Author: Michael Holzman

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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Black Achievement Gaps Aren’t About Poverty

Every few months someone in public life claims that the fundamental issue affecting education in the United States is not the fact that the descendants of enslaved Africans have fewer…

Every few months someone in public life claims that the fundamental issue affecting education in the United States is not the fact that the descendants of enslaved Africans have fewer educational opportunities than others, but that it is parental income, parental education levels, geography, teen culture or the type of pet in the household.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoThis argument has been disproved numerous times through other data. This includes the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which shows that the average reading scores for eighth-grade Black children from middle-class households are the same as that for poor white peers eligible for free- and reduced-priced lunch. There’s also the Center for Reinventing Public Education’s report released last month about educational opportunities for Black children and their peers in 50 major cities. But people continue to make such arguments, obscuring the reality that the problem for Black children lies with their status as descendants of formerly-enslaved Africans.

Last month, the New York Times headlined that the “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor is Growing Wider”. This is neither surprising nor controversial, given that all gaps between the rich and poor are growing wider. The richest one percent are securing, by hook or by crook, increasing proportions of the national income and wealth, while the incomes of those with below average incomes stagnate or decline and their wealth, such as it is, approaches the vanishing point. As the funding pattern of education in this country is based on family income, increasing gaps in family income will result in increasing gaps in educational opportunities.

So far, so obvious, except to those whose paychecks depend on their not understanding such matters.

Unfortunately, the Times goes on to compare the income-based education gap with the racial education gap, arguing that while the former is widening, the latter has narrowed since the 1970s. It is not clear why Eduardo Porter, who wrote the piece, believed it necessary to make this comparison. But the effect of the Times piece is to take attention away from the lack of educational opportunities available to Black children. In any case, it would be astonishing if the educational achievement of African-Americans had not improved since the 1970s, a period when adult literacy classes were filled with Black men and women from the South who had never been to school or who had been allowed only a few years of primary education.

On the other hand, at the same time last month, the good folks at the National Assessment of Educational Progress released a study of School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap, which provides an analysis useful to those who wish to address the causes of that gap. The crucial underlying factor in the NAEP analysis is that on “average, White students attended schools that were nine percent Black while Black students attended schools that were 48 percent Black”. This, 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

The NAEP researchers find that achievement for both Black and White students inversely tracks the percentage of Black students in schools. The higher the percentage of Black students, the lower the achievement levels for all students, and visa versa. Not coincidentally, funding also follows this pattern: The higher the percentage of Black students in a district or school the fewer educational resources provided.

The NAEP study implies that schools with high (60 percent and above) Black student percentages are simply not as good as schools with lower percentages, while within schools with high percentages of Black students, “within-school factors,” such as the quality of teaching and tracking, are tilted in favor of White students, who, even within these deprived schools, are in this way provided with resources not available to their African American peers.

NAEP also provides data with which to test the claim that the racial gap is narrowing, while the income gap is not. We can look, for example, at grade 8 reading scores between 1998 and 2013, using eligibility for National School Lunch Programs as a divider between lower and higher family incomes. In 1998, the gap for all students between those eligible and those ineligible was 24 points (246 and 270). In 2013, the gap in scores between students from poorer families and others was—24 points (254 and 278). We can also look at the racial gap, which, in 1998, was 27 points (243 Black, 271 White), while in 2013 it was 26 points (250 Black, 276 White), a one-point “narrowing” if you want to call it that. Or you could conclude, that on this basis, there has not been any narrowing of either the income or racial educational achievement gaps.

Of course, there is not a clear distinction between the category of those children whose families have incomes significantly below the national median and those children who are the descendants of enslaved Africans. For example, 25 percent of American children under 18 years of age living in poverty are Black, nearly twice the share of the descendants of enslaved Africans in the total population. As nearly 40 percent of Black children live in poverty (and the median income of all Black households is at the qualifying point for the National School Lunch Programs), it is not surprising that the average eighth-grade NAEP reading scores of Black children, both in 1998 and 2013, were close to the averages for all children eligible for National School Lunch Programs.

