Yesterday’s mistrial in the proceedings against former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager for murdering Walter Scott wasn’t shocking. After all, the jury had announced the Friday before that one juror declined to find Slager guilty. Just as importantly, even in cases such as that of Scott in which there is irrefutable videotaped evidence of rogue policing, jurors rarely find cops guilty for misconduct and wrongfully using deadly force. Considering that cases such as that of Scott and Eric Garner (whose murderer, New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, was allowed to go free by a grand jury) are rarely adjudicated, it is amazing that Slager was indicted at all. The good news, if that can be claimed, is that at least six people thought Slager should be convicted — and that the district attorney in the case will retry him again.
All that said, it is impossible to understate the pain Scott’s family is going through. They lost their loved one in what should be the enjoyable years of middle age all because Slager, who had already been cited in two complaints for abusive behavior with tasers, decided to stop him for a broken brake light, then murder him in broad daylight. Slager brutally slain a man for no reason other than for his own ego — and for that, he deserves nothing less than God’s judgement and prison time. And Scott’s family continues to need our prayers for them to find justice and peace beyond understanding.
For communities black and brown, the mistrial was just another reminder that their chances of gaining any measure of human justice, especially when they are victimized by rogue police officers, is slim to none. It is also a reminder that black men often take the brunt of harm in their interactions with law enforcement; numerous studies, including the controversial analysis from Harvard’s Roland Fryer, have shown consistently that cops are more-likely to be stop and subject black men to harsh force regardless of incident than they are against white peers. Which puts black men at higher risk of ending up in body bags.
What does the Slager mistrial have to do with school reformers? Plenty. As I wrote two years ago, you can’t proclaim to be a champion for all children if you are not championing them at all times. After all, you can only reach people when your care and consideration for the matters of their greatest concern. Just as importantly, the school reform movement cannot sustain its efforts without support from communities who are also dealing with the other issues that result from (and contribute to) low-quality education.
As you already know, there are many in the school reform movement who disagree with this assessment. Within this year alone, folks such as Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have complained that efforts by peers to support criminal justice reform — especially the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown — is essentially an effort to push conservative reformers out of school reform altogether. For folks like him, the emergence of civil rights-oriented reformers into the vanguard essentially crowds out the more-conservative thinking that has long-dominated the movement.
Other conservative reformers such as Jay P. Greene argue that even discussing Black Lives Matter and social justice issues causes division when the focus should only be on transforming education. As far as Greene and his colleagues are concerned, the last thing reformers need to do is engage in discussing matters on which there is no consensus and therefore, becomes harder to rally support for solutions to the nation’s education crisis.
As far as Pondiscio’s argument is concerned, there isn’t really more to say other than you can’t call for ideological diversity (as he has) and then complain when you get it. As Pondiscio’s former colleague at Fordham, Kathleen Porter-Magee, rightfully argues, embracing new voices and new ideas is critical to systemic reform. More importantly, we should be as morally concerned about stopping state-sanctioned racism civil rights against black and brown children and their families as we are about failure mills that also damage their lives and futures.
As for Greene’s point: It is pure nonsense. One of the most-interesting aspects of the criminal justice reform movement is that it has been as championed by many conservatives and libertarians (including Radley Balko of the Washington Post, Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute, Congressman Justin Amash, and Atlantic Monthly‘s Conor Friedensdorf) as it has been by progressives and Black Lives Matter activists. Cato, in particular, is holding a conference this week tackling such issues as mass incarceration and militarization of police departments (including those harming children in our schools).
If conservatives and libertarians who spend little time on education can find common cause with Black Lives Matter activists, why can’t those who are primarily concerned with building brighter futures for children?
Meanwhile there is another reason why reformers should work together with criminal justice reform advocates that has become more-important than ever: The threat to the movement’s very aims posed by the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
As Dropout Nation has argued repeatedly last month, the President-Elect’s appointment of longtime reformer Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education (as well as the association of some conservative reformers with the transition) threatens to associate the laudable goal of helping poor and minority families gain access to high-quality educational opportunities with an incoming administration already associated with bigotry, nativism, and anti-Semitism. This isn’t just a threat to choice. The success of the movement itself continues to depend on a bipartisan and socioeconomically diverse coalition that includes progressives, Centrist Democrats, and black civil rights activists for whom bigotry against children black and brown is a major concern.
Tackling criminal justice reform — which will be opposed at every turn by the incoming Trump Administration — is an important way to signal bipartisanship as well as show poor and minority communities that we will stand up for them.
This isn’t to say that reformers shouldn’t focus most of their time on transforming American public education. That is paramount. But there are plenty of ways reformers can partner with criminal justice reform advocates on addressing the rogue policing and criminalization of lives black and brown that affect the lives of our children as much as laggard and criminally abusive teachers.
