In Philadelphia, as in Milwaukee and Rochester, young people, especially young African American men, are caught between a school system that will not educate them and a criminalizing legal system that will not leave them alone.
Eighty percent of Philadelphia’s Black families have incomes below the average for White families in the city. The poverty rate for Black families in Philadelphia is two and a half times that of White families. At the other end of the income spectrum, more than a quarter of Philadelphia’s White families have incomes over $100,000 per year, as compared to just 10 percent of Black families. This may reflect the fact that 41 percent of White civilian employed adults work in the managerial group of occupations, compared to 26 percent of Black civilian employed adults. Thirty percent of employed Black adults work in service occupations, as compared to 17 percent of employed White adults: Whites manage, Blacks serve.
It is unlikely that there is much inter-generational family income or wealth upward mobility in Philadelphia’s Black community. There is, on the contrary, much inter-generational downward mobility in both income and wealth. Black Philadelphia does not participate in the same society as White Philadelphia. It is a caste apart.
There are two forces creating and enforcing the caste boundaries in Philadelphia: the criminal justice system and the school system.
The operations of the criminal justice system—chiefly the police, but going all the way up through prosecutors and courts—criminalize young adult African Americans by means of disparate enforcement of irrational drug laws and a form of debt peonage effected through fines for non-appearance, bench warrants and the like. The State of Pennsylvania incarcerates African Americans at nine times the rate at which White residents of the state are incarcerated. Statewide, nearly 30 percent of those incarcerations are for violations of drug laws. The drug laws are a primary vehicle for the enforcement of the lower caste position of the Black community: they are dramatically differentially enforced, even though it is well-established that the level of illicit drug use is similar in the Black and White communities.
A Black resident of Pennsylvania, particularly a young adult male, is at great risk of a five year jail sentence, extendable by another five years or more, for behaviors that are not illegal in, say, Colorado, behaviors that are ignored in White neighborhoods of Philadelphia. As Alice Goffman has brilliantly shown, the Philadelphia police operate like a foreign army in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, sweeping in, brutalizing Black males from early adolescence, making legal employment nearly impossible and removing as many as 20 percent of the young adult Black population from the community to prison or, directly or not, to the cemetery.
The School District of Philadelphia is the partner of the criminal justice system in this endeavor. Approximately three-quarters of all in-school and out-of-school suspensions and arrests are of Black students. It is not only the students who are gone from the classrooms: 35 percent of the district’s teachers are absent ten days or more each year and just 38 percent meet all state licensing and certification requirements. These are both highly unusual metrics. Pittsburgh, for example, has a teacher absentee percentage of 21 percent and 93 percent of its teachers meet state requirements.
The district has a long history of conflicts between teachers and administrators, from elementary schools where principals lock themselves in their offices rather than meet with teachers to prolonged wars between the teachers’ union and the district administration. Spending on support services has trailed inflation. Non-teaching staff, such as counselors and librarians, have been severely cut. Many schools have been closed.
Charter schools should be a way out for Philadelphia students. Charter school enrollment has increased 80 percent for general education students and an astonishing 137 percent for special education students in the last four years. But as Editor RiShawn Biddle will point out next week, students are not benefitting so far, and that is a result of Pennsylvania’s faulty approach to authorizing schools.
The budgetary issues and administrative policies of the state and district are both complex and controversial, but there is little dispute over the ability of the Philadelphia school district to teach its students how to read. It can’t. In Philadelphia only a quarter of White students and 12 percent of Black students read at grade level in eighth grade in 2013. Matters are even worse in regard to students from lower income families (those eligible for the National Lunch Program). Just 19 percent of White students in Philadelphia in this category and 9 percent of Black students read at grade level in eighth grade (as compared to 28 percent and 12 percent of each group nationally). Black students in Philadelphia whose parents had some education after high school match the national average for Black students, 21 percent, and those whose families have incomes too high to be eligible for free- and reduced-priced lunch exceed it at 30 percent Proficient or above. Perhaps these children learn to read at home.
A consequence of these and other failures of the school system is an estimated high school graduation rate of 45 percent for Black students and 63 percent for White students in the 2011-12 school year, both far below national averages. In Philadelphia as in Milwaukee, Rochester and similar educational disaster areas, if those students attended schools in suburban districts they would have much better educational opportunities. If they went to school in neighboring Delaware County, they could expect graduation rates of 66 percent for Black students and 88 percent for White students. In nearby Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the Black graduation rate is 82 percent.
The Philadelphia public schools do not educate any group of their students as well as national averages for each group. They fail to come anywhere near to providing the quality of education given to students in nearby districts. Although family income and parental education levels have some effect on student achievement, this simply defines the task of the schools. The extent of these failures in Philadelphia is too great to be attributed to anything other than the quality of the schools themselves.
