At the Schoolhouse Door: The Expense of Ignorance and Racism

September 21, 2012

Achievement and graduation gaps for both blacks and Latinos show that North Carolina public schools are still dealing with the effects and continuation of racism.

There is a definite disconnect between the ability of black and Latino students and academic success. There are a myriad of issues that cause the achievement gap, such as poverty, limited proficiency in English, lack of access to services and opportunities as well as structural racism.

President Barack Obama was so concerned about the issues in education for African Americans that he signed an executive order to create the “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.” In the press release announcing the executive order, the President acknowledged that black students were disproportionately punished and disproportionately referred to special education classrooms.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education recently released its biannual Black Boys Report. The report, called “The Urgency of Now,” brings to light some numbers that illustrate the achievement gap of African American and Latino boys. While North Carolina has never had a higher graduation rates as it did last year, according to Schott, in 2009-10, black and Latino boys lagged behind their white counterparts. While the graduation rate for white students was 71%, black males graduated at a rate of 58% and Latino boys had a 50% graduation rate. Those numbers are not great, but there is hope. There are tools and interventions that can be used to close the graduation gap as well as grade-level achievement gaps.

Early Childhood Programs
Studies show that the first 2000 days in a child’s life are extremely important. In 2011, researchers from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute found that pre-kindergarten education improves language, literacy and math skills and prepares at-risk students for school.

In 2010, Frank Porter Graham researchers found that North Carolina’s acclaimed pre-K program improves the academic achievement of poor children and narrows the socioeconomic achievement gap. They also found that pre-K decreases the identification of students with learning disabilities, which is an issue the White House Initiative will also study.

In a 2011 study, Duke University researchers found that in jurisdictions that offered North Carolina’s early childhood education programs, 3rd grade end-of-grade test results improved for all children living in the jurisdiction—even for those children who did not participate in the programs. This is why the ruling that North Carolina must provide pre-K to all of the state’s at-risk four-year olds is so important.

Diverse Student Assignment Policies
A couple of recent studies show that the socioeconomic achievement gap (which often serves as a proxy for race) narrows when students attend diverse schools. A Century Foundation report found that the performance of low-income students improved and the achievement gap narrowed for students who attended schools in a Maryland neighborhood with inclusionary zoning for mixed-rate housing. The low-income students who attended school in a segregated neighborhood did not do as well, even when more money was provided for those students. That is not to say that funding is not important, but it does show that diversity matters.

A report by the Brookings Institution showed that the achievement gap for students in Wake County narrowed by almost 15 % because of the school system’s socioeconomic diversity policy. Diversity works.

Fair Discipline Policies
North Carolina amended its discipline law last year. The process for long-term suspensions and expulsions should become fairer as a result of the changes. The Title VI complaint against Wake County for resegregation and unfair discipline policies showed that Wake County disproportionately suspended and expelled black students. The Schott Foundation Report shows data that African American students are suspended at a rate of 16.3% of as compared to 6.1% for white students.

The Schott Foundation report mentions to a coalition started by the Dignity in Schools Campaign named Solutions Not Suspensions. The coalition calls for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions. The point makes sense because,excepting for safety reasons, it should seem obvious that a student who may be disruptive does not need less school but more access to educational opportunities.

A moratorium on out-of-school suspensions possibly would help to narrow the graduation gap, as fewer suspensions lead to fewer push-outs and drop-outs among black and Latino boys who suffer disproportionate punishments.

There are, of course, more solutions to narrowing the achievement and graduation gaps. Early childhood programs, diverse schools and fair discipline policies are a start to creating healthier schools for all North Carolina’s children.

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