Based simply on how it miseducates Black and Latino children, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in America, is even more racist in its outcomes…
Based simply on how it miseducates Black and Latino children, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in America, is even more racist in its outcomes than the larger and notoriously racist New York City public schools. Dropout Nation readers, who have readnumerouspieces here about the district, have long ago known this. But the crisis bears repeating over and over again.
As mathematics is increasingly important for employment and participation in society, we can take the extent to which L.A. Unified is successful—or not—teaching mathematics as a meaningful indicator of its success as an educational institution. We can look at whether it is successful in educating all the children in its care.
First, some context. Los Angeles, the city, has roughly the same number of residents reporting themselves to the Census as “White alone” as “Hispanic” at two million each, nearly half a million reporting as “Asian,” and not quite 400,000 reporting as “Black or African American.” [The surrounding communities also served by L.A. Unified differ little demographically from L.A. itself.] These proportions are quite different from those of the nation, with 236 million “White alone,” 41.4 million “Black or African American,” 58.8 million “Hispanic,” and 18 million “Asian alone.”
Los Angeles is less White, more Hispanic, less Black and more Asian that the United States in general. However, as with the rest of the nation, White, non-Hispanic, and Asian residents of the city have higher incomes and higher levels of educational attainment—factors increasingly tightly linked—than its Hispanic and Black residents. It is not too much to say that it is because the city’s White, non-Hispanic, and Asian residents have higher levels of educational attainment that they have higher incomes.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress measures Mathematics, Reading and other subjects at grades 4, 8, and 12. The assessments at grade 8 are useful as indicators of the quality of education provided by districts and states as by then students have been in school for most of their lives and there is little change in achievement levels afterwards. People who were strong in mathematics in middle school are likely to be strong in math in later grades; people who did not do well with math in middle school are unlikely to become mathematically literate in later life.
NAEP allows analysis for racial/ethnic groups and eligibility for free or reduced-price meals—a measure of income—among other factors. In 2017, nationally, a quarter of White, non-Hispanic, students in grade 8, qualifying for free or reduced price meals (that is, relatively poor) scored at or above Proficient on the Mathematics assessment, while more than half of White, non-Hispanic students, who were from families with incomes too high to qualify, scored at the Proficient or Above levels. Just over a third of the poorer White, non-Hispanic, students and 14 percent of the more prosperous White, non-Hispanic, students were reported as scoring “Below Basic,” that is, they could not do middle school mathematics. In other words, most White, non-Hispanic, students, and the great majority of those from middle class families, could do some middle school mathematics.
The latter higher income group of students, as you would expect, often
can count on help from other sources: parents, tutors, private after-school
classes and all around better resourced schools. These family resources may be
taken as totaling an amount equal to at least an additional one-third to
one-half of the public investment for each child, while the public
resources—the greater funding of suburban schools—in many places double the
investment in the education of less privileged children.
On the other hand, NAEP finds that nearly 60 percent of Black and
48 percent of Hispanic students whose families have incomes low enough to
qualify for the National School Lunch Program in eighth grade score at the
Below basic level on the Mathematics assessment. Most poor Asian and White students learn at
least some middle school mathematics; half of Hispanic and most Black students
That is the national picture.
This racial gap is much worse in Los Angeles with its extreme income inequalities. A demographic map of Los Angeles would hardly show more strictly defined concentrations of racial and ethnic groups if segregation were legally enforced. The center of the urban area is nearly exclusively Black. The arc of the area, from Pasadena to Malibu, White, non-Hispanic, and the remainder Hispanic apart from two or three Asian areas.
This sociopolitical segregation is also economic segregation. For example, Watts, the classic Black neighborhood of the city, has a median household income of $25,000 per year. Average household incomes in the predominately White, non-Hispanic, areas to the north and west begin at $60,000 and rise rapidly through the $100,000s.
The Opportunity Atlas of Raj Chetty’s group at Harvard shows that a Black child born into what passes for a middle income family in the South Figueroa area can look forward to living as an adult in a household with an income of $20,000 a year. A White child in, say, the not particularly wealthy Baldwin Hills area, $65,000.
In general, White, non-Hispanic, and Asian households in Los Angeles have above average incomes, Black and Hispanic households have below average incomes. Consequently, there are not enough White, non-Hispanic, and Asian middle school students eligible for the National Lunch Program in LAUSD for NAEP to legally count. And there are not enough Black middle school students who are not eligible for the National Lunch Program for NAEP to count. Only Hispanic students are represented on both sides of the income divide.
These racial, ethnic and economic divisions in the city are reflected in educational outcomes. More than half—55 percent—of poor Hispanic students in Los Angeles have not learned mathematics at grade level by middle school. Catastrophically, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of the district’s Black students have not learned mathematics at grade level by middle school and just six percent score at or above NAEP’s “Proficient” level. On the other hand, over half of White, non-Hispanic, and Asian LAUSD middle school students learn mathematics at or above grade level and only 13 percent do not.
Per pupil public expenditure in L.A. Unified is approximately $12,000. If we take the middle-class family-funded educational “supplement” of after-school, weekend and summer classes and other educational activities as a minimum of one-third of that, we arrive at a $16,000 public/private investment in middle class students. At 50 percent it is $18,000, an enough explanation for the racial gap in middle school mathematics achievement in the district.