Further education outcomes for Black residents of Philadelphia are consistent with this record. In addition to its distinguished arts and music schools, Philadelphia has two major national research universities: the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. Not all Black students attending these universities are from Philadelphia and not all Black students from Philadelphia who go to college go to Penn or Temple, but a rough estimate of how well—or how poorly—the Philadelphia school district prepares its students for college and career can be gained by looking at their records.
In the fall of 2012 the University of Pennsylvania admitted 2,453 first-time undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 8 percent of whom were Black. Just 73 of those were male African Americans. Temple University admitted 4,132 first-time students, 10 percent of whom were Black. Just 139 of those were male African Americans. The major local two-year institution, the Community College of Philadelphia, admitted 4,067 students in 2012, 1,838 of whom were Black; 743 of those were men. That year, 49 Black students received Associate’s degrees from the Community College, 17 were men. The University of Pennsylvania together with Temple University awarded 8,502 Bachelor’s degrees to students within 150 percent of normal time to completion: 598 were Black, 202 of those were men. This output, as it were, is just 14 percent of the estimated postsecondary “input” of high school graduates. Fewer than half of Philadelphia’s Black students graduate from high school four years after grade 9; just 14 percent of those graduate with an Associate’s degree three years later or a Bachelor’s degree within six years of receiving a high school diploma.
White students in Philadelphia, following the same path, were much more than twice as likely to reach the same goal. Of course they were also twice as likely to be taught to read at grade level by the time they were in eighth grade.
If the schools of Philadelphia functioned as well for African American children as the not very impressive way they function for White children (or as well as the suburban schools function for Black children) and if drug law enforcement were equitable, life in and for the city’s Black community would be quite different.
However, the values of the Pennsylvania state government run in the other direction. It has begun building a new $400 million prison outside Philadelphia.
First, the New York State Education Department is to be congratulated on moving to a policy of truth in testing and honesty in reporting. The new state tests align with those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold standard in American testing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good tests. But at least they are honest.
For any state, achievement on the eighth-grade reading test is a key indicator of the success, or lack of it, of the schools. By grade 8 the schools have had many years to work with their students and reading is the central skill for which schools are responsible. This year’s New York State tests show that 29 percent of New York City’s eighth-graders were reading at or above grade level. That is, 71 percent had not learned to read well enough to read, say, the articles about education in The New York Times. And just 19 percent of black and Latino students (the latter of whom may be of any race) had been taught to read at grade level.
We can also look at the results divided between those students whose family incomes are low enough to make them eligible for free or reduced price lunches and those whose families have higher incomes. Fifty-one percent of eighth-graders from higher income households were taught to read at grade level, while just 24 percent of peers from poorer homes were taught to read at proficiency. These results do no vary much between third and eighth grade.
In Manhattan’s higher-income Community School District 2, 30 percent of the district’s black and Latino students read at grade level in grade 8. In lower-income District 7 in the Bronx, just eight percent of black and Latino students were able to do so.
This brings up three important questions. The first: What is going to happen to the other 92 percent of black and Latino in the Bronx who can’t read at grade level? Two: If reading skills are only dependent on family income what value is added by the New York City Department of Education? And finally, how long is this disgraceful situation going to continue?
Your editor gives one cheer to Minneapolis Public Schools Supt. Bernadeia Johnson for her decision last week to halt the overuse of suspensions and expulsions on kids in its early childhood education, kindergarten, and first grade classes. After all, by doing so, Johnson recognizes that harsh school discipline does nothing to help kids learn the consequences of misbehavior, and worse, allows teachers and school leaders to avoid addressing the underlying illiteracy at the heart of students acting out.
Yet your editor cannot give Johnson credit for doing only part of the right thing — especially given that she been a key player in Minneapolis’ school leadership for most of the last decade, and had ample opportunity to address suspensions and expulsions. This is especially clear after a Dropout Nation analysis of data submitted by Minneapolis to the U.S. Department of Education shows wide disparities in who is subjected to the harshest school discipline. The district should have long ago addressed the underlying issues behind its overuse of suspensions and other discipline that damages the futures of children.
Nine hundred eighty-three young black men and women attending Minneapolis’ regular classes were suspended once during the 2011-2012 school year. This means that eight percent of the 12,392 not condemned to special ed ghettos attending Minneapolis’ public schools were kept out of school. Another 504 black children — or 5.1 percent of the district’s African American student population — were suspended more than once. [Another 33 black students were given in-school suspensions.]
Meanwhile 134 young black men and women were referred to law enforcement in 2011-2012; given that none of those kids were arrested in school (Minneapolis didn’t have any arrests on school grounds that year), that means that the district sent 1.1 percent of its black students to the juvenile justice system, likely for status offenses such as truancy that can (and should) be handled by the district’s school leadership. Essentially, Minneapolis is often putting kids on the path to the criminal justice system for reasons that have nothing to do with actual crimes.
