Educational Achievement of Male Black Students (cont.)
One answer, as we have seen, is that Black students do not attend the same schools as White students. Dual racial and economic segregation confine many of Connecticut’s Black students to the failing schools of Hartford and Bridgeport, while White students—those Connecticut White students who do attend public schools—are educated in the excellent schools of the Connecticut suburbs. Black students who move a few hundred yards across a district boundary from Hartford dramatically increase their chances of graduating from high school. This is such a well-known state of affairs that a kind of educational vigilantism has arisen: White residents patrolling school parking lots to ensure that no undeserving Black or low-income children are smuggled into their schools.
Why are the schools attended by students living in poverty less adequate than those attended by students from financially better-off families? According to Berliner,
The schools that [students living in poverty] attend are … funded differently than the schools attended by students of wealthier parents. The political power of a neighborhood and local property tax rates have allowed for apartheid-lite systems of schooling to develop in our country. For example, 48% of high poverty schools receive less money in their local school districts than do low poverty schools … Logic would suggest that the needs in the high poverty schools were greater, but the extant data show that almost half of the high poverty schools were receiving less money than schools in the same district enrolling families exhibiting less family poverty.
Schools serving low-income families have fewer resources, and therefore less favorable outcomes, than those serving higher-income families. This intensifies the barriers to educational opportunity presented by the lack of discretionary income to spend on out-of-school education (including tutoring) and comparatively low levels of parental educational attainment. Good schools can overcome those barriers; inadequate schools are inadequate for all students, without regard to parental income and educational attainment.
Beyond these fiscal-structural issues, Dr. John H. Jackson, President of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, has focused attention on the way that Black students, especially male Black students, are “locked out” of extra resources available to White, non-Hispanic, students and “pushed out” of school itself. They are, for example, “locked out” of the extra resources of Gifted and Talented programs. The U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) district-level data shows that the ratio of male Black to male White, non-Hispanic, students in Gifted and Talented programs ranges from 1-to-9 in Memphis and Nashville down to 1-to-1 in Montgomery County (MD) and Milwaukee.* That is, while Black students in Montgomery County and Milwaukee have an equal chance of receiving the increased resources characteristic of Gifted and Talented programs as White, non-Hispanic, students, they have barely more than one-tenth that opportunity in Memphis and Nashville. Are Black students nine times smarter in Milwaukee than in Nashville? Are White students one-ninth as talented in high-achieving Montgomery County as in Memphis? In some places access to Gifted and Talented Programs varies from one neighborhood to the next. In New York City, for example, the testing of students for those programs (performed around age 4!) is intensive in the city’s middle and upper class neighborhoods, and virtually non-existent in the city’s poorest — and Blackest — neighborhoods. It can therefore be pointed out that participation in the city’s Gifted and Talented programs is much lower for Black students than others — with the implication that this may have to do with innate ability rather than with the lack of opportunity to participate in the programs.
Another set of additional resources is associated with Advanced Placement classes. Male Black students are assigned to Advanced Placement Mathematics at less than a tenth the rate as male White, non-Hispanic students in two Louisiana districts, while they are assigned to Advanced Placement Mathematics at approximately the same rate as male White, non-Hispanic, students in the predominately Black districts of Newark, Atlanta and Cleveland. Disparities in access to Advanced Placement courses are traceable to district policy decisions, as the College Board has repeatedly advocated an “open admissions” policy for its Advanced Placement program. This policy of locking out Black students from educational opportunities — Advanced Placement and Gifted and Talented programs, among others — can be changed any afternoon. The key is in the hands of district administrators. They just have to use it.
Black students are “pushed out” by means of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions. In elementary and secondary school, out-of-school suspensions are a sensitive predicator of a student’s future failure to complete high school with a regular diploma. One authoritative study found that students punished with out-of-school suspensions were three times as likely not to finish high school as those students who were not suspended. According to the most recently available national survey by the U.S. Department of Education (2006), an extraordinary 19% of all male Black students were suspended from school that year, as compared with the closely aligned Hispanic and non-Hispanic White male rates of much less than half that. Out-of-school suspension ratios at the district level vary from approximately 8-to-1 in Newark and Atlanta (and 6-to-1 in two other Atlanta metropolitan area districts) down to less than twice the percentage of male Black as compared to male White, non-Hispanic, students given these punishments in districts like Boston. Are male Black students four times as well-behaved in Boston as in Atlanta?
These racial disparities in the application of school discipline policies are visible early on. Walter Gilliam of Yale University has established that in many cases prekindergarten suspension and expulsion rates for male Black children are extremely high and not wholly attributable to the behavior of those children. They are, in large part, he finds, an artifact of the attitudes and expectations of the teachers of those three- and four-year-old children, a finding confirmed by the fact that professional development for these teachers significantly lowers suspension and expulsion rates for their male Black students.