Closing that gap within the district itself would require, minimally, the allocation of public funds on the same scale to schools serving impoverished Los Angeles students. Those would go to supporting enhanced early childhood education, after-school, weekend and summer classes, more teachers and teacher training, more support personnel, smaller class sizes. These measures are substantially the unprecedented (and more-laudable) demands made by United Teachers of Los Angeles, the American Federation of Teachers local, in its strike last year.
It is remarkable that the management of the district opposed those proposals,
and pitiful that victory resulted in such grudging, minimal, changes.
Beyond the presence of former Gov. Nikki Haley and the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina has always been an unusual state. Yet its racial caste system – and how…
presence of former Gov. Nikki Haley and the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South
Carolina has always been an unusual state. Yet its racial caste system – and
how it keeps Black children from gaining high-quality education – makes it as
normal as Wisconsin and Mississippi.
After Europeans arrived,
they settled it with enslaved people from the rice growing regions of West
Africa, who used their traditional knowledge and skills to turn the Low Country
into a major source of food and indigo for the first British Empire. The slave
owners, who seldom visited the malarial plantations along the coast, grew rich.
The slaves, who survived, remained slaves. Away from the coast, the Piedmont
foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains were settled by Scotch-Irish migrants
working their way down the Appalachian Mountains.
pattern can still be seen today in the demographics of the state. The
western-most counties are nearly entirely White. Though the coastal counties
are now populated by White immigrants from outside the state, the Low Country
is still mostly-Black.
At the beginning
of the twentieth century most farms in the center of the state were worked by
tenants and sharecroppers, many of whom were White, but most of whom were
Black, and they were still the majority of the state’s population. The textile
and tobacco factories that were becoming common were the scenes of union
organizing alternating with violent strikebreaking against the impoverished
workers, Black and White, men and women.
Fitting for the
place where Denmark Vesey and others were executed for leading a slave revolt
at the beginning of the 19th century, Jim Crow was particularly
severe in South Carolina. The Black population disenfranchised, allowed only
minimal education. J. E. Swearingen, then the state’s Superintendent of
Education, wrote in his 1915 Annual Report: “The Negro . . . cannot remain ignorant
without injury to himself, his white neighbors, and to the commonwealth. [On
the other hand, h]is training should fit him to do the work that is open to
him.” That year, according to researcher Elspeth Smith-Stuckey, more than
90 percent of the segregated schools for Black children had only one teacher.
In 1920, Superintendent Swearingen’s “reform” budget asked for $5 per Black
student and $$25 per White student.
The Great Migration saw much of the Black population of the state move north, leaving more than one million descendants of enslaved Africans now living in the state continuing to suffer from the heritages of slavery and Jim Crow. Today, Black South Carolina residents are concentrated, not in the Low Country, but in a band across the middle of the state from Allendale to Marion counties, where they form more than half the population. These counties are among those in the state with the lowest per capita income and the lowest percentage of college graduates.
There is little
inter-generational income mobility in South Carolina. Nowhere in the state are a child’s chances of
reaching the top fifth of the national income distribution, given parents with
incomes in the bottom fifth, greater than 5 percent. That is the average for all state residents.
It is much worse
for South Carolina’s African-American residents. The Opportunity Atlas produced
by Raj Chetty’s group, now at Harvard, tells us that Black children born in
low-income families in Charleston County, on the South Carolina coast, as
adults, on average have incomes of $24,000 (less than half the national
figure), an incarceration rate of 5.6 percent, a high school graduation rate of
73 percent and a college graduation rate of 17 percent. The average Black
student in the Charleston schools attends a school where two-thirds of the
students are from poor families, while the average White student attends a
school where just 42 percent. of the students are poor.
White adults, who
as children were born into low-income families in Charleston County, on average
have incomes of $35,000, an incarceration rate of 1.8 percent, a high school
graduation rate of 81 percent and a college graduation rate of 24 percent. In
other words, there is a $11,000 penalty for being born Black in Charleston
comparatively wealthy part of South Carolina, the chances for
inter-generational upward mobility are practically inexistent for Black
Allendale County, three counties up-state from Charleston, Black children born
in low-income families, as adults, on average have incomes even less than those
in Charleston, $21,000, incarceration rates of 2.5 percent, a high school
graduation rate of 70 percent and a college graduation rate of 19 percent,
while their White peers, with the same high school graduation rate and a lower
college graduation rate (15 percent), have household incomes of $32,000 and an
incarceration rate of less than 1 percent.
The penalty for
being born Black in Allendale County, as in Charleston County, is $11,000 less in
income and twice the chance of incarceration.
The chances are
similar for inter-generational mobility for those born into high-income
households. In Allendale County, a White
child born into a high-income family can look forward to a household income of
$54,000—$12,000 more than a White child born into a low-income family in the
county. A Black child born into a high-income
family in Allendale County can look forward to achieving a household income of $29,000—$8,000
more than a Black child born into a low-income family in the county, but $3,000
less than a White child born into a low-income
family in the county.
