Author: Michael Holzman

The Zip Code Education Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New York City: Worse Than Mississippi

How hard is the New York City government trying to increase inequality and inter-generational poverty? Very hard indeed and quite successfully, thank you. They are doing this by means of…

How hard is the New York City government trying to increase inequality and inter-generational poverty? Very hard indeed and quite successfully, thank you.

They are doing this by means of the schools.  They,” rather than “it,” because this situation is the result of decisions by individuals, decisions made everyday in dozens if not hundreds of meetings, expressed in hundreds, if not thousands, of documents.  It is the responsibility of those individuals (you know who you are), not of abstractions like “institutional racism,” “budgetary constraints,” “and bureaucracy”. They may say they are not intentionally increasing inequality, but if, over time, their actions do so that effect is best understood as identical with the objective intention.

As you might recall, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education  that “Segregation . . . deprive[s] [Black children] of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.” The benefits in question, not to put too fine a point on it, are those of a good education: higher incomes, longer lives, a better start in life for themselves and their children.

There is a difference between families choosing schools that aren’t integrated of their own accord – charter schools, for instance – and being forced by traditional districts to attend schools that are deliberately segregated. But as we already know, most children and families do not choose the schools they attend, and have little political power within school districts to even have choice. Especially in New York City. Just 7.9 percent of children in New York attend charter schools; the rest are in the district. So when we talk about segregation in New York City, we are talking about what people who run the New York City Department of Education are doing to restrict opportunities for high-quality education to Black and Latino children.

In its new report, Brown at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty and State, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds that New York is the most segregated state for Black students, much more segregated than, for example, Mississippi.  Two-thirds of the state’s Black students are in schools that are 90 percent of more non-White and non-Latino. This is astounding because black children account for just 18 percent of students in the Empire State, compared to 50 percent of students in Mississippi, where fewer than half of Black students are in those extremely segregated schools. Latino students in New York State are nearly as isolated from their White, non-Hispanic, peers, with 57 percent in extremely segregated schools.  The Civil Rights Project report also points to the increasing economic segregation of Black and Latino students, nationally; today the average Black and Latino student attends a school where two-thirds of the students are from low-income families.

The Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project has also recently released a report, this bringing the issues for New York City into sharper focus.  According to High School Graduation in New York City: Is Neighborhood Still Destiny?, there is a 34 percent disparity in high school graduation rates between the best- and worst-performing of the city’s 59 community districts. Or, to be specific: Ninety-five percent of the high school students graduate on time in the wealthy Manhattan Community Districts 1 and 2, where virtually no Black or Latino families live. In the nearly all-black and Latino neighborhoods of Brownsville and Ocean Hill in Brooklyn, and Morris Heights, Fordham South, and the ironically named Mount Hope in the Bronx, only 61 percent of high school students graduate on time.

Using hundreds of statistical indicators, the authors of this report find that there is a direct relationship between on-time high school graduation in New York City and family income and education levels. Rich kids with highly educated parents graduate on time; poor kids with poorly educated parents don’t. Children from economically impoverished families are doubly disadvantaged: poverty at home and inferior, less well-funded, schools down the street. “In Queens, for example, a poor school gets 29 percent less money than a wealthy school nearby,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education John King.

Admittedly, in some ways, New York City’s traditional public schools are better than they were two decades ago. But that’s not saying much. For black and Latino children, who went to schools that were worse than those in the rest of the city, that’s saying nothing at all.

This situation is aggravated, not alleviated, by the city’s secondary school choice program. Faced with a scarcity situation—not enough good schools—“the city,” that is, those people who make decisions for others, put in place a system that in the final analysis distributes those scarce good schools by parental income and education. Families, the SSRC report finds, choose high schools on the basis of discussions with their friends and neighbors. Because of the city’s segregation and the lack of high-quality data on school performance, poor families tend to get their information from other poor families, and miss out on getting into the best-performing schools that wealthier families learn about through their well-heeled social networks.

There is also the crucial matter is the “tax” on families required by the city’s secondary high school “choice” system. [It hardly deserves the name, actually.] It requires as much as a working week or two of family time to struggle through the required paperwork and other hoops.  This is not anything like something an average family in the Bronx or central Brooklyn can afford. And as we know, access to good schools in New York City is grotesquely even more inequitable in regard to the city’s few “selective” high schools.