Minneapolis’ school discipline levels weren’t the highest Dropout Nation has seen. But the disparities between punishment meted out to black kids and kids from white households were particularly egregious. The district meted out one out-of-school suspension to just 133 white kids or a mere 1.2 percent of the 11,392 Caucasian Americans served by the district. The district meted out multiple suspensions to another 57 white kids, or five-tenths of one percent. [In-school suspensions were meted out to just six white kids.] As for referrals to law enforcement? Just 34 white students, or three-tenths of one percent.
Put bluntly, a black child attending the Minneapolis district has a one in eight chance of being subjected to some form of harsh school discipline, while their white peer face only a two in 100 chance.
This disparity in school discipline isn’t just a problem for Minneapolis’ black students alone. The district meted out one out-of-school suspension to 7.8 percent of the 1,577 American Indian students attending its schools; another 4.8 percent were suspended more than once that year. [The district meted out in-school suspensions to four Native kids under its care.] The district also referred 2.6 percent of Native students to law enforcement, with those kids likely ending up in juvenile court for status offenses.
But as bad as the overuse of harsh school discipline — and the wide disparities — are for Minneapolis’ black and Native kids in regular classrooms, it is even worse for those condemned to the district’s special ed ghettos. The district meted out one suspension to 512 black kids in special ed — or 17.2 percent of the 2,984 black kids stuck in the ghettos. It also meted out multiple suspensions to another 513 black kids, or another 17.2 percent.
Minneapolis gave out in-school suspensions to a mere 16 black kids. That’s good news, I guess. But the district then referred 208 black kids in special ed to law enforcement; that means seven percent of all black kids in special ed were referred that year, mostly to juvenile justice systems. Another 99 black kids (or 3.3 percent) were arrested on school grounds.
Compare this to Minneapolis’ treatment of white kids in its special ed ghettos: The district meted out just one out-of-school suspension to 91 white kids, or 5.4 percent of the 1,675 white kids in the district’s special ed ghettos; it only meted out multiple suspensions to another 54 white kids (or 3.2 percent of those condemned to special ed). Only two white kids were given in-school suspensions by the district.
As for referrals to law enforcement? Minneapolis only referred 33 white kids in special ed to law enforcement; that’s a mere two percent of Caucasian Americans forced into its special ed ghettos. Only eight white kids in special ed were arrested on the district’s campuses.
Black special ed kids weren’t the only ones more-often subjected to harsh school discipline than white peers. Minneapolis meted out one suspension to 25 percent of the 315 American Indian kids forced into its special ed ghettos; another 13 percent were suspended multiple times by the district. [Two were given in-school suspensions.] Native students were the most-likely to be referred to law enforcement by the district, with 8.6 percent of them sent to juvenile courts in 2011-2012; another 2.5 percent were arrested on the district’s campuses.
The district also meted out one suspension to 6.6 percent of the 244 Asian students condemned to special ed ghettos; another 4.1 percent were suspended multiple times by the district. [In-school suspensions were meted out to just two Asian kids.] Another 1.6 percent were referred to law enforcement (and ultimately, in most cases, to juvenile court), while eight-tenths of one percent were arrested on school grounds.
Let’s just say it: If you are a black kid in Minneapolis’ special ed ghettos, you have a two-in-five chance of being suspended, arrested, or referred to the juvenile justice system, and if you are Native, that chance is one-in-two. On the other hand, if you are white or Asian, the chances are at most, one in ten. All these numbers are horrible. But even more so for the most-vulnerable of our children in this Twin Cities district.
This data explains why the U.S. Department of Education, which is following up on its issuance of guidance earlier this year on addressing overuse of school discipline by districts throughout the country (a matter opposed by some misguided reformers and defended by Dropout Nation), is investigating Minneapolis for civil rights violations. And why Johnson, facing both federal heat along with embarrassment from a Star-Tribune report last month showing massive increases in numbers of kids in early grades being suspended, belatedly decided to do part of the right thing.
At the heart of the problem is that Minneapolis is dealing miserably with the underlying illiteracy that is the key culprit for student misbehavior. As Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles of Stanford University determined in a 2006 study, third-grade reading performance is strongly associated with social skills. Children with strong reading skills in the early grades tend to also have good social habits (including the executive function of self-control), while those who are functionally illiterate tend to struggle with discipline.