At this point we can refer to a set of data similar to that for drug abuse arrests and incarcerations and even more definitively pointing to public policy and practices as the driver for these effects. The Justice Center of the Council of State Governments and the Public Policy Research Institute have published a study entitled “Breaking School Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement.” The state in question is Texas and the study traces school careers for all public school students in that state who were in seventh-grade in 2000, 2001, and 2002. It was found that 83% percent of male Black students had at least one discretionary violation during their secondary school career (compared to 59% for non-Hispanic White students), but mandatory disciplinary actions were invoked at similar rates for Black and White students. The difference between discretionary and mandatory actions, in the study’s vocabulary, is that the latter are based on regulated procedures and policies, set by the state, while the former are based on locally determined procedures and policies which, in general, have few if any safeguards against arbitrariness. In other words, the Texas study documented a natural experiment similar to that of drug abuse arrests: given more or less equal propensities to come afoul of objective rules (“mandatory actions”), public secondary school teachers and administrators use their discretion at the school level to punish Black students nearly a third more often than both Hispanic and White, non-Hispanic, students, and male Black students much more often yet.
The consequences for the educations of Black students in Texas are severe. According to the study: “A student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was twice as likely to repeat his or her grade compared to a student with the same characteristics, attending a similar school, who had not been suspended or expelled” (p. xi). Further, “a student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was nearly three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year,” and so into the criminal justice system later. (Note that these are the consequences, in the main, of “discretionary,” that is, unregulated, actions by local school personnel.) Of Texas male Black students suspended on the basis of these decisions by local school personnel, more than one-third of the cohort came into contact with the state’s juvenile justice system, only a slightly lower number than the number of male Black adults incarcerated in Texas. Being “known to the police” increases the chances that a person will be arrested. It is always easier to round up the usual suspects. That is why they are the usual suspects.
Given the Texas data indicating that Black students in that state are punished at the school level with discretionary out-of-school suspensions more often than other students, we can estimate the number of male Black students punished with out-of-school suspensions in the country as a whole, who most likely would not have been if they had been Hispanic or White, non-Hispanic, and had engaged in the same behaviors. The national percentages for out-of-school suspensions were 19% for Black males, 7% for White, non-Hispanic, males and 9% for Hispanic males. Projecting on the basis of the national Hispanic numbers (because of the similarity of family economic status) would give us a figure of 400,000 excess Black male suspensions each year in the United States. Working from the Texas data, there is an excess of 250,000. Between the two, a conservative estimate would be 300,000 Black male students punished with out-of-school suspensions each year, who would not have been removed from the classroom if they had been from any racial or ethnic background other than Black. Assuming that most suspensions are in secondary school, and counting six years of secondary school with a 7% chance of being suspended each year, it is likely that on a national basis Black male students have more than a 40% chance of out-of-school suspension for racial reasons during their secondary school careers. This happens to be approximately the percentage of young adult Black males without high school diplomas who might expect to experience incarceration as young adults.
This push-out of Black students could be ended by school district administrators any afternoon they chose to do so. Doing so might well increase the number of Black men with high school diplomas by a quarter of a million or more each year.
There is a high school graduation rate gender gap across all racial and ethnic groups. That for White, non-Hispanic, students is 3%. However, that for Black students is 12%: four times as great. No doubt many factors contribute to this startling difference. One is likely to be racially motivated out-of-school suspensions, which primarily affect male Black students. As with mass incarceration, debt peonage, lynching and the daily cruelty of slavery itself, Black males, in particular, are made to suffer from school discipline inequities. It is not, everywhere, as it is in Meriden, Mississippi, part of an overt system of preparing male Black students for incarceration. In many places, such as in Connecticut’s preschools, it is simply a reflex: Black males, even three or four year old Black males, are seen by those with authority over them as requiring disciplinary action more frequently than other males or any females. Another factor is the effect of parental incarceration, in particular the incarceration of fathers, which is especially devastating to young Black males. For the cohort due to graduate from high school in June 2010, average Black male k-8 enrollment was 300,000, but by grade 12, in the 2009-2010 school year, it had declined to approximately 250,000. Approximately 65,000 Black male students in this cohort did not graduate from high school in June, 2010. If present trends continue, 24,000 of those will be incarcerated as young men. Much of this is attributable to the effects of parental incarceration, family poverty and the quality – or lack of it – of schools in communities of concentrated poverty.
The national public high school graduation rate (grade 9 to diploma) for male Black students is 52%. This is a significant increase in a decade from the rate of 41% for the 2001/2 school-year (but far lower than the 75% rate to be inferred from the Census). The graduation rate for male White, non-Hispanic, students, on the same basis, has also increased, from 70% to 78% over that period (versus the implied 85% Census rate). The gap between these Black and White, non-Hispanic, graduation rates has therefore narrowed from 29 percentage points to 26. At this pace, if nothing is done, it will take the better part of a century to close the gap between male Black and White, non-Hispanic, high school graduation rates.