County, a White child born into a high-income family can look forward to a
household income of $52,000—$17,000 more than a White child born into a low-income
family in the county. A Black child born
into a high-income family in Charleston County can achieve, on average, a
household income of $36,000—$15,000 more than a Black child born into a low-income
family in the county, but only $1,000 more than a White child born into a low-income
In spite of the comparatively low rates of White college graduation in Allendale and similar counties, state-wide, the percentage of White college graduates is more than double that of Black college graduates. More of the state’s Black residents have not finished high school (18 percent) than have graduated from college (15 percent). This has a direct effect on family and household income, as college graduates are paid more than twice what workers of the same race with less than a high school diploma are paid and those with a doctoral degree are paid three times as much as those of the same race with less than a high school diploma.
South Carolina are poorer than White residents of the state and poorer than the
national average for Black households. This is to be expected. It’s the legacy
of White people brutally enslaving and oppressing enslaved Africans, especially
after the execution of Denmark Vesey, the founder of Mother Emanuel A.M.E.
Church, and others for allegedly plotting a slave revolt.
of Black families in South Carolina somehow live on incomes of less than
$10,000 a year, nearly three times the percentage of similarly deprived White
households. The national median White
household income is $63,700, for Black households it is $40,200. In South Carolina it is $58,500 for White
households and only $32,200 for Black households. The median Black family
income is just over half that of White, non-Hispanic, families. In South
Carolina, more than four times the percentage of White households as Black
households have incomes over $200,000 per year: 4 percent compared to less than
1 percent. More than twice the national average percentage for all Americans, 42
percent, of South Carolina’s African-American households are in the bottom
fifth of the national income distribution and only 7 percent have incomes in
the top 20 percent of the national income distribution.
percent of school-age Black children in South Carolina live in poverty. Unless
there is a change in the state’s education system, things will stay that way.
Institute for Early Education Research ranks South Carolina as 11th
among the states for access to pre-school enrolling 41 percent of its
4-year-olds in state supported pre-kindergarten programs. But it ranks only 38th
for resources provided to pre-kindergartens. High quality early childhood
education programs have been shown to have positive effects on primary school
learning. However, in South Carolina,
with its deficient funding of prekindergarten, and below average K-12 per
student expenditures, by fourth grade nearly two-thirds of African-American
students in the state’s public schools are assessed by the National Assessment
of Educational Progress (NAEP) as functionally illiterate (“below basic”) and
just 15 percent have the expected reading skills for that grade. The comparable
percentages for the state’s White students are reversed: 40 percent reading
proficiently and less than a third with skills that are judged as below basic.
opportunities in the primary grades in South Carolina are clearly
differentiated by race. As reported by NAEP, the state’s White fourth-graders,
whether from lower- or middle-income families, read at the national averages
for each of those groups. Black fourth-graders from lower-income families, that
is, most Black families, have lower achievement levels than the national average
for lower-income Black children. The state’s Black-White gap for lower-income
student is 19 percentage points in favor of White students among those students
reading at grade level. Although fourth-graders from the state’s relatively
small number of middle-income Black families have higher achievement levels
than the national average for their group.
Among middle-income students the gap is a virtually identical 20
percentage points in favor of White students at the proficient level.
Black students in
South Carolina are twice as likely as White students to be functionally illiterate
in fourth grade and are only a third as likely to be taught to read
By eighth grade,
the percentage (48 percent) of South Carolina’s Black students who are
functionally illiterate has declined slightly from the percentage at fourth
grade, but so has the percentage (11 percent) reading at grade level. The White-Black gap is 30 percentage points
among proficient readers and the Black-White gap is also 30 percentage points
among those assessed as reading below basic, both gaps having widened after four
years of schooling. More than half of the state’s Black students from lower-income
families are functionally illiterate at grade eight, as are nearly a third of
Black students from middle-income families.
While 22 percent
of Black students from middle-income families read at grade level, only a
negligible 8 percent of those Black students from lower-income families have
been taught by the South Carolina schools to be proficient readers. A White,
non-Hispanic, student from a lower-income family is more likely to read
proficiently than a Black student from a middle-income family and less likely
to have been left functionally illiterate by their school. Having college-educated
parents gives White students in South Carolina a 33 percentage point advantage
over those with parents without a high school diploma, but the gap between
Black students with college-educated parents and those with only a high school
education is just 7 percentage points. A White student whose parents did not
finish high school is more likely to be taught by their school to read
proficiently than a Black child of college graduates.
Negative school effects in South Carolina overwhelm family education levels for Black children.
fails to educate both Black and White children to the national averages for
those groups, White children only marginally less, Black children very much
less well. While nationally, in 2017, 18 percent of Black children in grade 8
read “proficiently” or above according to NAEP, in South Carolina just 11
percent achieved that level. There has
been some progress in the reading levels of Black children nationally; there
has been none for Black children in South Carolina.
One explanation for these differences in educational opportunities might be found in the historic and continuing racial segregation of the schools in South Carolina. According to data from Brown University’s US Schools index, in the Charleston metropolitan area, for example, where half the students are White and over one-third are Black, a White elementary school student is likely to be in a school where two-thirds of the other students are White, while a Black elementary student will be in a school that where over half the other students are Black. Due to persistent segregation the average Black student will be in a school that is 62 percent poor, regardless of the income level of that student’s own family.
