schools cannot read well.  It is, then, not surprising that just eight percent of East St. Louis adults are college-educated, compared to a national average of 29 percent.

East St. Louis is the baseline for living conditions and educational opportunities, for African Americans, in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

On the other hand, things could be better for Black families in the region if they could live in Maryland Heights.

Maryland Heights is a suburb on the other side of the city from East St. Louis.  The median household income there is about $59,000, higher than the national average, and just 17 percent of households have incomes under $25,000, a proportion considerably under that national average.  40 percent of adults in Maryland Heights have college educations. The local school district (Parkway C-II) is 15 percent African-American.  Just 20 percent of its students are eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. $14,400 is spent on each student in the Parkway C-II district, almost a third more than in Ferguson. The Parkway C-II district brings 72 percent of its students to proficiency in reading on the state tests and graduates 93 percent of them.

East St. Louis and Maryland Heights are not very distant, one from the other, and quite similar except that in one the residents are almost all descendants of enslaved Africans, in the other the vast majority are not; in one the average household income is below the poverty line, in the other it is three times as much; in one the adults have little education, in the other the adults are highly educated; in one the schools do not in any meaningful sense function, in the other they produce high school students prepared, as the saying goes, for college and careers.  Where once the Underground Railroad took Black people to freedom, schools like those in East St. Louis are a funnel leading to incarceration.

That is the regional context for Black families in Ferguson. Historians and sociologists have told us since the time of the French Revolution that the disappointment of rising expectations leads to a crisis.  Although Black families in Ferguson were better off than those in East St. Louis, they had encountered the barrier of a criminal justice system determined to contain them and other institutions, such as the schools, that were failing them and their children. What followed was predictable in nature, simply not predictable in regard to place or time. And then it happened in Ferguson. And then it happened in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and earlier this week, in Milwaukee, the subject of so many reports on these pages.

Riots and police in armored vehicles frighten children, boys and girls who must already deal with the daily, oppressive, and often racially bigoted presence of law enforcement on streets and in schools. They become reluctant to leave their homes to go to school and their parents are reluctant for them to do so. Conditions in the schools themselves, hardly exemplary at the best of times, worsen. The resources needed to cope with this educational emergency, like those needed to cope with the more long-term lack of educational opportunities at the standard, of, say, Maryland Heights, fail to be provided.

We have grown used to this. This should never be the case. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”

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Rochester Dooms Young Black Men

A unique blend of natural and man-made resources and amenities give Rochester a quality of life that is second to none. Straddling the Genesee River between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario,…

this_is_dropout_nation_logoA unique blend of natural and man-made resources and amenities give Rochester a quality of life that is second to none. Straddling the Genesee River between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario, Rochester offers a natural beauty that is easily accessible by a network of parks, trails, boat launches and scenic overlooks. The city is divided into dozens of distinct neighborhoods and urban villages supported by an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants. Quality housing available at reasonable prices . . .

And so forth.

Rochester was once the Silicon Valley of the American Industrial Revolution; the city where technological invention took place and was applied to advanced products distributed around the world.  Think of Kodak.  Think of Xerox. And today we think of it as a city where “quality housing [is] available at reasonable prices,” where generation after generation of children are pushed through their schools years, uneducated, with little chance of entering adulthood “college and career ready.”

The results of recent New York State tests show that the district is not doing its job.  The local newspaper, The Democrat and Chronicle, noted that “In Rochester, 7.2 percent of students were judged proficient in math and 6.7 percent were judged proficient in English, both the lowest marks among the Big Five,” the five largest school districts in New York State.  The newspaper went on to report that the Rochester City School District results were also outliers among surrounding districts, where proficiency rates were as high as 73 percent and averaged seven or eight times that of Rochester.

The most sensitive indicator of the success of an education system is what it does for Black male students.  If they are doing well, it is most likely that others will also be doing well.  In Rochester, they are not doing well.