We can conclude from the NAEP study of school composition and educational achievement that expanding opportunities for Black children would help all children. We can surmise that a focus of resources on schools with enrollments over 60 percent Black would be an efficient way to raise the achievement of African American students as well as of the non-Black students attending them. From the further analysis of NAEP and Census data above, focusing on transforming education for Black children would even increase the educational achievement level of lower-income children in general.

Two questions come from all of this. Why is this so difficult for policy makers and responsible officials to understand? And why do so many commentators and others fail to realize this, too. We can hazard a guess – and sadly, it would also be the truth.

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The Misnomer Called “People of Color”

Before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the phrase “people of color” was most frequently, if not exclusively, used as part of the phrase “free people of color,” denoting the…

Before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the phrase “people of color” was most frequently, if not exclusively, used as part of the phrase “free people of color,” denoting the non-enslaved Black residents of the United States. A free man or woman of color in Louisiana, say, or Massachusetts, was someone of African descent who had themselves been emancipated or whose parents or more remote family members had been emancipated. Until the late-twentieth century, the phrase “people of color” continued to be used as an alternative to “Negro” as a designation for the descendants of enslaved Africans.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoSometime in the late 1980s the term’s coverage was extended to include members of all racial and ethnic groups not identified as “White.” Kimberle Crenshaw’s 1995 anthology of essays, Critical Race Theory, appears to mark a point of transition. Between 1987 and the publication of Critical Race Theory, the frequency with which “people of color” was used in this extended sense increased six-fold and what was once its proper use to denote descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States alone came to an end.

Today the range of “people of color” follows the usage of the U.S. Census Bureau: American Indians or Alaska Natives, Asian-Americans along with Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and, yes, Black or African American. An American Indian or Alaska Native is a “person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.”

An Asian-American is a “person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam,” and a Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander is a “person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.” Finally, “Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving in the United States. People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race.” A person who is Black is one “having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.”

Whites, of course, are those “having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” “Origin,” according to the Bureau of the Census, “can be view as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.”

This is all rather confusing and a bit desperate on the part of the Census Bureau, and ultimately, of the federal government and those it is supposed to represent. For example, if “origin” is country of birth, is a person whose parents are Han Chinese, but who was born in, say, Germany, German or Chinese? And what is the status of one of the Turkic peoples of Central (not Far East) Asia? Perhaps we can clarify matters by thinking through these issues historically. Except for the island peoples, who are not very numerous, the only exact definitions are those for the indigenous peoples—American Indians or Alaskan Natives—and Black or African Americans.

In other words, the victims of genocide on the one hand and slavery on the other.

The concept of “Asian-American” did not exist until quite recently, 1967 to be exact. Before then there were Chinese, whose presence stoked the fears of those who thought they would take away jobs and women from Native-born Americans, and was the target of the nation’s first immigration laws, as well as Filipinos, who went from being colonized by the Spain to being subjugated by the United States. There were also the Japanese, whose numbers were lowered thanks to the early 20th century Gentlemen’s Agreement; those who were already here were put into concentration camps and had their property expropriated during the Second World War. It was only in 1967 that a Yale undergraduate, Don Nakanishi, invented the umbrella term “Asian-American” for his student association, on the model of the Hispanic organizations that were particularly active at the time.

“Latino” or “Hispanic”, as a matter of fact, is a similar construct. The Harvard philosopher George Santayana (Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás), remembered for his saying, quite relevant here, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” would never have been referred to as Hispanic during his lifetime (1863-1952), despite his Spanish birth. A rather large group of residents of New Mexico and Colorado are difficult to fit into the Census category, despite language, lineage and heritage, as their ancestors did not “arrive in the United States”: it arrived on them, first after Americans seized control of Texas, then after Mexican-American War.