Minneapolis, along with the rest of the urban districts in Minnesota, is dealing poorly on this front, especially for poor and minority kids. Fifty-two percent of black kids in the North Star State’s big city-districts (along with 39 percent of Asian kids) read Below Basic according to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Just 47 percent of black third-graders and 45 percent of Native peers in Minneapolis reached the North Star State’s (rather lowly-set) level of reading proficiency according to its 2012 exams. This isn’t shocking. As Dropout Nation noted in 2012, the district is doing poorly in providing high-quality education to all of the children under its watch.
While the district has implemented a program focused on improving literacy in the early grades, it is using Fountas & Pinnell’s guided reading system, which doesn’t actually help students build up their comprehension by providing them with either challenge or much-needed background knowledge critical in building literacy. As Timothy Shanahan, one of the nation’s foremost researchers on literacy, points out, guided reading’s goal of matching kids to books they can easily read is little more than “relegating them to training wheels forever” This means that the district’s efforts are doing more than putting kids on the path to suspension and, ultimately, academic as well as economic failure.
Another problem lies with the perceptions of Minneapolis’ school leaders and teachers towards children from black and Native households. Essentially many of the adults in the district believe that certain racial and ethnic groups of students are discipline problems because they think they are destined to end up that way. This can be seen in another problem for the district: The overlabeling of black and other minority kids as special ed cases.
Twenty-four percent of Minneapolis’ black students — 66 percent of them young black men — were placed into Minneapolis’ special ed ghettos in 2011-2012, double the national average. Twenty percent of Native students — 70 percent of them young American Indian men — were also labeled as special ed cases. Overuse of school discipline and overlabeling of kids as special ed cases are signs that Minneapolis (along with other districts) are subjecting them to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
[By the way: Don't think that white kids are necessarily any better off. Sure, Minneapolis is less likely to label white kids as special ed cases -- or subject them to harsh discipline -- than their black and Latino peers. But the fact that 15 percent of white kids in the district -- 70 percent of them young men -- are in special ed ghettos is disconcerting to say the least. And for all kids, such levels should be unacceptable.]
But Johnson and her charges in Minneapolis’ school leadership aren’t the only culprits. After all, kids don’t end up in principal’s offices unless referred by teachers, especially those who lack the strong training in classroom management (as well as empathy for kids regardless of background) to keep wayward kids in line as well as diagnose underlying learning issues.
These teachers are protected by the American Federation of Teachers’ Minneapolis local, which strongly oppose even Johnson’s weak effort to reduce some of the overuse. The fact that the local argues that the district should instead hire guidance counselors and mental health professionals betrays the union’s sole concern for protecting laggard members instead of looking out for the futures of kids. That the new hires it proposes the district to hire would be new rank-and-file members, and therefore, contributors to its coffers, is especially cynical.
Minneapolis is simply over-suspending far too many kids, especially from black and Native households who are the most-vulnerable. As former district board member Chris Stewart rightfully noted yesterday, Johnson’s moratorium isn’t going to do much to address that problem. The district needs to address the underlying instructional, leadership, curricula and diagnosis issues at the heart of its condemning of kids to the abyss. And it must start now.
“And then I got to Memphis.”
Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968
Recruitment for jail in the Memphis area begins in the schools. In 2011-2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights counted 26,000 out-of-school and 11,500 in-school suspensions and 4,400 expulsions, over 90 percent of which were of black students in the 100,000 student Memphis schools. There were also 100 each of referrals to law enforcement and school-related arrests. In that single year, nearly 1,000 black students in the Memphis area became known to the police, while at least 40,000 others had school discipline records. New York City, with ten times as many students, had fewer than 14,000 out-of-school suspensions and exactly 332 expulsions.
Three-quarters of Memphis’ black students are not reading at grade level by ninth grade. In the suburban Shelby County district (which finally merged with Memphis in a controversial consolidation last year), black students are nearly twice as likely to reach grade level in reading as in the city’s schools. The state lists the graduation rate for African American students in Memphis in 2012 as 71 percent, roughly the same for males and females. These graduation rates are quite extraordinary. One explanation might be found in the ACT data for the districts. (The ACT is a standard test used for college admission.) The 2013 mean composite ACT score for the Memphis City School District was 16.2. The state average was 19.3 and that for Shelby County (outside Memphis) was 20.9. Half of students, nationally, taking the ACT, scored between 20 and 21. Just 23 percent scored at or below Memphis’s 16.
One can only conclude that while 70 percent of Memphis students may graduate from high school, few of them are career or college ready. After all, three-quarters of black students in Memphis could not read at grade level when they were in eighth grade.
This is borne out by some data about the two largest local postsecondary institutions: Southwest Tennessee Community College and the University of Memphis. Let us assume that all the black students at Southwest Tennessee Community College and the University of Memphis were graduates of the Memphis city schools. (Of course some were from other districts and some students from the Memphis city schools went elsewhere, but for the sake of the argument, we will assume that these factors approximately balance.) This gives us 8,000 black students in grade 9, including 4,600 black males.