Another factor restricting educational opportunities is school discipline practices. The latest year for which state-level school discipline data is available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is 2013-14. That year, 35 percent of students in South Carolina were Black and 53 percent White, but 61 percent of students given at least one out-of-school suspension were Black as compared to 31 percent who were White. Research has shown that school discipline rates are in large part determined by racial attitudes of teachers and administrators. Higher rates of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are associated with repeated grades and failure to graduate from high school.
opportunities available in South Carolina’s schools culminate with (or without)
high school graduation. According to the
South Carolina state “report card,” the 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate
reported by South Carolina for the 2016-17 school year was 83 percent for Black
students and 86 percent for White students. However, the percentage of students
meeting the ACT College-Ready Benchmark in English was only 17 percent for
Black students (and 53 percent for White students). Just half of
African-American students in South Carolina who took the SAT in 2018 met the
College Board’s College and Career Readiness Benchmark in English, compared to
86 percent of White students. Half of
Black SAT test takers met neither the English nor the Math Benchmark, as
compared to just 12 percent of White South Carolina test-takers. If a South
Carolina high school diploma were meaningful, this would give a graduation rate
of just over 40 percent, rather than 83 percent, for Black students.
South Carolina no longer has legally segregated schools,
but its schools remain largely segregated by race and doubly so by income. The result is that although nearly a quarter
of Black students from middle-income families in the state are taught to read
at the expected level in middle school, fewer than a tenth of Black students
from lower-income families are taught to read proficiently and half are left
functionally illiterate. Even those
Black students from middle-income families are only half as likely to be taught
to read proficiently as are their White peers and nearly a third of them are
left functionally illiterate. The
consequences can be seen in the Bureau of the Census’s economic and educational
attainment data for the state given above.
South Carolina’s Black citizens remain in the situation defined for them
by the Founder’s at three-fifths of that of their White neighbors.
Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask,…
Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask, when directing our attention to Milwaukee, the largest city in the once progressive state of Wisconsin – and part of the home base of now-politically endangered Gov. Scott Walker – what has come of that duty of care?
The latest release of findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “gold standard” for such matters, shows that nationally 13 percent of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program—a good enough proxy for poverty—read at or above grade level in eighth grade. This is half the percentage of White, non-Hispanic, students at a similar family income level and a quarter of the percentage of White, non-Hispanic students from more prosperous households. Less than a third of Black students from families with incomes high enough to make them ineligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in grade 8. The issue appears to be the layering of economic deprivation over racial discrimination in educational opportunities: multi-generational economic deprivation as a consequence of continuing racial discrimination.
In Milwaukee there are considerably higher percentages of Black K-12 than White K-12 students in the city’s schools. There are more than twice the percentage of White than Black college students (and three times the percentage of White male (44 percent) than male Black college students (14 percent)) These distributions are considerably different from national figures, which show approximately equal Black and White enrollment at every level. Just over a quarter of White residents of Milwaukee have only high school diplomas (including equivalents), as do considerably more, just over a third, of Black residents. On the other hand, 34 percent of White residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 13 percent of Black residents have that increasingly necessary qualification.
In a nutshell college graduation is achievable for a third of White residents of Milwaukee, but for only just over a tenth of Black residents of the city. This is unusual. Nationally, although the figure is the same for White, non-Hispanics, it is nearly twice as high as the comparable Milwaukee figure for African-Americans (20 percent?).
Just five percent of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in eighth grade. More than half—nearly two-thirds—of these economically deprived Black students in Milwaukee are assessed as being at the “below Basic” level. They can’t read middle school material. Five percent is meaningful beyond its comparative value. It points to chance factors predominating in measurement: students answering questions at random and getting lucky; transfer students from Ghana; children of university faculty; cosmic rays.
For all reasonable intents and purposes the Milwaukee public schools are not teaching Black students to read.
The percentage of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program scoring at or above “proficient” in Mathematics in eighth grade is 3 percent. Cosmic rays as a causal factor for this achievement seems most likely.
The Milwaukee public schools are not teaching math to their Black students.
In Milwaukee, African-Americans go to school, but they rarely receive a good enough education so that they can read proficiently or perform elementary mathematics tasks or to take them into and through college. It is not then surprising that the unemployment rate for Black residents of the city is between two and three times that of White residents, that the percentage of Black residents of the city in white collar jobs is half that of White residents, that median Black household income is half that of White household income and that the poverty rate for Black families is nearly three times that for White families.
These issues are so common as to seem abstract, or to be accepted, like the weather. But like the weather, or, rather, the climate, they are not either abstract or acceptable. The condition of the descendants of enslaved Africans now living in Milwaukee is directly attributable to the decisions of politicians at the state and local level. Those decisions have reduced funding for the public schools, segregated housing and employment opportunities, criminalized daily life.
All of this brings us back to Gov. Walker, who is likely to lose his post this November (though, as he has proven in elections past, you can never fully count him out).
He has been governor of Wisconsin since 2011. Before that he was Milwaukee County executive and before that he represented a district in Milwaukee County. He has been responsible for the well-being of residents of Milwaukee, its surrounding area and the state for a quarter of a century. If residents of Milwaukee seek a monument for him, they have only to look around them.
Certainly Washington, D.C., is at the center of a rapidly growing metropolitan area. But the Nation’s Capital is itself a relatively small city. Just 680,000 live within the heart of…
Certainly Washington, D.C., is at the center of a rapidly growing metropolitan area. But the Nation’s Capital is itself a relatively small city. Just 680,000 live within the heart of the Beltway, of whom approximately 320,000 are Black and 280,000 are White. Or, to be clearer, it is two cities, one White and increasingly prosperous, the other Black.