According to the New York State Education Department, at grade three, just 17 (three percent) of 653 male Black students tested were proficient (levels 3 and 4) in reading.  Of these, none reached level 4. Six percent of 327 Hispanic males were proficient, only one reaching level 4.

The Rochester City School District has failed to teach 83 percent of the male Black third-graders in its care how to read as well as they should at that point and none to read as fluently as would lead later to success in school.

That is the record of early childhood education in Rochester.  There is also now on record how little the district does for these children as they “progress” through the later grades.  At grade eight, 12 (again, three percent) of 435 male Black students tested were proficient (levels 3 and 4) in reading.  Of these, just one reached level 4.  Five percent of 220 Hispanic males were proficient, none reaching level 4.

In other words, according to the tests given by the New York State Education Department, 97 percent of male Black students and 94 percent of male Hispanic students cannot read at grade level in grade 8, unchanged from grade 3 for Black students and showing declines for Hispanic students.  Such is the value added by five years of schooling in Rochester.

These results can be compared to those for New York City, where 24 percent of male Black students and 25 percent of male Hispanic students scored proficient in grade 8 reading, or they can be compared to the statewide averages: 21 percent of male Black students and 24 percent of male Hispanic students reading at the proficient level in eighth grade.

One could speculate that if Rochester’s male Black students moved to New York City (preferably to eastern Queens, but whatever) eight times as many would learn to read at grade level, as would four times as many of the male Hispanics and twice as many of the male White.  Note that such a move would be four times as effective for the Black as for the White students.

New York City is not a model school system for Black students, but, by comparison to Rochester’s, it is Phillips Exeter or Eton.

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For young black and Latino men in Rochester schools such as School 9, the district is toxic to their futures.

There are just shy of 700 male Black eighth graders in the Rochester schools.  There are over 1100 male Black students in grade nine: more than half of those male Black eighth graders are held back.  Fewer than half of those male Black eighth graders, 97 percent of whom have not been taught to read well, eventually graduate.

The graduation rate for male Black students in the Rochester City Schools for 2015 was 44 percent, of whom just 3 percent had Regents diplomas, as compared to the 8 percent statewide average for the group.  If 97 percent of Rochester’s male Black students cannot read at grade level in grade 8, how is it that 44 percent are given diplomas?  Or is it that only those receiving Regents diplomas are actually “career and college ready” and the other 41 percent have received pieces of embossed paper with which to join in the streets the 56 percent who did not graduate at all?

As Dropout Nation readers already know from my last analysis of Rochester’s schools, none of this is surprising. The district’s failure to provide high-quality education to any of its children, especially young black men, is one reason why 14 of its schools are now under state receivership (and 14 more may end up in that status).

But what about the college readiness of male Black Rochester high school graduates? This can be estimated from the records of the local colleges.

We might first look at Monroe Community College, the two-year postsecondary institution attended by high school graduates in the area who do not feel that they are ready for the university. The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) counted 4,089 first-time students at Monroe Community College in fall 2012, 860 of whom were Black; 387 were Black men. Completers within 150 percent of normal time (2015) totaled 881; 62 of whom were Black. Twenty-two of those were men. Approximately seven percent of Black students enrolling in Monroe Community College and six percent of Black men graduated within 150 percent of normal time.

As noted, not all of those graduates attended Rochester city schools. Many may have come from the surrounding suburban districts, such as that of Greece, where the new Rochester Superintendent, Barbara Deane-Williams had been Superintendent.  Shall we estimate that half of those 22 Black men graduating with Associates degrees from Monroe Community College had graduated from the Rochester City schools three years earlier? Eleven of the 690 who had been in grade 8 five (or six) years before that?

There are two research universities in Rochester. At the University of Rochester, we find that in 2010 there were 1,308 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 55 of whom were Black, 22 (two percent) of whom were Black men. In 2014, 1,076 undergraduates completed their degrees within 150 percent of normal time, 41 of whom were Black, 17 of whom were Black men. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, we find that in 2010 there were 2,606 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 133 of whom were Black, 74 of whom were Black men. In 2014, 1,622 undergraduates completed their degrees within 150 percent of normal time, 78 of whom were Black, 42 of whom were Black men.