Four years later 7,000 black students graduate, including 3,400 black males. Of these, 2,000 go to Southwest Tennessee Community College and 835 go to the University of Memphis, 700 and 265 of whom, respectively, are Black males. Forty-five black students graduate with Associate’s degrees from Southwest Tennessee Community College within 150 percent of normal time, 16 of whom are Black males. Two hundred black students graduate from the University of Memphis with Bachelor’s degrees within 150 percent of normal time, 70 of whom are black men. Of 8,000 black students in grade 9, 45 eventually receive Associate’s degrees, 200 receive B.A. degrees, a success rate of 3 percent.
If the progression from the first year of high school in Memphis for black students through graduation, college matriculation and degrees is anything like that indicated by these approximations, it cannot be said that the district is preparing its students well for college and careers. Presuming that the goal of the Memphis educational system is that its students attain at least Associate’s degree and that many will obtain Bachelor’s degrees, it is failing to achieve those goals 97 percent of the time.
As things stand in Memphis, many of those students, especially young black men, do not go to college. They go to jail.
Although the number of adult white residents of Memphis is evenly divided between men and women, that of adult black residents shows 22,000 fewer men than women. Where are those missing young black men? According to the 2010 Census, there are about the same number of white men in Shelby County college dorms as in the county’s jails and prisons and nearly four times as many white women in the dorms as in cells.
The situation is quite different for the county’s black residents. There are ten times as many black men incarcerated in the county’s jails and prisons as in college dorms and less than twice as many black women in the dorms as in cells. Or we can notice that the Shelby County jail in Memphis booked 54,000 people last year. Most of those were young adult black men. There are about 50,000 black males in Memphis between the ages of 18 and 34. No doubt some of the bookings were of white men and women, some of black women and some people were booked more than once. No doubt.
In Tennessee, as in other states, the largest category of prisoners are those incarcerated for drug offenses. The average prison sentence in Tennessee for drug law offenses is eight years, except for cocaine offenses. The average prison sentence for cocaine offenses is 17 years. Eight years is a long time to spend in prison for activities that are now legal in two other states. Seventeen years in prison for an activity common among upper income white people is unspeakable.
In Tennessee, as in other states, African Americans are much more likely than White Americans to be arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses, even though drug usage is much the same between the races. It would seem from Census figures that if the laws were equitably enforced in Shelby County there would be 10,000 more White men in jail, or maybe at least 4,500 fewer black Shelby County men incarcerated. No one wishes to see 10,000 more white men in jail, especially for drug offenses. Perhaps the criminal justice system could concentrate on incarcerating fewer black men.
In all these matters in Memphis, black men are extraordinarily disproportionately represented: from school suspensions to arrests to seventeen-year prison sentences for victimless crimes. And they are disproportionately under-represented in higher education.
This matters—need it be said?—because higher education is an entry point to civilization itself. Once through that door a person can travel through science, the arts, the humanities, coming into contact with entire worlds far from her or his family’s neighborhood and quite possibly bringing what they learn there back to that family and neighborhood to further enhance human development.
There are also the issues of employment, income and wealth. In the United States today, except for the inheritors of great fortunes, these are interconnected.
Adults without a high school degree can look forward to an unemployment rate of more than twice the average and an income of less than half the average. Each additional educational level decreases the first and increases the second. The black/white education differentials in the Memphis area are considerable, in part because most black children attend schools in Memphis and most white children attend schools in the suburbs.
If black educational attainment were at white levels, there would be many more black adults with baccalaureate degrees and many more with further degrees, significantly lowering the unemployment rate of the black community and raising its income level. It would also, other things being equal, lower the rate of incarceration.
Featured photo courtesy of Joe Spake.
The Rochester City School District enrolls just under 30,000 students, 61 percent of whom are African American and 25 percent of whom are Latino. [There are approximate 10,000 school-aged white residents of the city, two-thirds of these are not enrolled in the city’s public schools.] Eighty-five percent of the district’s students are listed as “economically disadvantaged.”
In 2012-13 there were approximately twice as many students enrolled in ninth grade as in 12th grade because of a “gate” assessment at ninth grade. This high ninth grade enrollment is common among schools and districts serving children living in poverty, nearly unknown in wealthy communities. The large number of children spending more than one year in ninth grade can both be attributed to a lack of academic achievement in earlier years and be said to be a factor leading to the absence of a high school diploma four years later.
In the 2011-12 school year, the turnover rate of teachers with fewer than five years of experience was 51 percent. The turnover rate of all teachers was 28 percent, double the state-wide average. In a typical Rochester school, comparatively few teachers are highly educated, few teachers new to teaching are in the classroom after their second year, few of any teachers after their fourth year.