As your editor noted yesterday in the analysis of National Education Association’s political spending, the union has figured out that putting a little money toward something as simple as a ballot initiative can win allies among progressives for their cause of defending their influence over education policymaking. Reformers can do similar things. Write letters in support of legislation calling for abolishing the use of grand juries in use of deadly force cases. Back ballot measures on such criminal justice reform matters as the use of traffic tickets (which necessitate traffic stops) to generate revenue for municipal coffers. Even endorse criminal reform-minded candidates running for district attorney posts and state legislative seats.
Reformers can also work together with criminal justice reform advocates on addressing the prominent role American public education plays in putting kids on the path to prison.
Remember this: Schools account for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. This is particularly problematic because juvenile court judges are ill-equipped to deal with matters that should be handled by schools, and juvenile jails are often beset by incidents of sexual assault and other abuse. Reformers can easily work with Black Lives Matter activists and others to reduce (if not end altogether) the number of children put on the path to courtrooms and jails.
One way to do this: End the overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. Decades of studies from researchers such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University have determined that overuse of suspensions are harmful to student achievement, especially for children from poor and minority households (including black students) who disproportionately suspended at higher rates (and often for minor offenses) than white peers. When districts over-suspend poor and minority children, they perpetuate perceptions among law enforcement and the wider community that black and Latino children are only criminals. Just as importantly, as Dropout Nation has noted time and time and time again, the overuse of harsh school discipline allows lets teachers and school leaders off the hook for their failures to address underlying issues such as illiteracy that lead to children acting out.
Supporting solutions on this front — from new concepts such as restorative justice, to existing efforts such as overhauling how we recruit, train, and evaluate teachers, even to recruiting and supporting talented collegians and mid-career professionals of minority backgrounds to work with kids who look like them — help children both in and out of school.
Reformers can even help criminal justice reform advocates by sharing the lessons they have learned about tackling teacher quality and contract issues. This is already happening. The police union contract database developed by Campaign Zero, the outfit formed by the cadre of Black Lives Matter activists that include Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett, is modeled in part off National Council on Teacher Quality’s famed TR3 database. Reformers can use their experiences in developing alternative teacher training regimes to help their counterparts address how cops are recruited and trained — a key culprit behind the murders of Scott, Tamir Rice, and other black lives.
Now, more than ever, reformers have opportunities to work hand-in-hand with other advocates in building brighter futures for all of our children. It is our moral duty to ensure that our children grow up with the knowledge they need for success in adulthood — and can live safely in their communities without threat by police officers consumed by dark desires to engage in thuggery, bigotry, and venality.
The National Center for Education Statistics has now released graduation rates for US school districts, disaggregated for the usual racial and ethnic groups, but not by gender. For the purposes of this analysis, those rates will be used as given.
Much progress has been made in standardizing calculations for high school graduation rates and although there remain local oddities, such as a proliferation of types of high school diplomas, particularly in the South, the overall situation is such as to allow a sharper focus on individual districts. We can, then, look at three typical large urban districts—Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—with at least a first order degree of confidence that we are looking at similar data among them. (Chicago’s graduation rate calculations have been questioned—certain groups are said to be excluded—but that discussion can be put aside for another occasion.)
Asian students are reported to graduate at a rate of 91 percent in Chicago, 83 percent in New York City and 80 percent in Philadelphia. Black student graduation rates are reported as 71 percent in Chicago, 64 percent in New York City and 65 percent in Philadelphia. Latino students are reported as graduating at a rate of 80 percent in Chicago, 61 percent in New York and 53 percent in Philadelphia, while White students are reported as graduating at a rate of 87 percent in Chicago, 81 percent in New York City and 71 percent in Philadelphia.
The difference between Asian and White graduation rates, on the one hand, and Black and Latino rates, on the other, varies from 15 to 20 percentage points, with Chicago showing the least difference and New York City the greatest difference. The greatest differences between districts are those in nearly every case between the relatively better rates for Chicago and relatively worse rates for Philadelphia (but see proviso above).
Those graduation rates are indications of the success, or lack of it, for each of these districts in providing their students with diplomas. How, then, can we assess the degree to which those districts are successful in educating those students, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career preparation?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is of some help in this. The cliché description of NAEP’s data is that it is “the gold standard,” and there is little doubt that its assessments are accurate. Unfortunately, NAEP does not provide district data for its 12th grade assessments. Therefore, Dropout Nation uses the assessment at eighth grade, selecting among the many subject-area assessments that which is most fundamental, reading. At grade eight, 63 percent of Chicago’s White students read at or above grade level (“Proficient”), as compared to 24 percent of the district’s Latino students and just 13 percent of the district’s Black students. (There are too few Asian students in the Chicago schools for NAEP to assess.) 46 percent of New York City’s White students and 26 percent of Philadelphia’s White students test at or above grade level in grade eight, as do 15 percent of New York City’s and 9 percent of Philadelphia’s Black students. Twenty-two percent of New York’s Latino students and 11 percent of Philadelphia’s Latino students test at grade level, as do 41 percent of New York’s and 44 percent of Philadelphia’s Asian students.