There are solutions to this problem. Here is one proposed by those who don’t want to anything: If “those children” simply had better educated, wealthier, parents and lived in neighborhoods with very good preschools, elementary and middle schools, they wouldn’t have a problem, would they?

Another solution would be to eliminate education scarcity. This includes making all New York City traditional public schools equally good, and making those in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty more than equally good. How could that be done and who could do it?  It has been done in some places, for example, in the United Kingdom and much of Europe through various national government policies.  Canada has done this through its decentralized systems of traditional public schools and school choice. Montgomery County, Md., had some success doing this some years ago by more-effectively allocating resources – especially high-quality teachers. In some cases budget categories were reallocated: landscaping funding was reduced; early childhood education funding was increased. Outcomes were then closely examined and the resource mix adjusted.

Good schools for all children may be costly, but not nearly as costly, in a wider sense, than the present situation in New York City, with good schools only for those who can afford them.

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Chicago Genocide?

The question mark is important. Genocide is a loaded term and the act of genocide can take many forms: the slow genocide of American Indians accomplished by thousands of local…

The question mark is important. Genocide is a loaded term and the act of genocide can take many forms: the slow genocide of American Indians accomplished by thousands of local actions as well as by state power and disease; the comparatively recent genocide in Rwanda inflicted by neighbors with machetes; the classic genocide of the Shoah or Holocaust. The mass killings of young Black men in Chicago, largely accomplished by gunfire from other young Black men, would at first appear to be simply a matter for the criminal justice system of the state. On closer examination it can be seen as a matter of criminal activity by the state.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoThere were 480 homicides out of 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, as counted by the Chicago Tribune. Nearly all these victims were young men; the overwhelming majority were between the ages of 18 and 30. They shoot one another in the streets of the city, usually in the afternoon. Very few shooting victims are females, relatively few are men over 50. Fewer still are White.

The neighborhood ranking first among Chicago’s 77 community areas for violent crimes in 2015 was West Garfield Park. West Garfield Park has a per capita income of $10,951, much less than half of the city average of $27,148. Forty percent of the neighborhood’s households have incomes below the poverty level, more than double the city average. The rate of arrests for prostitution, another poverty indicator, is among the highest in the city. A quarter of the working age population is unemployed, 26 percent have no high school diploma. West Garfield Park is 96 percent Black.

If, for the sake of argument, we attribute each recorded violent crime in West Garfield Park to a different male between the ages of 18 and 64, we can estimate that about 14 percent of that group committed a violent crime in 2015. Of course, some of them committed more than one violent crime, and, on the other hand, few over the age of 45 did so. Fourteen percent will do as an indicator of the prevalence of young men committing violent crimes in West Garfield Park.

North Lawndale, the runner up in the rate of violent crime in Chicago, has similar socio-economic statistics. On the other hand, the neighborhoods with the lowest rates of violent crime have the opposite socio-economic data: per capita incomes many times the city average, poverty levels far below the city average, virtually no unemployment, no arrests for prostitution, few adults lacking high school diplomas and, generally, majority White, non-Hispanic, populations. (Just four percent of Lincoln Park adults, for example, lack a high school diploma, hardly any live in crowded housing, per capita income is between two and three times the city average and more than six times the average of West Garfield Park.)

Why do young Black men in West Garfield Park and similar Chicago neighborhoods shoot one another?

A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that two-thirds of those committing a firearm crime had themselves been victims of violence requiring an emergency room visit. For such young men, who were also unemployed and who, when in school, had qualified for the National Lunch Program, had a record of school discipline actions and had failed to graduate from high school, the percentage committing a firearm crime rose to 90 percent. Those study results, although useful, are merely descriptive. They do not tell us why young Black men are becoming the instruments of their own genocide. For this we can turn, for example, to the classic study, The Cost of Inequality by Judith and Peter Blau, who found that inequalities promote criminal violence.

Chicago has among the highest rates of income and wealth inequality in America. White median household income is twice that of Black median household income. Nearly half, 45 percent, of Black residents of the city have incomes below the poverty level; just 13 percent of the White residents live in poverty. Two-thirds of Black families in Chicago have incomes so low that their children qualify for the National Lunch Program. There is little economic mobility in Chicago neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Few Black children in Chicago, among those who live to adulthood, grow up to have incomes equal to that of their parents and most will have lower incomes than those of their parents. In addition, 93 percent of Chicago’s Black households have no net wealth, apart from equity in their own homes: they could not pay an unexpected medical bill—or bail—of a few hundred dollars without borrowing.