Statewide, 31 percent of New York students reach the National Assessment of Educational Progress Proficient (grade level) status in eighth grade reading, and four percent reach the Advanced level. White students score at Proficient or above 46 percent of the time; black New York State students reach Proficient or above 18 percent of the time. The New York State Department of Education believes that the new Common Core tests begun in 2013 are now aligned with NAEP.
In the 2014 administration of these tests, 5.7 percent of all Rochester eighth grade students scored at grade level in reading, level 3 or above (up from 5.6 percent the previous year). This was the lowest percentage at grade level of any of the state’s large cities. Among white students, 12 percent reached level 3 and 8 percent reached level 4. Among black students, four percent reached level 3 and none reached level 4 (due to rounding, the combined levels 3 and 4 totaled five percent). For black male students, 3 percent reached level 3 and none reached level 4. The failure of the district to teach its black students to read and write by eighth grade is nearly total.
There are many ways to calculate high school graduation rates, some more exotic than others. There is little difference in results among them for successful districts. On the other hand, they can produce widely differing results for less successful districts because of the ninth grade gate issue. If we wish to focus on the record of the school in educating its students, rather than, say, the “resilience” of individual students to the effects of an inadequate education, the commonsense method of dividing the number of diplomas by the number of students enrolled in ninth grade four years earlier will tell us what we want to know.
There were 2,505 black students in ninth grade of the Rochester public schools in the 2008-09 school year. There were 671 black recipients of New York State’s regular, and Regents, diplomas in 2011-12, a graduation rate of 27 percent. There were 1,330 black male students in ninth grade of the Rochester public schools in the 2008-09 school year. There were 323 black male recipients of New York State’s regular and Regents, diplomas in 2011-12, a graduation rate by this method of 24 percent. Ironically, this is a significant improvement on previous years.
The New York State Department of Education calculates an “Aspirational Performance Measure,” in effect, its judgment of whether students are well-prepared for careers and college. The state judged 5.1 percent of Rochester graduates in June 2013 as satisfying this measure. The percentage of black students was 2.9 percent.
As Princeton University’s Bruce Western and his colleagues have determined, the lifetime chances of incarceration for a young adult African American man without a high school diploma is as high as 60 percent, more – many more – black male students are being prepared by the Rochester schools for jail than for good jobs or college.
Rochester’s education results can be compared to those in a nearby working class suburban district, Greece, which has a k-12 enrollment of 11,281, 13 percent of whom are African American and 72 percent of whom are white. In 2012-13 there were approximately equal numbers of students in all high school grades, that is, the ninth grade “gate” was open. The teacher turn-over rate was 13 percent (half of that of Rochester).
The district’s eighth grade English Language Arts outcomes for 2014 were that 32 percent of the district’s students scored at levels 3 and 4 in the state English Language Arts test; 15 percent of the district’s black students did so, nearly four times that of black students in Rochester. The “four-year graduation-rate total cohort for accountability” of the Greece school district was 84 percent, 76 percent for black students.
Black students in the Greece district are as likely to graduate from high school as the national average for White students. Black students in the Rochester school district have about one-third that chance. As with many districts like Rochester, a black student can double his or her chance of learning to read and write and graduate from high school by taking the bus to a nearby suburban district.
This brings us to the next question: How well prepared are these Rochester school district graduates?
We might first look at Monroe Community College for an indication of the postsecondary preparation and success of black students educated in the Rochester schools. Eighty-two percent of Monroe Community College’s 50,000 credit and non-credit students are Monroe County residents; 4,328 are listed as Rochester residents (which of course does not necessarily mean that they are graduates of the city school district).
The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System counts 4,119 first-time students in fall 2006, 670 of whom were Black, 296 were black men. Completers within 150 percent of normal time (2012) total 938, 62 of whom were Black. Fourteen of those were men. Approximately nine percent of Black students enrolling in Monroe Community College and five percent of black men graduate within 150 percent of normal time. As noted, not all of those graduates attended Rochester city schools.
Looking at the University of Rochester, we find that in 2006 there were 1,219 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 50 of whom were black. Each year the University enrolls, on average, four Black students from the Rochester school district, one of whom is male. In 2013 the University awarded 1,441 Bachelor’s degrees to students, 59 of whom were black. It is possible that two or three of these were from the Rochester school district, but the “Rochester Promise,” which funds tuition for graduates of the city school district, cannot find enough such students for the funding available.
In 2006 there were 2,368 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the region’s other nationally-rated postsecondary institution. 108 of these were black, 32 of those were transfers-in. In 2013 the University awarded 2,478 Bachelor’s degrees to students, 102 of whom were black. Perhaps some of them were graduates of the Rochester schools.