Black Washington is not in any meaningful way in the same socio-economic category as White Washington, and that is clear by every economic and educational measure. Which makes all the discussions about D.C. Public Schools’ graduation fraud scandal even more important than it already appears.
While the unemployment rate for White Washington is just 1.5 percent—hardly measurable—that for the Black population is nearly nine times higher: 13 percent. The White unemployment rate has slightly decreased since the 2007 financial crisis; the Black unemployment rate has increased by three percent, a difference that is itself twice the current total White unemployment rate.
Eighty percent of the employed adult White civilian population work in middle class occupations: in management, business, science and the arts. Just eight percent are employed in service occupations. In contrast, less than 40 percent of the employed adult Black civilian population work in middle class management, business, science and arts occupations, while a quarter of employed adult Black civilians work in service occupations. White residents of the District are managers; many Black workers serve them in one way or another.
In Washington, D.C., nearly 90 percent of the District’s White residents have Bachelor’s or Graduate degrees, qualifications attained by just a quarter of Black residents 25 years of age and over.
As a result, the median household income for White residents of the District was $126,000 in 2015; the median household income for Black residents less than a third of that, $38,000. (By way of comparison, the median household income for the United Stats is $55,000. Nearly two-thirds of American households have incomes over the District median for Black households.) The poverty rate for White families in Washington, D.C., like the unemployment rate, is vanishingly small, just 1.4 percent, while nearly a quarter of Black families, 23 percent, are poor. 18 percent of Black households have incomes of less than $10,000; 26 percent of White households have incomes over $200,000.
The DC Fiscal Policy Institute has found that Washington’s White families have 81 times more wealth, on average, than Black families, and “a higher level of income inequality than any state in the country, with households in the top 20 percent of income having 29 times more income than the bottom 20 percent. The bottom fifth of DC households had just two percent of total DC income in 2016, while the top fifth had a staggering 56 percent.” The Institute concludes that “race is at the heart of DC’s economic inequality.”
Poverty, like wealth, can be inherited. According to the Equality of Opportunity Project at Stanford University, a Black child born to Washington, D.C. area parents with incomes in the 25th (bottom) percentile, as an adult, is likely, on average, to have an income at the 32nd percentile, only 7 points higher, while a White child born to parents with incomes at the 25th (bottom) percentile, as an adult, is likely, on average, to have an income at the 43rd percentile, 18 points higher. The upward mobility chances of one of the few White children born into poverty in Washington are between two and three times those of one of the many Black children born into poverty in the city.
Wealth, like poverty, tends to be inherited. This often comes from home ownership. In Washington, D.C., due to, among other things, mid-twentieth-century federal policies, approximately half of the White population own their own homes, while only a third of the Black populations own their homes. The median value of those White owner-occupied houses is $739,000; that of Black owner-occupied units is $385,000. If these houses are passed along to the next generation, the children of White homeowners start with twice the wealth, from this source alone, as do the children of Black homeowners.
Certainly D.C. Public Schools is no longer the Superfund Site of American public education. But it still has miles to go before it can receive applause for properly education Black children.
In the nation’s capitol, the caste system that replaced slavery is characterized by a wealthy White, managerial caste and an impoverished, Black, service caste, with the former averaging incomes in the top 10 percent of the national income distribution, the latter averaging incomes far below that. Black children born into poverty have less of a chance of rising out of poverty than White children; the relatively few Black children of upper middle class parents have a greater chance of falling to a lower class than their White peers.
In addition to inherited wealth, largely unavailable to Black residents of Washington, education is a proven route out of poverty. But this route is also closed to Washington’s Black children — often regardless of whether they attend a traditional district or charter school.
The average Black student attends a school in which 82 percent of the students are poor; the average White student attends a school in which only a quarter of the students are from poor families. The Brown University Dissimilarity Index measures whether one particular group is distributed across census tracts in the metropolitan area in the same way as another group. A high value indicates that the two groups tend to live in different tracts. A value of 60 (or above) is considered very high. The Black-White Dissimilarity Index for the District is 83 out of 100.
Before the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, Washington had some fine schools for Black children. Segregation does not automatically lead to differentiated education achievement; after all, children in public charters schools generally do better than their peers in traditional districts despite stratification based on race. It’s just that the reality in traditional public schools is that segregation usually leads to worse outcomes for Black and other minority children.
In D.C.’s schools, 79 percent of fourth-grade White students whose family income is sufficient to make them ineligible for the National Lunch program, test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 95 percent Basic or Above). For all intents and purposes, all the district’s middle class White fourth grade students are taught to read at an acceptable level or beyond that: very well. And the White students who are not from middle class families? There are too few White students eligible for the National Lunch Program in Washington for NAEP to report their test results.
Over 90 percent of public school students in the Washington, D.C. are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Almost all of these are Black. Educational opportunity in the District of Columbia’s traditional district (as well to a lesser extent, in its charters) are distributed by race and income. It amounts to the same thing.
In fourth grade, 44 percent of the few Black students whose family income is sufficient to make them ineligible for the National Lunch program test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 80 percent Basic or Above). Just 15 percent of Black fourth-graders whose family income is low enough to make them eligible for the National Lunch program test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 44 percent Basic or Above).