This leads to the question: Why are race-based inequalities so stark in Chicago and similar American cities? What are the causes of the vast racial inequities in the city? One is easily identified: The operations of the schools.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports concerning the crucial eighth grade level of basic skills achievement show that while the district’s schools have brought half (52 percent) of its male White, non-Hispanic, students to grade-level Proficiency in reading, they have only done so with eight percent of their male Black students. Nearly half of Chicago’s male Black students (3,700) do not graduate from high school. As in many other districts, the reforms of the last decade that improved literacy in the early grades haven’t been helpful in making kids college- and career-ready by high school.

A recent U.S. Department of Education study has found that even if they are given a high school diploma by their school, students who could not read at grade level in eighth grade cannot expect to succeed in college. Of the approximately 3,900 male Black high school graduates, therefore, only three or four hundred can be expected to go on to middle class careers. In other words, from the point of view of the male descendants of enslaved Africans, the Chicago school district fails in a key part of its mission 90 percent of the time.

If an institution fails more often than not to achieve its professed mission, it is reasonable to conclude that its actual mission is to achieve that result.

Compounding this failure, the Chicago school district added another risk factor by suspending or expelling approximately 13,000 male Black students in 2011-2012, the most recent date for which nationally certified statistics are available.

There were 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, nearly all of whom were Black males. 3,700 male Black students did not graduate from high school. 13,000 male Black students were suspended or expelled. These are the groups who, according to the CDC, are most likely to become themselves perpetrators of fire-arm crimes. And the shooters, themselves, are of course also victims.

The Chicago public schools do not educate male Black students for success in life. They prepare them for lives of violence. Generally, those lives are short.

What can be done to improve those Chicago schools “serving” Black children so that they learn to read and do math, graduate on-time and college and career ready?

The reform package is well-known: It starts with high quality early childhood education from age two and includes overhauling how we recruit and train teachers along with providing high-quality educational opportunities. Just within the district itself, this could mean a doubling of the instructional budget for schools in neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Given that nearly half the funding available to the district presently might be said to have been wasted in the process of not educating Black children, a targeted doubling of support for the education of Chicago’s most vulnerable children might even be considered cost effective.

Beyond that, as more male Black students learn to read, are not chronically truant, are not suspended and expelled, do graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, fewer will go out into the streets in the late afternoon and shoot other young Black men. And how much would that be worth?

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Midwest Educational Malpractice

High school graduation rates have reached record levels, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and gaps between graduation rates for White, non-Hispanic, and other students have narrowed. Although the…

High school graduation rates have reached record levels, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and gaps between graduation rates for White, non-Hispanic, and other students have narrowed. Although the gap between Black and White graduation rates, nationally, is now said to be “only” 15 percentage points, and that between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students less than 11, there are six states and the District of Columbia where the Black-White gap is 20 points or more. The states are: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Nevada and California. Black graduation rates in these states are below national averages, while White, non-Hispanic, students graduate at higher rates than the national average (except in Nevada). States with very narrow gaps, less than five percentage points, are Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana, the last three of these with very few Black students.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoLet’s now look at two of the states with the widest gaps. Wisconsin is able to graduate 93 percent of its White, non-Hispanic, students, but only 66 percent of its Black students. By comparison, New Jersey, which graduates a similar 94 percent of its White students, does much better than Wisconsin by its Black students, graduating 79 percent of its Black students, as do Connecticut, Iowa, Tennessee and Virginia. Minnesota, which graduates 86 percent of its White students only graduates 60 percent of its Black students (and just half of its American Indian students—next to last in the nation).

Wisconsin and Minnesota have high schools that can give diplomas to nearly all of their White, non-Hispanic, students, yet choose—and I use the word advisedly—choose to leave one-third of their Black students without diplomas. The consequences of this are dire for those students, their families and their communities.