Some of these 116 Black men with local four-year college degrees may have attended Rochester City schools.  How many?  It is hard to tell, but as a matter of fact, the “Rochester Promise,” which gives generous support to graduates of Rochester schools for study at the University of Rochester awarded two scholarships this year.  That is an improvement over previous years, in which no Rochester Promise scholarships were awarded.  We know then that those two male Black students, of an eighth-grade class of 690, eventually received degrees from the University of Rochester.  Perhaps as many did so from the Rochester Institute of Technology.  Or maybe the number in each case was four.  Eight?

Given these results, especially after test data released this July, the Rochester district boasted to the Democrat and Chronicle and other media outlets that: “We have increased investments in prekindergarten, special education, a new K-2 English curriculum developed by District teachers and many other services to help close that gap… Working together with our families and the community, the district is committed to accelerating achievement for Rochester students.”

All to the good. But the Rochester district has spent decades failing to educate the children whose parents have entrusted it with their futures. It has betrayed that trust. It is time, well past time, for the state to act.

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Silence on Black Kids at the Conventions

The Democratic Party chose Philadelphia and the Republican Party chose Cleveland, for their respective conventions this year. We will hear much about the Constitution, American democracy and Benjamin Franklin from…

The Democratic Party chose Philadelphia and the Republican Party chose Cleveland, for their respective conventions this year. We will hear much about the Constitution, American democracy and Benjamin Franklin from Philadelphia; much about making Cleveland great again, about the huge wall that will be built to protect it from Mexican invaders.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoIt is unlikely that we will hear much about income and wealth inequality in those cities, nor much about their school systems. The Economic Policy Institute tells us that the average income of the top one percent in the Philadelphia metropolitan area is $1.1 million; that of the rest of the population is $54,000.  Cleveland is poorer at both ends of the income distribution.  The top one percent of the Cleveland metropolitan area has an average income of only $895,000; the rest lives on an average of $44,000—again about 1/20th that of their richer neighbors, despite the comparatively modest incomes of the latter.

In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, the rich are richer, with an average income of $959,000, and the poor are poorer, with an average income of $41,000.  In Philadelphia County, the average income of the bottom 99 percent–that is, practically everyone, is $32,000, slightly under the Medicaid eligibility level for a family of four.  Almost 40 percent of Black families with children under 18 years of age in Philadelphia County live in poverty.  The average Black family in Cuyahoga County has an income of also $32,000; 44 percent of Black families with children in Cuyahoga County live in poverty.

In order for Cleveland to be great again, it will need a well-educated workforce.  A good measure of educational achievement is the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ eighth grade reading test.  If children cannot read well by then, they are unlikely to earn a meaningful high school diploma, unlikely to go to college, unlikely to earn an above average income, and, if they are Black males, very likely to spend time in prison.  Unfortunately, four out of five White students in Cleveland are below grade level in eighth grade reading.  Catastrophically, 92 percent of Black students in the city’s public schools cannot read at grade level when they reach eighth grade.  This is obviously an emergency and we can anticipate a wonderful plan to emerge to make the Cleveland schools great again.

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In Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party will be ignoring the city’s educational woes (as well as ditching systemic reform).

Which brings us to Philadelphia, cradle of the Constitution, home of the Liberty Bell, and so forth.  Same thing: 74 percent of White students in grade eight cannot read proficiently, neither can 91 percent of Black students. Meanwhile the district itself is in total disarray, the result of decades of mismanagement at all levels and in all areas.