Then in eighth grade, 82 percent of White students, nearly all of whom are ineligible for the National Lunch program, test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 96 percent Basic or Above). Just over a quarter, 27 percent, of Black eighth-grade students whose family income is sufficient to make them ineligible for the National Lunch program test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 69 percent Basic or Above). But only seven percent of Black students whose family income is low enough to make them eligible for the National Lunch program test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 39 percent Basic or Above).
These numbers matter. Literacy is essential for all other education; reading skills rarely change much between middle school and high school graduation (of which more below).
Between grades 4 and 8, the percentage of the relatively few middle class Black students in Washington testing above Basic in reading declined from 80 to 69 percent; the percentage of the much larger number of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program testing at or above Basic in reading declines from 44 to 39 percent. Between fourth- and eighth grades, the percentage of the relatively few middle class Black students in Washington testing at or above Proficient declines from 44 to 27 percent; the percentage of the much larger number of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program testing above Proficient declines from 15 to 7 percent. More time in the District’s schools results in lower rates of educational achievement for Black students.
The educational background of the parents of White students is not apparent in test results. Eighty-five percent of White eighth-graders whose parents graduated from college test as Proficient or Above in reading (and 97 percent Basic or Above). On the other hand, the children of highly educated Black parents actually do worst than other middle class Black children, with just 15 percent of Black eighth-graders with some form of higher education scoring Proficient or Above in reading (and 52 percent Basic or Above). The children of less well-educated Black parents do worse yet: just six percent of Black students whose parents only graduated from high school test at Proficient or Above in reading (and 34 percent at Basic or Above).
The District of Columbia school system claimed a 73 percent graduation rate in 2017. The Washington Post recently reported that “one in three graduates received their diplomas in violation of city policy. Wrote the Post: “Those students had walked across graduation stages despite missing too many classes or improperly taking makeup classes. . . Even if all of the students regarded as “moderately off-track” receive diplomas, the graduation rate would stand at about 61 percent — 12 points below last year’s.”
Would even 61 percent of Washington, D.C. students graduate college and career ready? Not at all. In eighth grade, just 53 percent tested at or above Basic in reading, just 25 percent were Proficient or above. It is probably significant that in 2013 96 percent of students entering the Community College of the University of District Columbia required at least one remedial course; half needed remediation in four subjects. By 2017 it was reported that 98 percent of public school graduates needed remediation after enrolling in the University of District Columbia.
For those of us who live in a rational, data-based world, it can no longer be argued that school discipline disparities can be attributed to the fictitious oddities of “the…
For those of us who live in a rational, data-based world, it can no longer be argued that school discipline disparities can be attributed to the fictitious oddities of “the Black family,” socio-economic conditions, cultural differences and the like.
Since the publication of the unchallenged, and unquestionable, report from the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, Breaking Schools’ Rules in 2011, we have known that after having accounted “for the factors most often associated with poor school performance . . . race was a predictive factor for whether a student would be disciplined, particularly for discretionary disciplinary actions.” And further: “High rates of disciplinary involvement among African-American students were driven chiefly by violations that are subject to the discretion of school employees . . . The data . . . provide compelling evidence to show that how a school uses suspension and expulsion is driven in large part by the decisions of officials at both the district and individual school level.”
In other words, school discipline disparities by race are a good indicator of racism in schools and systems.
Which brings us to New York City, the greatest city in the world, for some, and the home to the third most-segregated school system by at least one (widely-debated) study. According to the just-released school discipline data from the U.S. Department of Education, male Black students are three and a half times as likely to be punished with one or more out-of-school suspensions as are male White students and female Black students are an astonishing eight times as likely to be punished in this way than female White students.
These disparities, by themselves, are prima facie indicators of endemic racist actions (not to speak of attitudes) in the New York City school system among “officials at both the district and individual school level.” And they are not simply of academic interest, they cause lasting harm. The Justice Center study also found that “Students who experienced suspension or expulsion, especially those who did so repeatedly, were more likely to be held back a grade or drop out of school than students who were not involved in the disciplinary system.”
It reasonably follows, then, that the decisions of district and individual school level personnel to discipline three to eight times the proportion of Black as White students likely results in disproportionate numbers of Black students being held back a grade or dropping out of school. That is one way racist attitudes and actions work to limit educational opportunities for Black students in New York City.
Another way is the “school choice” system with its apogee in the city’s selective high schools.
This year, as usual, enrollment in New York City’s selective high schools was bizarrely skewed by race, especially at the jewel of the system, Stuyvesant High School. According to the New York City Department of Education’s own records, out of a total enrollment of 3,323 students across four grades at Stuyvesant, 23 are Black as compared to, say, 35 “Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.” This is remarkable as the U.S. Census counts over two million Black residents in the city, but notes that there are too few Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders in the city to count. [However, it is evident that there are at least 35.]
“We continue to pursue a set of initiatives to increase diversity at Specialized High Schools,” the city’s education department said in a statement. Sure.
What will new Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio actually do to build brighter futures for the Big Apple’s Black children? [Photo courtesy of the New York Times.]
Admission to Stuyvesant, and to most of the city’s other specialized high schools, is filtered by means of a test, oddly named the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Oddly named, as it would be more aptly called the Black Student Elimination Test. Without getting into the weeds about testing theory and all that, it does seem that there are validity issues with a test that year after year eliminates all but a dozen or fewer Black students from Stuyvesant’s freshman class.
