If Black students did poorly in all schools, we would plausibly seek solutions to the problem of their achievement among those students themselves. The same would be the case if, in schools with majority Black enrollments, Black students did poorly and the other students did well. But in reality, Black students in good schools do well. At the same time, White, non-Hispanic students who attend schools where most of the students are Black and their graduation rates are low, also do poorly. The crisis of the education of Black males sits squarely in the middle of the crisis America faces as we work to create a world-class public education system that will support and maintain the values of a fair and equitable democratic society.
According to the report, in New York State, 39 percent of black male students graduated from high school in 2005-06, compared to 75 percent of white male students, and far more black male students performed at the Below Basic level on all sections of the NAEP tests compared to white male students. Also, as the report points out, on the eighth grade NAEP reading assessment, “virtually none reach the Advanced level.” Furthermore, black males in New York State are about 5 times less likely to be placed in Gifted and Talented programs, and nearly 3 times more likely to be classified as mentally retarded.
To compare districts and states, the Schott Foundation calculated a “Schott Education Inequity Index,” taking into account both the size of the gap and the absolute graduation rate of black males. According to this index, New York State ranks fifth from the bottom of the fifty states in educating black male students.
The worst problems are concentrated in a few large metropolitan areas. Specifically, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Dade County fail to graduate the great majority of their Black male students with their peers. Districts such as these, in which Black students are concentrated, tend to have racially segregated schools that are demonstrably inferior educational institutions; very few children do well in these schools.
Reading this report, I immediately thought of the July 20th New York Times Magazine article about class-based integration, The Next Kind of Integration – Class, Race, and Desegregating American Schools. According to that article, decades of research shows that all children in high-poverty schools perform worse academically, although Ronald Ferguson, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, warns that racial achievement gaps can persist even in higher-class school districts unless educators make a strong commitment to the best instruction for all.
He stresses that to reap the benefits, poor kids have to be evenly distributed among classrooms and not just grouped together in the lowest tracks. “To the degree a district takes the kids who struggle the most academically and spreads them across different classrooms, they’re making teachers’ work more doable,” he says. “And that may be the biggest effect.”
The article goes on to look at examples of class-based integration across the country. In Wake County, N.C., class-based integration helped raise black students’ test scores significantly, and with greater effects at older grade levels, apparently bucking the trend of falling-off performance in middle school. So it seems that class-based integration holds some promise for helping alleviate the problems shown so starkly in the Schott report.
But what about New York City, where, according to the Times article, 74 percent of students are poor and 63 percent are black? In this and other large urban districts, neither class nor race-based integration may be feasible. We will have to continue to look for solutions that do not depend on socioeconomic diversity.
(An interesting footnote to the New York State section of the Schott report: “New York State enrollment and diploma data has been reported to the National Center for Education Statistics irregularly and is not considered as reliable as data from other states.” Worth remembering that we’re still waiting for 2007 graduation rates here in New York State).