The use of the terms “Asian-American” and “Hispanic” by the Census and other governmental agencies, including the schools, is a political matter, as Don Nakanishi saw, creating a political space, as it were, between the more strictly defined categories, Black and White. An Asian-American group, almost by definition, will have a larger population than, say, a Chinese-American group, and therefore more political power. Similarly, a Hispanic group will at least in theory be more politically important that a Mexican or Puerto Rican group. And people of color, encompassing all those other than Whites, will have more political power than any of the component assemblages.

Is this not a good thing? Perhaps for everyone else, especially those who are White, “people of color” is a good thing. But for the descendants of enslaved Africans, forced to come to this country, that term does nothing for them at all.

In terms of, say, critical race theory, or, to take Santayana’s point, the century-old writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, there is a profound difference between the attitudes and actions of individually and institutionally racist Whites toward “people of color,” other than African Americans, and Blacks. When people of color who are not Black are treated less well than Whites it is because they are not White (or not White enough). When the descendants of enslaved Africans are treated less well than Whites it is because they are Black. American Whites who are prejudiced against people of color who are not Black are xenophobic, fearing and hating the outsider.

Our history shows us that the category of White is quite permeable. Jews, of course, have only recently become White in this sense—not counted as a special class by the Census, not restricted absolutely or by quota from colleges, professions, neighborhoods and clubs as they were half a century ago. They have become insiders. Italians were once barred from consideration as Whites in this country, as were the Irish before them. Hispanics from Europe, like Santayana, and certain South American countries, such as Chile, are seen as White, even by certain presidential candidates. The issue is class, to some extent, and Blackness, absolutely.

As for the descendants of enslaved Africans in America? They form what sociologists call a pariah class. Just like the Untouchables in India, Jews in Nazi Germany, the Roma throughout Europe, and the indigenous peoples in colonial Spanish America.

Using the term “people of color” seems a good liberal practice. However, in practice, in this country, it is, perversely enough, a barrier to the advancement of colored people, in Du Bois’ sense of the phrase. Incarceration rates for Black men are astronomical, but incarceration rates for Hispanics are mid-way between those and the incarceration rates for White men. Incarceration rates for people of color, then, are not as absurd as those for Black people, not as much of a problem. The outlier status of Black prisoners must be about them, not about the criminal justice system. Efforts to reduce the, shall we say?, criminal operations of the criminal justice system are diluted.

Only one percent of students in Stuyvesant High School in New York City are Black, but nearly 80 percent are people of color, therefore the selection process cannot be racist, can it? There must be a problem with the Black applicants, their families, their attitudes, their clothes and taste in music. Pressure on White authorities to improve conditions for people of color can be, are being, met by improving conditions for non-Black people of color. Why do you people obsess about the education achievement of Black children? Asian-American children are doing just fine, aren’t they?

Racism, to cite Du Bois again, is a White problem. It is the attitudes and actions of White people toward the descendants of enslaved Africans. Not all White people of course, just specific White people, those with the power to enforce or end the pariah status of Black people: the police chief who is “worried” about young Black men killing one another, but not about his cops doing the killing; the city official who “is not sure she believes” that schools can educate Black children raised in poverty; the real estate salesperson who knows that middle class Black families would be happier living in the Bed-Stuy than in Scarsdale.

To put it kindly, calling Blacks “people of color” allows for Whites to avoid responsibility for America’s legacy of white supremacy and their role in perpetuating it. For African Americans, even using the term is a self-defeating political and social strategy. The alliances it facilitates work very well for people who are considered to be neither Black nor White. For the descendants of enslaved Africans? Well, look around you.

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Selective High Schools as Segregation

Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment….

Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment. – US Department of Education (1993)

this_is_dropout_nation_logoDiscrimination against the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States is a cradle-to-(all-too-early) grave affair. Black infant mortality is higher than White, Black school readiness is lower, as are Black levels of educational attainment. Black incomes are lower at equivalent levels of education, Black wealth is for all intents and purposes non-existent. Black life-spans are shorter than those of White Americans and Black incarceration rates are unspeakably higher. In every case these outcomes are the personal responsibility of those who have the power to change the circumstances, rules and policies, leading to them.

American public education has always been and continues to remain one of the most powerful instruments for racial discrimination. Schools that have predominate Black enrollments are underfunded in comparison both to schools predominately attended by White children as well as in comparison to their needs. Gifted and Talented programs are an example of how this diversion of resources is accomplished. Special programs for children designated as gifted and talented receive superior resources and prestige. They are also discriminatory on their face.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights 2009 report (the latest available) 12 percent of Asian children in public schools are enrolled in Gifted and Talented programs, as are eight percent of White, non-Hispanic children. Just five percent of Latino children receive that special treatment, as do just four percent of Black children. That’s half the proportion of White non-Hispanic children; a third of the proportion of Asian children. These numbers were essentially the same as in reports from the National Center for Education Statistics in 2004 and 2006.

What accounts for these variations in the percentage of children allowed to take advantage of the superior resources of Gifted and Talented programs? The difference between the proportions of Latino, Asian and White gifted and talented students is a powerful counter argument to racist explanations. After all, none of these categories is homogeneous. Latino or Hispanic, who, as the Bureau of the Census reminds us, may be of any race, are distinguished only by national origin, which may be remote. The category of “Asian” is utterly useless as a basis for analysis, comprising Han Chinese and Turks, Tamils and Tibetans. And “White, non-Hispanic” is simply a residual category, about the same as “Other,” including the descendants of many immigrants once considered racially inferior, such as southern and eastern Europeans. So it is with Black Americans, who also may be of any “race,” descended not only from enslaved Africans, but also from their White enslavers, Latinos, and American Indians.

The racial and ethnic explanation for the gross under-representation of Black children in Gifted and Talented programs fails unless the “one drop” of blood once defining membership in the caste is taken to carry with it overwhelming genetic disadvantages, something it is doubtful any responsible scholar would wish to argue in the twenty-first century.

The most reasonable explanation seems to lie instead in the classification system and procedures themselves — especially in light of evidence, including recent results for Black and Latino students when they take Advanced Placement courses. As with the fundamental Texas study of school discipline, along with research on special education, this would point to something other than the performance and potential of children, to the prejudices of adults, expressed if not in so many words but in actions: the action of classifying twice as many White and three times as many Asian students as gifted or talented as Black children. When this happens repeatedly, when this happens year in and year out, it is only reasonable to assume that it is being done deliberately. Otherwise, the responsible adults—teachers, counselors, school and district administrators—would look at the data, notice the problem, and correct the procedures and policies responsible for this form of discrimination.

They do not.

Although there are perhaps twenty times as many children enrolled in Gifted and Talented programs, nation-wide, as it so-called “exam schools,” the latter are highly visible. Arguably the most visible is Stuyvesant High School in New York City, a subject of earlier discussions on these pages.

This is a large school, enrolling 3,300 students. It is housed in a new, state-of-the-art facility near the World Trade Center. It epitomizes the advantages of Gifted and Talented programs and their ilk. It also epitomizes their discriminatory character. Twenty-two percent of Stuyvesant’s students are White, 73 percent are Asian (who may be of any racial group), two percent are Latino and one percent, perhaps 33 individuals, are Black. Last year one percent of Stuyvesant’s students were Black and 2 percent were Latino. The previous year one percent of Stuyvesant’s students were Black . . . and so forth.

Every few years the media notices the racist outcomes of the admission process to Stuyvesant and other specialized “exam” schools. Various reasonable proposals for change are identified, such as admitting, say, one percent, of the top students from each middle school. But it always seems terribly difficult and the system is left unaltered.