For example, a recent Centers for Disease Control pilot study indicates that young people with such “school system events” as dropping out of high school and suspensions, and who are unemployed, have a 43 percent chance of committing a firearm crime. Earlier studies indicate that failure of schools to graduate students leads to a 60 percent chance of incarceration and nearly 100 percent chance of life at or below the poverty line for themselves and their families.

Graduation rates are fairly crude indicators, easily manipulated. Just how good are those diplomas? The U.S. Department of Education has been doing some research on that topic and estimates that to be prepared for college a student, in effect, has to score at the “Proficient” or “Advanced” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ 12th grade reading test. There are some questions about the 12th grade NAEP tests (including rather thin coverage), however, they are roughly aligned with the generally accepted eighth-grade tests, which we can then use as our indicator of educational good practice.

The U.S. Department of Defense Educational Activity operates a large pre-k to 12th grade school system, serving 74,000 children of active duty military and Department of Defense civilian families at locations around the world. Like the military itself, these schools are well-integrated. The schools of the Department of Defense teach 33 percent of the male Black students to read at the Proficient and above levels in eighth grade, implying that one-third of their male Black students will be prepared for college on graduation. This compares with 44 percent of White, non-Hispanic, males in those schools. There is a gap there, but not a scandal. The DoDEA schools can serve as a benchmark for the provision of education by public schools.

The highest scoring states for White males in eighth grade reading are Connecticut and Massachusetts, at 47 percent and 48 percent respectively. However, while these results for the Department of Defense schools and those of Connecticut and Massachusetts are similar, their results for male Black students are vastly different. Connecticut can manage to prepare only 10 percent for college level work, Massachusetts just 14 percent. The best results for male Black students are those of Indiana, at 15 percent, but even these are less than half the benchmark DoDEA score.

Minnesota prepares 37 percent of its male White, non-Hispanic, students for successful lives and Wisconsin does so for 38 percent. These states can educate students if they choose to do so. But Minnesota prepares just 11 percent of its male Black students for college; Wisconsin just 7 percent. Only Mississippi and Arkansas do worse by their male Black students than Wisconsin and then only by a single percentage point. Mississippi, it seems, is Wisconsin’s benchmark for educational quality in regard to its male Black students.

Such outcomes are sometimes referred to as evidence of institutional racism. This is true, in its way, but it may be more useful to fix individual responsibility.

The Governor of Minnesota is Mark Dayton. The Commissioner of Education of Minnesota is Dr. Brenda Cassellius. The Board of Education of Minneapolis Public Schools has recently selected Serio Paez as the new Superintendent there. Those individuals and the members of the boards of education of Minnesota and Minneapolis are responsible for the failure of the Minneapolis schools to educate Black students.

The Governor of Wisconsin is Scott Walker. Dr. Tony Evers is Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Darienne Driver is Superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools. Those individuals and the members of the boards of education of Wisconsin and Milwaukee are responsible for the failure of the Milwaukee schools to educate Black students.

Thomas Brady, incidentally, is Director of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity. His telephone number is (571)372-0590, for those interested in how high quality education can be equitably provided.

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Minnesota Ain’t Nice for Black Kids

In Hennepin County, Minn., which includes Minneapolis, but not St. Paul, the incarceration rate of the Black population is nearly ten times that of the White adult population. The Minneapolis…

In Hennepin County, Minn., which includes Minneapolis, but not St. Paul, the incarceration rate of the Black population is nearly ten times that of the White adult population. The Minneapolis public schools graduate fewer than half their Black students in four years. Most Black children in Minneapolis grow up in poverty. These matters are not unrelated.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoLet us begin with the police.

This past May, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota released a devastating report on policing practices in Minneapolis. The ACLU report, Picking Up The Pieces, found that “Black people in the city are 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for low-level offenses, like trespassing, disorderly conduct, consuming in public, and lurking.” This last, lurking, apparently means being seen by a police officer while Black.

The report concentrated on arrests for low-level offenses, because these are actions over which individual police officers have the most range of choices and because they are all too often the trap door through which young Black men fall into a life-cycle of arrests, incarceration and unemployment.

About the police officers’ range of choices: The ACLU found that one police officer made 2,026 low-level arrests between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2014, seven others made over 1,000 low-level arrests, while the median number of arrests by officers during that period was 51. On the one hand, there is obviously a matter of personal responsibility here. These eight employees of the police department were, in effect, deciding to criminalize Minneapolis’s descendants of enslaved Africans. It would not have been difficult for the department’s administrators to notice this, and stop them, but they did not, therefore, they, too, were individually and day-by-day choosing to assist in the criminalization of young Black men.