If actions repeatedly result in outcomes at variance with professed goals, it is likely that those outcomes are the actual goals of the actions in question.
Stuyvesant is only one school out of the great sea of the New York City education system, but its diversity failure is a telling indicator of the actual nature of the system. It is possible that Black students—sorry, all but a dozen Black students each year—do not get into the school for any number of reasons. The overwhelming number of Black eighth grade students might so dislike the school’s Brutalist architecture that they don’t apply. Or they might not wish to attend a school with so many more Native Hawaiians than Black students. Or they could be woefully ill-prepared by their middle schools.
As there is little research concerning the attitudes of Black middle school students in regard to architecture or Native Hawaiians (although there is some anecdotal evidence concerning the latter from interviews with former President Obama, who attended a school with large numbers of Native Hawaiians), we might consider the quality of the city’s middle schools as causal, since Stuyvesant’s admissions data directs our attention there.
The Selective High School Admissions Test is effectively a mathematics test. The recently released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress’s eighth-grade mathematics assessment reports that nearly two-thirds of New York City’s Black eighth graders eligible for the National School Lunch Program score at the below Basic level: they can’t do middle school math. Just over half of the City’s Black students from more prosperous families can’t do middle school math either. Just 8 percent of the Black students from poor families and 15 percent of those from more prosperous families score at the proficient or above levels. This compares to 26 percent of the National School Lunch Program eligible White students and 57 percent of those White students from more prosperous families who do math proficiently or better at grade 8 in New York City.
White students from families with below average incomes are much more effectively taught mathematics in the City’s middle schools than are (the relatively few) Blacks students from more prosperous families:
It seems that family income has surprisingly little effect on eighth-grade mathematical performance of New York City’s Black students. The difference between the percentage of National School Lunch Program eligible White students scoring Proficient and Above on the NAEP mathematics assessment and those from more prosperous families scoring at that level was 31 points. For Black students it was 6 points. Not everyone will agree, of course, but this does seem to indicate that Black students, regardless of family circumstances, attend middle schools with deficient mathematics instruction.
New York City happens, “happens,” to be one of the most segregated cities in the country and its schools are similarly racially segregated. The Brown University Index of Dissimilarity measures whether one particular group is distributed in the same way as another group. A high value indicates that the two are separated from one another. A value of 60 or above is considered very high. That between Black and White residents in New York City is over 80. A consequence of this is that neighborhood schools are highly segregated by race. In other words, Black students from both National School Lunch Program eligible and ineligible families are likely to attend the same schools, as indicated by the small gap in NAEP scores. The city’s segregated schools do not have to vary in quality by, say, the percentage of Black students in the school, but the NAEP scores seem to indicate that they do.
The administrators of the New York City Schools—the Mayor, the Chancellor, their staffs and advisors—appear to know this, as is demonstrated by the city’s school choice program. This elaborate sorting of students and schools would be unnecessary if all the city’s schools offered high quality education. Its very existence is an admission by the city that the quality of schools differ so significantly as to justify this costly and cumbersome system.
They are right, of course, and they know this as they are responsible for those differences in quality, by the way in which they allocate resources, financial and human, in accordance with the racial make-up of each school’s population. “Them that’s got shall have/Them that’s not shall lose.”
A consequence of the poor educational opportunities for Black children in New York City is the comparative lack of Black intergenerational economic mobility in the city. According to Raj Chetty’s group at Stanford University, a White male child born into poverty in the city (in a family at the 25th percentile of income distribution) will, as an adult, on average reach the 56th income percentile. The average male Black child born into poverty in New York City will as an adult reach only the 42nd percentile. The income of the average male Black child born into an upper middle class family with an income at the 75th percentile will fall to the 52nd percentile as an adult, below that of a male White adult born into poverty. (The average male White child from a similarly wealthy family will as an adult expect to have an income at the 68th percentile.)
There are certainly other factors at play here. Racism is not limited to the schools. There is the criminal justice system with its astonishing racial disparities. There are racial disparities in higher education and in employment. But, while some may disagree, the racism in the schools does have strong effects on the later lives of Black students.
Here’s a modest proposal: Eliminate the Selective High School Admissions Test and fill the selective high schools by admitting the equivalent percentage of students from each middle school. If the number of grade 9 students in the selective high schools is, say, 10 percent of the total number of grade 9 students in the system, admit the top 10 percent of each middle school’s students. In short order there will be a shift of upper middle class White and Asian families to schools with records of badly preparing their students, so that their children will more easily make the 10 percent cut-off, followed immediately by political pressure from those families to increase the allocation of resources to those schools. Soon, quality differences across the system will lessen
This may take legislation in Albany. However, legislation in Albany does seem to occur from time to time. It is not unheard of. It could occur to produce better educational opportunities for New York City’s Black children.
There are other ways to increase educational and life opportunities for New York City’s Black students. Maintaining the status quo is not one of them.