Philadelphia is clearly failing to teach reading to most of its students — a remarkable three-quarters of its White students and over 90 percent of its Black students are below grade level in reading on NAEP’s grade 8 evaluation. And although Chicago’s success with White Students is impressive, it fails to teach over 85 percent of its Black students this fundamental skill.
We can, with this information, throw some light on the question of how well-educated are those students receiving diplomas from these three cities.
Comparing NAEP Grade 8 Reading Proficiency for the New York City groups, we found the following for the four largest racial/ethnic groups: NAEP eighth-grade reading percent at or above grade level: Forty-one percent of Asians, 15 percent of Black students; 22 percent of Latino students; and 46 percent of White students. By the way: the graduation rates are t83 percent for Asian students, 64 percent for Black students, 61 percent for Latino students, and 81 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-zero for Asian students; 4.3 for Black students; 2.8 percent for Latino students, and 1.8 percent for White students.
Twice the percentage of Asian and White students, three times the percentage of Latino students and more than four times the percentage of Black students graduate from the New York City schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.
For Philadelphia, we found the following for NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level: Forty-four percent for Asians; nine percent for Black students; 11 percent for Latino students; and 26 percent for Whites. And this for high school graduation rates: Eighty percent for Asians; 65 percent for Black students; 53 percent for Latinos students; and 71 percent for Whites. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-eight for Asians; 6.9 for Black students; 4.6 for Latinos; and 2.8 for whites.
Nearly three times the percentage of Asian and White students, almost five times the percentage of Latino students and nearly seven times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Philadelphia schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.
For Chicago, we found the following for the three racial/ethnic groups for which we have NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level: Thirteen percent for Black students; 24 percent for Latino students; and 62 percent for White students. And these for high school graduation rates: Seventy-one percent for Black students; 80 percent for Latino students; and 87 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we get these ratios: Five-point-three for Black students; 3.3 for Latino students; and 1.4 for White students.
Nearly half again the percentage of White students, more than three times the percentage of Latino students and more than five times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Chicago schools as are reading at grade level in grade 8.
On average, then, these three districts graduate about twice the percentage of Asian and White students than are reading at grade level in middle school, while they graduate three-and-a-half times that of Latino students and five and-a-half that of Black students.
What happens to these recipients of high school diplomas from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia schools? Do those diplomas mean that they were educated by their schools so as to be career and college-ready?
Nationally, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 83 percent of recent Asian high school completers enrolled in a two or four year post-secondary institution, as did 71 percent of White, 69 percent of Latino and 56 percent of Black recent high school graduates. Given the NAEP data on reading proficiency, there is a reasonable assumption that most graduates from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia systems, and, in particular, their Black and Latino students, initially enroll in community colleges. Again, according to the most recent NCES report, 34 percent of Asian, 29 percent of White, 30 percent of Latino and 20 percent of Black students graduated within 150 percent of normal time in two-year postsecondary institutions.
Or, in other words, 80 percent of Black, 70 percent of Latino and White and 66 percent of Asian students who attempted an Associates degree were not prepared to succeed. This accords with reports that in New York City, 80 percent of community college students require reading and math remediation.
There is another way of putting this. In Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—and likely in other large cities—the vast majority of Black and Latino are either not graduating or are being handed diplomas that mean little. Those that receive diplomas graduate without necessary basic skills. Of the half to two-thirds who receive diplomas, another half or two-thirds—a quarter or a third of those who began high school—enroll in college. Of those, one-fifth to one-third graduate in the time expected, that is, 5 percent to 11 percent of the entering high school classes.
These college numbers are from national statistics. It is probably worse than that for Black and Latino students in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, as well as for peers in Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis.
The first step toward improving this situation is for districts to be honest about their data, in this case, honest when giving out diplomas. The following steps are well-known: providing resources for lower income and especially Black and Latino students at least as generously as they are provided by their schools and families for students from higher income families. If these things are not done, one can only conclude that those who could do them do not wish to do so.
Down that path is a society divided between a steadily shrinking, and aging, wealthy America and an increasing, and increasingly impoverished, other America: Black, Brown and, yes, White as well.
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.
Milwaukee, 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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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.
But 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 well. The 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.