But the burden of responsibility of the police department’s administrators is heavier than that. According to the ACLU, “Even . . . without these top eight arresting officers, Black people were 8.5 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level offense than white people.” Some, most, police officers on the street made repeated decisions to arrest Black people at rates nearly 9 times that for White people, which, except for the most egregious instances, gave the appearance of anonymous, institutional racism, while in fact individual police department administrators were personally responsible for the continuation of these activities, by not stopping “Officer 2,026 Arrests,” by not acting on the appalling difference in the rates at which Black men and White men were arrested and incarcerated by other officers on the street.

There is no reason to believe that the attitudes of the police of Minneapolis differ greatly from those of other members of the city’s White community. The actions of those individual officers in the field and of the police administrators at their desks were, frankly, indicators of pervasive racism. The ACLU report quotes Anthony Newby, a local community organizer, as saying that Minneapolis has “become the new premiere example of how to systematically oppress people of color . . .it’s done through our legal system, and so low-level offenses, as an example, are just one of the many, many ways that Minnesota has perfected the art of suppressing and subjugating people of color.”

Jail is the culmination of that art. It begins very early in life.

A reasonable estimate of spending by middle class families on early childhood education would be, say, $2,000 per child per year. In order, then, to give Black children educational opportunities similar to those of White children in Minnesota, supplementary funding becomes the responsibility of the state. But the good burghers of Minnesota invest very little in other people’s children. Just one percent of three- and four-year-olds in Minnesota are enrolled in pre-school, giving the state a rank of 24 for access to preschool for three-year-olds, and 41 for four-year-olds, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s 2014 Yearbook.

The National Assessment for Educational Progress does not track achievement levels for Minneapolis, but it does for Minnesota. As most of the Black population of the state lives in Minneapolis, disaggregating the state statistics by race and school location (urban/suburban) gives us a good approximation for Minneapolis educational outcomes.

NAEP assessments begin at grade four. Over half of White city students in the state are proficient in reading in fourth grade, as compared to just 16 percent of Black city students. Or, in other words, at the crucial fourth grade point in their education, 84 percent of Black students in Minnesota’s cities cannot read well.

Furthermore, 58 percent of Black students in Minnesota’s cities score Below Basic at grade four. In effect, they cannot yet read (as compared to just 17 percent of city students in the state who are White).

About half of White students in the state, including urban students, score at or above Proficient, that is grade level, on the reading assessment in eighth grade. That is three times the percentage of Black students who are proficient. The 30 percentage point gap has remained fairly constant this century. For mathematics, the eighth-grade gap in 2015 was 42 percent, a dismal new record for the state.

The percentage of city eighth-grade Black students in Minnesota scoring Below Basic on reading is 42 percent; only 14 percent of White students scored Below Basic. This means that, for all intents and purposes, Black teenagers in the state’s cities still cannot read to any useful extent after nine years of schooling. [This is considerably worse than the situation for Hispanic students, “only” 30 percent of whom score Below Basic, despite language issues.]

With this record, what are the district’s graduation outcomes? More than three-quarters of White non-Hispanic students graduate in four years from Minneapolis Public Schools. Fewer than half of the district’s Black students do so. The graduation rate for the district’s Black students was lower than that for the district’s English language learners, as a group, lower than that for all students eligible for free or reduced price meals, lower than that for Hmong and Somali students.

Minneapolis’ failure to teach its Black children is matched by its willingness to suspend them. As Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle detailed last year in a series of report, the district metes out one our more out-of-school suspension to 13.1 percent of black students in regular classrooms while only 1.7 percent of white students were suspended one or more times. Based on the discipline numbers submitted by the district to the U.S. Department of Education, a black child in the Minneapolis district has a one in eight chance of being subjected to some form of harsh school discipline, while their white peer face only a two in 100 chance. Minneapolis schools are preparing Black children for life in prison.

Minnesota’s schools fail to teach nearly half of the state’s male Black students to read by the time they are in eighth grade. These students then do not graduate from high school on time. And then, at astonishing rates, they are incarcerated. The comparative lack of educational achievement and the additional handicap of incarceration have a notable impact on the occupations available to the adult Black population and its poverty level.