Left unaltered by whom? Not by some vaguely indicated “government officials,” but by very specific individuals who are responsible for maintaining these racist outcomes: the Governor of New York; the leaders of the legislature; the Mayor of New York City; the chancellors of the State and City Departments of Education. They, and their equivalents in other cities and states, fail to reform Gifted and Talented programs, of which Stuyvesant is perhaps only one of the most egregious examples, and failing to do so contribute to maintaining educational Jim Crow.

Featured photo of Stuyvesant High School courtesy of the New York Post.

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It’s Up To You, Scott Walker

There is a vast professional literature demonstrating that the American descendents of enslaved Africans do not fully participate in the American economy, that they are less healthy, live shorter lives,…

There is a vast professional literature demonstrating that the American descendents of enslaved Africans do not fully participate in the American economy, that they are less healthy, live shorter lives, receive inferior educations, have lower rates of educational attainment and higher rates of unemployment, are paid less for similar work and suffer astronomical rates of incarceration, in large part simply for being Black.

this_is_dropout_nation_logoGary Becker, the Nobel Prize-winning conservative economist, wrote The Economics of Discrimination in 1957, and laid out the costs of racism to the descendents of enslaved Africans and other residents of the United States. Victor Perlo, a Communist economist, published Economics of Racism USA: Roots of Black Inequality in 1975, updating it in 1996. I covered much the same ground last year in The Chains of Black America.

All this is well-known. The pertinent questions today are what is to be done and who is going to take personal responsibility for doing it.

It is time to name names.

We can begin with Milwaukee, that poster city for racial inequality, with its pitiful rates of educational achievement, antebellum rates of incarceration for Black men, radically inequitable enforcement of the laws, and carefully designed and enforced geographical segregation. There are seven officials who could fundamentally change the condition of the descendants of enslaved Africans now living in Milwaukee. It is something for which they have personal responsibility.

The first is the former Milwaukee County Executive, now Wisconsin governor (and Republican presidential candidate), Scott Walker.

The second is Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s longtime State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is a longtime school leader and player in the state education agency.

Third is current Milwaukee County Executive Christopher Abele, a philanthropist from Massachusetts whom Walker is placing in charge of education in Milwaukee, in effect as boss of Superintendent Darienne Driver.

Finally, there are the overseers of the local criminal justice system: Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward Flynn and the Chief Judge of Milwaukee County, Maxine White.

With the support of Governor Walker, Evers, Abele, and Driver could improve educational opportunities for Milwaukee’s children. It would not take further research: Address teacher quality; provide early childhood education for three- and four-year-old; longer school days and school years; more-challenging curricula. [Other school reformers offer other approaches, including the expansion of high-quality charter schools serving Black children, which could also help.]

Together, these political leaders could address these issues. We are they going to do so? Why haven’t they done it as yet?

Governor Walker and County Chief Executive Abele could design a regional public transportation system that would make suburban jobs accessible for urban residents. They could implement planning to break-up the nearly totally segregated housing patterns of Milwaukee County. They could put in place effective job-training and other school reforms that can help adults poorly-served by public education gain the knowledge they need for economic success.

Walker and Abele, working together, could do this. When are they going to begin doing so? Why have they not done it as yet?

With the support of Gov. Walker, Judge White, Chief Flynn and District Attorney Chisholm could devise ways to bring equity to the Milwaukee County criminal justice system. They could reform police department policies concerning stops and arrests, prosecutorial policies concerning indictments, court policies on sentencing. Milwaukee sorely needs those reforms, as does the rest of Wisconsin.Walker does deserve credit for signing into a requirement that deaths at the hand of police officers are to be handled by independent investigators. But that’s not enough.

Walker, White, Flynn and Chisholm could do this. When are they going to begin doing so? Why have they not done it as yet?

Wisconsin is a wealthy state. The facts are well-known. These people have the authority needed to make it possible for Milwaukee’s children to have bright futures. It is their personal responsibility. Why have they not done it as yet? When are they going to do it?

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