The Duval County school district serves the Jacksonville, Florida, area. Jacksonville is much more typical of neighboring Georgia than of Florida. It has a relatively small Hispanic population and a…
The Duval County school district serves the Jacksonville, Florida, area. Jacksonville is much more typical of neighboring Georgia than of Florida. It has a relatively small Hispanic population and a history of anti-Black racism dating back hundreds of years. The district’s website proclaims recent good news:
Duval County Public Schools has emerged as a national leader in mathematics and reading outcomes on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) . . . “If this were the Olympics, you would say we medaled in almost every event,” said Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis. “These results, in addition to our record-high graduation rate, reflect the incredible efforts of our students, our teachers, the district and our community.” . . . “The new NAEP results confirm that Duval County is one of the highest performing big city school districts in the nation,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council for Great City Schools.
Those newly released 2017 NAEP eighth-grade reading assessments show that while 42 percent of White students in the Duval County public schools can read at grade level (proficient or above), the school system teaches less than half that percentage, 18 percent, of the Black students in its care, to read proficiently at the crucial grade 8 level. Or, looking at that from the other side, well over three-quarters of the Black students in the Duval County Public Schools are not taught to read proficiently. Of those, nearly 90 percent of the male Black students in Jacksonville are not taught to read proficiently and nearly half of those can hardly read at all. We can take that as an indication of the preparation for life that is provided for Black children by the Duval County Public Schools. It is a rather unusual Olympic medal quality performance.
A primary driver of these racial disparities in educational achievement is not difficult to discover. Quite some time ago a large-scale research project in Texas demonstrated that disparities in the rate of school discipline actions were based on the racial attitudes of school personnel, rather than the actions of students. In the Duval County schools the rate at which out-of-school suspensions are given is eight percent for Black students, three percent for White students, a more than two-to-one disparity, which is a good measure of racial prejudice in action. That happens to be approximately the disparity in reading proficiency. Of course, correlation does not indicate causation.
There are consequences to this failure of the Duval district to teach most of their Black children, and nearly all of their male Black children, to read easily.
The Equality of Opportunity Project at Stanford University has studied intergenerational economic mobility by race and gender. According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the average Black child in Jacksonville, whose household in the year 2000 had an income at or below the 25th percentile of all American households ($28,000, very poor) would probably have an income at the 31st percentile (just poor) by 2015, about $32,000. The average White child in Jacksonville, living in a similarly deprived household in 2000, would have had an income at the 40th percentile in 2015, about $43,000: a nine point, $11,000, advantage for being White. While a Black child growing up in Jacksonville can expect to go up six steps on the economic mobility ladder (from very poor to merely poor), a White child can expect to go up fifteen steps, between two and three times as far and within hailing distance of the national median.
This comparative restriction of intergenerational economic mobility for Black residents of Jacksonville cannot be attributed solely to the fact that well over three-quarters of the Black students in the Duval County Public Schools are not taught to read proficiently, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?
Well, Jacksonville has a history of slavery, segregation and lynching. We can look to the free state of Wisconsin for better news . . . can’t we? The answer is no.
The 2017 NAEP eight-grade reading assessment shows that while 33 percent of White students in the Milwaukee public schools can read at grade level (proficient or above), the school system teaches less than one-fifth of that percentage, six percent, of the Black students in its care to read proficiently at the crucial grade 8 level. Or, looking at that from the other side, well over 90 percent of the Black students in the Milwaukee public schools are not taught to read proficiently and of those, 96 percent of the male Black students in Milwaukee are not taught to read proficiently. Nearly two-thirds of those can hardly read at all. We can take that as an indication of the preparation for life that is provided for Black children by the Milwaukee Public Schools. As to causation, the racial school discipline disparities in Milwaukee are similar to those in Jacksonville: a Black student is more than twice as likely to be punished with an out-of-school suspension as is a White student. In addition to being an indicator of adult racial attitudes, out-of-school suspensions are likely to lead to students falling behind in their studies and prematurely ending their educations: dropping out.
No matter where you go, traditional districts are failing the descendants of enslaved Africans.
And as to consequences, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the average Black child in Milwaukee, whose household in the year 2000 had an income at or below the 25th percentile of all American households (very poor) would probably have an income at the 36th percentile (poor) by 2015, about $38,000. The average White child in Milwaukee, living in a similarly deprived household in 2000, would have had an income at the 50th percentile in 2015, about $56,000: a fourteen point, $18,000, advantage for being White. While a Black child growing up in Milwaukee can expect to go up eleven steps on the economic mobility ladder (from very poor to merely poor), a White child can expect to go up twenty-five steps, more than twice as far and pretty close to the national median. White children growing up in severe poverty in Milwaukee can expect to participate in the American dream of dramatic economic mobility; the Black children living in that city cannot even dream of it.
Just as in Jacksonville.
Neither district is fulfilling its responsibility to educate all children. The size of the racial gaps resulting from these failures are similar. If disparities in school discipline rates are a valid measure of racism (which they are), that, too is similar. And if the Equality of Opportunity Project’s calculations are correct, as they seem to be, the perhaps consequent restrictions on economic mobility for the Black residents of these two American cities will, similarly, continue from one generation to the next.
The Equality of Opportunity Project researchers point out that the Black/White racial economic disparities are not a result of factors under the control of Black Americans. Rather, they are the result of factors, such as disparate incarceration rates and the school issues touched on above, that are under the control of the people running the criminal justice and school systems and other social, economic and political aspects of life in this country. They are under the control of that governor, that mayor, this superintendent of schools, this judge and that chief of police in both Jacksonville and Milwaukee—and those in many other cities and towns in this great country.