Just six percent of male Black eighth-grade students in Philadelphia can read at grade level, just seven percent in Cleveland.  The central offices of their school districts no doubt know who they are.  As for the rest, the local criminal justice systems are probably working out their hiring plans and jail accommodation budgets appropriately.  They will, of course, have to take into account a deduction based on ProPublica’s analysis that Black teens are 21 times as likely as white teens to be shot and killed by police. After all, Cleveland is the home of Tamir Rice, whose murder at the hand of a cop has never been adjudicated, while Philadelphia has long  had a reputation for brutal policing.

The choice of these cities as sites for their national conventions by our two great political parties is a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on these matters and remedy the problems that light will reveal.  We hope the outcome will be measures to lessen income inequality, to improve the schools, to eliminate police shootings of Black children.  We can always hope.

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The Zip Code Education Problem

Marking the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown decision the Government Accounting Office has released a report on American public education.  As befits a bean-counting agency, the report comes…

Marking the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown decision the Government Accounting Office has released a report on American public education.  As befits a bean-counting agency, the report comes in the modest guise of a contribution to a technical accounting discussion, pointing out how “Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies…”, well, you get the picture.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoBut the report is more than an accounting exercise, as its title continues by stating that what its information can help agencies do is to “Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination.”  In fact, the GAO found that “The percentage of K-12 public schools in the United States with students who are poor and are mostly Black or Hispanic is growing.”  Sixty years after Brown America’s traditional public schools are resegregating.

The defendants in the Brown case argued that although their schools were segregated by race, the separate educational opportunities provided were equal, separate but equal, as  they said, following the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. In Brown, however, the Court found that “Segregation . . . deprive[s] [Black children] of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.” The Brown decision, relying on somewhat controversial research about the psychological effects of government-sanctioned segregation, concluded that its mere existence was damaging to Black students.

Now comes the GAO, with its analysis of “better information,” finding that America’s schools are not only in violation of Brown, they are increasingly in violation of Plessy as wellThe educational opportunities offered by our schools where separate, and they are increasingly separate, are decidedly not equal.

Before we go any further, in the spirit of GAO, here’s a technical note: The categories used in the report are those of the U.S. Department of Education.  There are the racial and ethnic categories—White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and Other—and the economic category defined by the eligibility of school children for free or reduced-price lunches. There are very serious problems with the racial and ethnic categories.  “Asian,” in particular, is high problematic, throwing together people with Chinese ancestry with people of Sri Lankan descent; Filipinos and Iranians, and so forth.  “Hispanics” can be of Cuban, Mexican, Dominican or Argentine derivation, for example, regardless of race.  “Black” refers to people with sub-Saharan African ancestry (but not the very dark people from Kerala or indigenous Australians) and White is practically a residual category.

These seemingly technical difficulties are deeply implicated in America’s problems with race and racism.  The absurdities of the Asian and Hispanic categories are irrelevant. The underlying point is that what matters in these United States is whether or not one is visibly and predominantly descended from enslaved Africans.  If so, one is likely to find, for example, that police pay more attention to you than to others; that employers are less likely to give you a chance at a job and if they do they will pay you less than others, and that it will be difficult to find housing outside areas of concentrated poverty.

As for economic categorization, the White median household income is $57,400. The median income for Hispanic households is $42,700. The Black median household income is $35,500. As the income eligibility line for reduced-price meals for a family of four is $46,000, most Black school children are included in the group eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, as are the majority of Hispanic school children.

In other words, saying that a Black school child is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch is practically redundant.

But you plow with the mules that you’ve got, so here we go:

In addition to finding that American schools are resegregating, GAO found that schools that were over 75 percent Black or Hispanic AND the students of which were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch “offered fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses.”  They are separate, but offer very unequal educational opportunities.  White middle class students attend schools with more math, science and college preparatory courses, schools for Black and Hispanic students from impoverished families offer fewer.

Which brings us to the fine print of Appendix II of the report: “Students Enrolled in Advanced Placement Courses, by Race.”

Advanced Placement courses are the crown jewels of American education, qualifying students for college study and in many cases giving credit for basic college courses while still in high school.  GAO divided high schools into four categories: Low-Poverty and 0 to 25 percent Black or Hispanic; High-Poverty and 75 to 100 percent Black or Hispanic; All Other Schools and the subset of schools 90 to 100 percent High Poverty and Black and Hispanic.