While more than half of the White population of Hennepin County is employed in management, business, science and arts occupations, only a quarter of the Black population finds employment in those middle class jobs. On the other hand, while just 13 percent of the White population is employed in the service sector, twice that percentage of the Black population is employed in the service sector. And the unemployment rate for the Black population is nearly three times that for the White population.

This is a race-based caste system.

It is not then surprising that most Black Minnesotans live beneath or near the poverty-line. Over half of Black women in the state with children under the age of 18, and no husband present, live in poverty. The median income for all Black households is $27,000, barely above the poverty line for a family of four. In comparison, the median income for White households in the state is over $64,000.

This enormous gap has significant implications for educational opportunity, beginning at birth.

The typical Black family in Minneapolis simply does not have the $2,000 a year or more to spend on the education of each child that is available to White families in the city. They must depend on the school system to provide those education resources needed to level the playing field. But most Black children in fourth grade do not have the crucial reading skills necessary for school and the system barely improves matters by grade 8. Despite generations of reform efforts, it is more reasonable to say that the Minneapolis public schools are an instrument for the maintenance of the area’s race-based caste system than a route out of poverty for the city’s Black population.

How can this cycle be broken? The ACLU report and its recommendations were received positively by one of the individuals responsible for the policing section of the cycle, Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau, who has implemented a series of reforms, including anti-bias training for employees of her department. This is a good beginning. But much more is needed, including systems that automatically track police-originated bias incidents and lead to remedial consequences. Perhaps then, the key metric, the racial disparity in arrests and incarceration rates, can be reduced.

It cannot be said that public education in Minneapolis is in a crisis, as it has been inadequate for lower income and Black children for generations. There are some current programs, which, if strengthened, could contribute to improving education opportunities for Black and other lower income children.

The district has a half-day program for four-year-olds, High Five, that is free to lower income families. Best practices indicate this should be extended to two- and three-year-olds, too. Children from lower income families should also have full-day kindergarten. The district’s Minneapolis Kids School Age Care program, which offers before- and after-school and vacation services, should be extended to Saturdays as well. It also should be made available to all lower income children, free, rather than at its current prohibitive cost. It should have a strong academic component. In other words, the out-of-school day experiences of Black and other lower income children in Minneapolis should be more like those of children from White and other middle income families.

Another issue the district must address is its overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. Dropout Nation has offered numerous solutions for this problem and they should be implemented. The most-important of all: Address the reading issues of black students, which is the underlying reason why so many are targeted and disciplined in the first place.

There is a search underway for a new superintendent for the district. That person will have their work cut out for them. But the goals of equal educational opportunities for all children, and closing the gap in outcomes, are achievable. But it requires unwavering commitment to that goal expressed not in slogans but in budgets and personnel actions.

When the Minneapolis police, prosecutors and courts stop “systematically oppressing people of color,” and when the schools offer excellent education for all children, from early childhood through a meaningful diploma, then things might actually be nice in Minnesota.

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Where the Progress Isn’t

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are approximately 3,000 mathematicians employed in the United States,. The number of those who are Black or African American, in government parlance,…

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are approximately 3,000 mathematicians employed in the United States,. The number of those who are Black or African American, in government parlance, are too few to estimate. There are 28,000 actuaries, who are basically mathematicians who apply their training to insurance matters. The number of those who are Black or African American are too few to estimate. There are 29,000 computer and information research scientists. The number of those who are Black or African American are too few to estimate.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoAnd so on.

Which brings us to the latest data release from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which shows that there has been no improvement, indeed, a slight decline, nationally, in eighth grade mathematics proficiency. Forty-four percent of White students scored at the proficient or above level in 2013, while 42 percent did so in 2015. Fourteen percent of Black students scored at the proficient or above level in 2013, while 12 percent did so in 2015. The racial gap, therefore, was 30 percent points in both years. In short, no change.

Both Black and White students had better chances of scoring at the proficient or above level in fourth grade than in grade eight: Nineteen percent and 51 percent respectively. However, despite some narrowing between 2013 and 2015, for the most part attributable to a decline in White scores. The racial gap in fourth grade was 32 percent points.