It appears likely that only about one or two dozen male black Rochester school district graduates go on to receive Associate’s degrees each year and something on the same order, at most, receive Bachelor’s degrees. If we compare these educational outcomes for African American residents of Rochester to those for White residents of Monroe County (including Rochester) we can see that nearly four times the proportion of the latter as the former have attained education to the Bachelor’s degree level or above and that the proportions reverse for the populations without high school diplomas. It is not too much to say that a college education for Rochester residents is a white privilege.
The Rochester school district brings relatively few of its black students to grade level in reading in eighth grade. It graduates just over a quarter of them. A few dozen earn Associate’s degrees, a relatively few Bachelor’s degrees and above. Without those qualifications their opportunities for successful careers are quite limited, their chances of economic mobility beyond the station in life of their parents scant.
At the end of the day, the only thing Rochester does well is reinforce a socioeconomic caste system that keeps young black men and women at the bottom. Thanks to the district, they will have a good chance of being known to the criminal justice system.
Opponents of Common Core reading and math standards have spent the past couple of days crowing about survey results from polls conducted by Education Next and Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Organization. But your editor isn’t all that concerned about those results. For one, as great leaders such as Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan have always known, doing the right thing is never popular. This is especially true with implementing Common Core, which disturbs many of those opposed to the standards because they don’t believe that all children (especially those from poor and minority households) deserve high-quality education. More importantly, the success of the standards will ultimately be seen in their execution in classrooms and throughout American public education. And finally, given that opinion polls are only as good as the questions are asked (as well as how they are asked), who really knows whether either Education Next or PDK/Gallup’s results fully reflect public sentiment.
But your editor does care about data on how many of our children are getting the high-quality teaching and college-preparatory curricula they need for success in adulthood. Which is why yesterday’s report from ACT on the readiness of high school graduates for success in the traditional colleges, technical schools, and apprenticeships that make up American higher education is disturbing. Once again, we have been reminded that far too few of our children are getting the knowledge they need for lifelong success. And that should be far more disturbing to Common Core foes than their ideological, political, and personal opposition to the standards.
The fact that just 11 percent of black high school grads taking the ACT scored at college-ready levels — the lowest percentage for every racial subgroup taking the exam — in three or more categories is absolutely shocking. The numbers are even worse when you break down each category. Black children trailed in every category, with just 17 percent of them scoring at college-ready levels on the English portion of the exam, a mere 14 percent scoring at such levels on the math exam, and a rock-bottom 10 percent on the science component of ACT’s annual test.
This means that far too many black high school graduates didn’t get the college-preparatory learning they needed to be ready for either ACT or for success in college. Which, in turn, means that they will likely struggle mightily in higher education, ending up in remedial education courses that will lead them out of the door of colleges and into poverty.
But the news isn’t any better for the rest of our children. Just 18 percent of American Indian high school grads scored at college-ready levels in three or more categories on ACT; only 17 percent of Native students performed at college ready levels in science while a mere 20 percent scored at such levels in math. Only 23 percent — or one in four — Latino high school grads were able to score at college-ready levels; just 21 percent of them performed at college-ready levels in science while only 29 percent demonstrated their college-readiness in mathematics.
As for white high school grads? The news isn’t all that good. Sure, 49 percent of them scored at college-ready levels in three or more subjects. But that means that one out of every two of them didn’t get the comprehensive college-preparatory curricula they needed. Just 52 percent of white high school grads scored at college-preparatory levels in math, while only 46 percent scored at such levels in science. And only 54 percent of white high school grads scored at college-ready levels in the reading portion of the ACT exam. Given that math and science mastery are the key gateways into the high-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs in this increasingly knowledge-based economy, this means many white children — along with black, Native, and Latino kids — are being locked out of middle-class futures. And that doesn’t bode well for either the nation or the communities in which they live and will likely stay.
It isn’t as if many of these high school graduates were just a question or two away from meeting ACT’s college readiness benchmark. One out of every two high school grads missed the mark in math and science by three or more points; two out of every five missed the mark in reading by that much. Put in perspective, only one out of every 7 high school grads taking ACT missed the college-readiness mark by less than two points in reading and science, while one in 10 missed the goal by that much in math.
Meanwhile ACT’s trend data on college readiness should also give everyone pause. Between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of high school grads who demonstrated higher ed readiness in three or more categories tested barely budged for all groups. Black and Latino high school grads showed only sluggish growth, with percentages increasing respectively, by one percent and two percent between 2010 and 2014. The percentage of white high schoolers demonstrating college-readiness increased by a mere one percent in that same period. Even for Asian high schoolers, who have the highest performance levels on ACT, the percentage demonstrating college-readiness barely budget at 57 percent.