Let us look at the first and last of these groups: the privileged and the underprivileged.  24 percent of students in the middle class schools with low poverty rates and low Black and Hispanic enrollment enrolled in at least one AP course.  These schools were 80 percent White, seven percent Asian, six percent Hispanic, and four percent Black.  Within that group, 43 percent of Asian students and 24 percent of White students enrolled in at least one AP course, as compared to 17 percent of Hispanic and just 15 percent of Black students.

Now for the highly segregated schools serving students from impoverished families, schools with 90 percent poverty rates and 90 percent Black and Hispanic enrollment. These schools were 53 percent Black, 44 percent Hispanic, one percent White, and one percent Asian.  Just 12 percent of students in those schools—half the proportion of the other group—enrolled in at least one AP course. 18 percent of Asian students in the high poverty schools and 14 percent of White students enrolled in at least one AP course, as compared to 14 percent of Hispanic and just 10 percent of Black students.

The chances that an Asian student in a school serving underprivileged students will enroll in an AP class are much less than half those that an Asian student in a middle class school.  That for White students falls nearly in half, from 24 percent to 14 percent, for Hispanic students from 17 percent to 14 percent and for Black students the opportunity to take these gateway courses declines from 15 percent in a middle class school to 10 percent in a ghetto school.

Simply moving from a school high-poverty, highly segregated school to a low-poverty school with a student body more closely representative in racial and ethnic terms to the general population can double the opportunity to enroll in an AP course for all students. This doesn’t mean it always happens; we see this all the time with gifted and talented courses that are also often segregation by another name. At the same time, more opportunities means more opportunities for all.

As a note: It is striking that White students in schools reserved for underprivileged students enroll in AP courses at a rate slightly below that of Black students in middle class schools. Perhaps there is a tendency for administrators of schools with overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic student populations to practice within-school segregation.

GAO was also interested in the math courses offered by different categories of schools.  It found, for example, that 79 percent of middle class schools offered 7th and 8th grade Algebra, while only 49 percent of high poverty with 75 percent to 100 percent Black and Hispanic enrollment schools did so. Similarly, 71 percent of middle class, but only 29 percent of the high poverty schools offered calculus.  Interestingly, among the schools serving high poverty students, 75 percent or more of whom were Black or Hispanic, 30 percent of the traditional schools offered calculus, but only 17 percent of charter schools did so.

Some have argued that family, neighborhood and “cultural” factors determine a student’s educational achievement.  The GAO, on the other hand, found that “schools that were highly isolated by poverty and race generally had fewer resources and disproportionately more disciplinary actions than other schools.” Students needing relatively more educational resources because of, say, family, neighborhood and “cultural” factors receive fewer, a situation aggravated by school discipline policies and actions that have been shown to be racially discriminatory.

In other words, the GAO has found that educational opportunity depends on where you live. Schools in middle class areas offer more AP, algebra and calculus courses and enroll much higher percentages of students in those courses than schools serving poor kids, of whatever race or ethnicity. As schools, and communities, become increasingly segregated, educational opportunities become increasingly unequal: more separate, less equal. Which is the consequence of a public education system that determines opportunity based on zip code, and not on what families, given high-quality data and choice regardless of income, decide to access.

We know how important college-preparatory education in advancing economic and social mobility, especially for Black, Latino, and children from poor households. That we continue segregating those children from those opportunities when it possible to provide it to them are the result of deliberate decisions to exclude them from better lives for themselves and their communities.

What is to be done?  In accord with its mission, the GAO recommends that the departments of Education and Justice track data more closely and analyze it more comprehensibly.  There are other things that should be done.  State and local officials responsible for the disparities found by the GAO should remedy them—should remedy them as soon as possible before more Black and Latino children in high poverty schools have their future’s stolen from them.

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