It is futile to attempt to find a reason for the low levels of Black mathematical proficiency and the large racial gaps in the national data, although the usual suspects immediately blame the Common Core or students not taking the NAEP seriously (assuming that they did take the exercise seriously in 2013, but changed their minds in 2015). Racism works in this country not by means of vague institutional forces and traditions, but through a series of decisions made by identifiable individuals. Therefore, it is at least potentially more useful to look at the data by school district.

White male students in the Boston, Charlotte and Chicago schools were more likely than not to score at or above the proficient level in 2015. White male students in the Hillsborough, Florida, Miami-Dade, New York City and San Diego systems came in at the 40-50 percent range. White female students tended to have equal or higher scores in each instance, with a remarkable three-quarters at the proficient level in 2015 in Boston and Chicago. Percentages of White male students reaching proficiency in eighth-grade math improved in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Jefferson County (Kentucky), and Miami (these Chicago students showing incredible improvement from 45 percent to 68 percent between 2013 and 2015), as did White female students in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago (again 23 percent points), Cleveland, Jefferson County, Miami, Philadelphia and San Diego.

None of the districts reported on by NAEP showed 20 percent or higher rates of proficiency for male Black students in 2015, Boston having declined from 21 percent in 2013 to 18 percent, Charlotte from 18 percent to 14 percent. Chicago “improved” from nine percent proficient to 13 percent. Black male students in Atlanta, Baltimore, DC, Jefferson County, Miami, and Philadelphia did not break 10 percent, while Cleveland and Detroit were at half that level. Milwaukee, which had been only able to educate five percent of its Black male and four percent of its Black female students to grade level in eighth-grade mathematics in 2013 did not report data for 2015. Only Detroit and New York City showed improvement from 2013 for male Black students (one percent point each), and Atlanta and Los Angeles for female Black students. Declines ranged up to six percentage points (Dallas Black female students).

The gap in the percentages of male students proficient in eighth grade math between White and Black students in 2015 ranged from 18 percent points (Cleveland and Philadelphia) to 72 percent points in Atlanta and 55 percent points in Charlotte and Chicago. For female students the range was between 16 percent points in Cleveland to 66 percent in Chicago and 65 percent points in Atlanta. For male students the gap narrowed between 2013 and 2015 in Hillsborough (2 percent points), New York City (seven percentage points) and Philadelphia (four percent points). Elsewhere it widened, by 19 percent points in Chicago and 15 percent in Atlanta, less elsewhere. For female students the gap narrowed in Los Angeles (13 percent) and New York City (12 percent points), less in other districts, and widened by 24 percent points in Chicago and 11 percent points in Boston.

Time to name names, or, at least, districts.

Schools in Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago can bring most of their White students to proficiency or above in eighth grade mathematics, but do not do so for most of their Black students. [The Chicago data, especially the change between 2013 and 2015, looks rather odd, doesn’t it?] Charlotte is a good case study. It is fairly well-balanced by race and ethnicity, unlike, say, Atlanta. It should be able to close its enormous racial gap in educational achievement. Why hasn’t it?

Then there is good old Milwaukee, the subject of earlier Dropout Nation reports, for which there is no 2015 data. If you don’t have anything good to say, I guess. The districts with the narrowest gaps, such as Cleveland and Philadelphia, seem to achieve this by bringing very few White students to proficiency, as well as hardly any Black students. Those districts, along with Detroit, Miami-Dade and Milwaukee, are good candidates for declarations of educational emergencies.

If Black eighth-grade students are not at grade level in mathematics, there is little chance that they will be employable, as adults, in occupations requiring knowledge of mathematics. A century ago this hardly mattered. Today it is increasingly vital.

Recent research has focused on the positive effects of high quality pre-school, pre-school beginning as early as possible, with the emphasis on “high quality.” Such investments even the playing field for children from families without highly educated parents, without significant financial resources. Other research has shown that compensatory investments in teacher training, facilities, and similar well-known variables have strongly positive effects. Expanding opportunities for black and other minority children are also helpful.

Decision-makers, such as school superintendents, boards of education, state legislators, decide from term to term whether to make those investments. Deciding not to do so is a decision to increase investments in prisons, not to put too fine as point on it. The individuals who make those decisions should be held accountable for doing so.

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