What about states that aren’t implementing or halted use of Common Core? In North Carolina, which halted implementation last month, just 30 percent of high school graduates scored at college-ready levels on the reading portion of ACT, while a mere 33 percent scored at such levels on the math portion of the exam, and only 23 percent of Tar Heel State graduates scored at college-ready levels on the science portion; all high school grads in the state take ACT. In Missouri (where 76 percent of students take ACT), one out of every two high school grads scored at college-ready levels on ACT’s reading component, while only 45 percent and 42 percent of grads scored at college-ready levels on the math and science portions of the exam. [Given what we know about how few students in the Show Me State are being provided college-preparatory learning, the results aren't shocking.] And in South Carolina, which rolled back Common Core in June, (and where 58 percent of grads took ACT), only 41 percent of high school graduates scored at college-ready levels on the reading portion of the test, while just 39 percent and 33 percent of grads scored at such levels on the math and science components.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal’s effort to halt Common Core implementation has been defeated, the need for the standards can be easily seen in the scores for high school grads in that state. Just 37 percent of Bayou State grads scored at college-ready levels on the reading portion of ACT, while only 31 percent and 29 percent of grads reached such levels on the math and science portions. The need for comprehensive college-preparatory curricula standards is crystal clear for both the states that have halted Common Core implementation and those where politicians are fighting to roll them back.
Let’s be clear: As shocking as the ACT results are, they aren’t surprising. Just 37 percent of high school grads scored at Proficient and Advanced levels in reading on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a one percent decline from levels in 2009. Just 16 percent of black high school graduates, along with 24 percent of Latino schoolmates, and 26 percent of Native peers scored at Proficient and Advanced levels in 2013, barely budging from levels four years earlier; white and Asian high school grads did little better, with 47 percent of each group scoring at Proficient and Advanced levels, little changed (for white kids) and a two percentage point decline (for Asians) in that time.
Young men of all backgrounds, in particular, are struggling mightily in college-and-career readiness. Only 33 percent of young men graduating high school in 2013 scored at Proficient and Advanced levels in reading, unchanged from levels in 2009. As a result, young men graduating high school trail their female peers by nine percentage points in 2013; while the gap shrunk by two percentage points between 2009 and 2013, that’s only because of a decline in the percentage of young women high school grads scoring at Proficient and Advanced levels. The problems are particularly acute for young black men. Just 13 percent of young black men graduating high schoool read at Proficient and Advanced levels, trailing their female schoolmates by five percentage points. But the gaps for young white men are even larger; the percentage of them scoring at Proficient and Advanced levels was 11 percentage points lower than that for their female peers.
The reforms spurred by the No Child Left Behind in 2001 have reduced the percentage of high school grads who are functionally illiterate. But the demands of the knowledge-based economy means that the greater focus must be on providing kids with college-preparatory curricula (along with high-quality teaching) they need to be successful in a world in which what they do with their minds is more-important than what they do with their hands. Yet until the implementation of Common Core, few kids were being provided this learning.
Just 13 percent of American high school students of all socioeconomic backgrounds were taking comprehensive college-preparatory courses while the rest were taking less-rigorous curricula, according to NAEP’s 2009 high school transcript study. A quarter of all grads taking NAEP were subjected to curriculum that didn’t even include algebra or any kind of rigor. The importance of comprehensive college-preparatory curricula can be seen in this year’s ACT results: One out of every two high school grads who took what ACT defines as a core curriculum (including three years of math and science), scored at college-readiness levels on the reading and math portions of the exam.
This is a problem that begins long before kids reach high school. As Dropout Nation noted last year, just one out of every five eighth-graders in seven states that mandate all kids take Algebra 1 actually did so. Even worse, most students haven’t been getting the literacy and math curricula and instruction they need to take on college-preparatory work once they enter high school. Thanks in part to the gatekeeping of gifted-and-talented programs and the overlabeling of kids, especially young black men as special ed cases — all of which are legacies of the racialist policies of American public education’s past — many kids are kept from getting the learning they need and deserve. This is especially true for kids from poor and minority backgrounds As the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation determined in a 2007 study, 3.4 million children from low-income households were among the top-performers in their schools, yet were unlikely to get the college-prep curricula necessary to continue their success into high school and beyond.
What is clear from the ACT results, as well as from other data, is this simple reality: We cannot continue providing our children with substandard curricula and standards unfit for them to build better lives in adulthood. Patricia Levesque is correct when she argued yesterday that we cannot continue to perpetuate the failures of American public education on another generation. This is why implementing Common Core, along with other reforms, is critical to helping all kids succeed. And why those opposed to implementing the standards should hold their heads low in shame for their immoral denial of high-quality education for children better-deserving than the worst they get.
Featured photo courtesy of Chloe Crane Leroux.