Three states have achieved higher male Black than male White, non-Hispanic, graduation rates: Maine, Arizona and Vermont. Four more (Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska) currently have higher male Black graduation rates than the national male White, non-Hispanic, graduation rate in the 2001/2 school year. None of these states include districts with 10,000 or more male Black students, most (except Arizona) have very few Black students. This relationship between relatively high male Black graduation rates and relatively low concentrations of Black students is supportive of the idea that integrated school systems better serve Black students than segregated systems, perhaps, as has been argued here, because schools oriented toward the education of White, non-Hispanic, students are likely to provide teachers and facilities superior to those to which majorities of Black students are consigned.
If we look at the states having at least one school district enrolling 10,000 or more male Black students, that with the highest graduation rate for male Black students is New Jersey, with a graduation rate for male Black students of 63% (as compared to 90% for its male, White, non-Hispanic students). New Jersey’s graduation rates for students from all racial/ethnic groups are among the best and many of the state’s Black students attend integrated schools in this highly suburbanized state. These positive effects were reinforced by the “Abbott” case, which directed enhanced resources to Newark and other districts with concentrated Black and impoverished populations. Of the seven states enrolling more that 200,000 male Black students, four (Georgia, Florida, New York and Illinois) have lower than average male Black graduation rates. Among districts enrolling 10,000 or more male Black students, ten have higher male Black graduation rates than the national average. Two — Montgomery County (MD) and Newark—exceed the 2001/2 national male White, non-Hispanic, graduation rate. Philadelphia, Clark County, Detroit and Rochester, on the other hand, graduate less that a quarter of their male Black students. Six more districts graduate less than one-third. These wide variations in outcomes, against a nearly uniform background of family poverty, point again to educational opportunity — the quality of schools available—as the key to the educational challenges facing Black students.
These patterns continue at the postsecondary level. Twelve percent of male Black high school graduates enroll in two-year colleges and 31% in four-year colleges. In comparison, 23% of male White students enroll in two-year colleges and 41% in 4-year colleges. If we look at these numbers more carefully, we see that most male Black high school graduates (57%) do not enroll in college at all, while two-thirds of male White students do so. These figures become even more dramatic when combined with high school graduation rates. Only half of male Black high school students graduate; approximately three-quarters of male White, non-Hispanic, students graduate. It would seem, then, that just six percent of college age male Black students enroll in two-year colleges and 16% enroll in four-year colleges, compared to 18% and 30% of male White students. In other words, a male White high school student is twice as likely as a male Black student to enroll in college following the year in which their cohort was in grade 12.
A degree-seeking, full-time, male Black student in a four-year college is half as likely to graduate in four years as a male White student (15% compared to 33%). However, by six years from enrollment, 36% of male Black students and 57% of male White students graduate. The gap is similar but the disproportionality has narrowed. An obvious interpretation of this data would point to a relative lack of adequate preparation for college coursework among those male Black students who have managed to obtain a high school diploma.
According to the Census Bureau’s Community Population Survey (CPS), in terms of educational attainment, the largest group of White, non-Hispanic, men is that of those who have received a Bachelor’s degree, while the largest group of Black men are those reporting just a high school diploma: four years less of education. While the percentages of those with some college or an Associate degree, combined, are identical (29%), just over one-third the percentage of African-American as White, non-Hispanic, men report receiving Bachelor’s degrees and less than half the percentage of African-American as White, non-Hispanic, men report that they have been awarded graduate degrees. While twelve percent of White, non-Hispanic, men receive graduate degrees, only five percent of Black men do so.
The percentage of African-American men receiving Bachelor’s degrees, at 11%, according to the Census, is twice that which can be derived from the progression data described above. What accounts for this discrepancy? Professor Pettit has recently argued that because it does not include people in prison or jail, the Current Population Survey (CPS) seriously over-estimates the educational attainment of the Black population. Another factor in this over-estimation is the equation of the quality and timing of the GED with the high school diploma. There is some debate about the GED as literally equivalent to a high school diploma and, further, many male African-Americans receive their GED while incarcerated, which is quite a different matter than taking the examination as an alternative to sitting out the final semester of high school. Assuming that Pettit is correct, the actual percentage of college educated African-American men is much lower than usually thought; the number of college educated African-American men, as compared to White, non-Hispanic, men, is barely noticeable; that of African-American men with graduate degrees hardly more than a rounding error for the combined total.
Half of those male Black students enrolled in grade 9 graduate from high school four years later. Less than a third of those then enroll in a four-year college. Slightly more than a third of those have graduated after six years. Approximately five percent, then, of a given cohort of male Black students go straight through to a Bachelor’s degree, allowing for six years to complete the degree after matriculation. If the economic status of African-Americans is to approach the level of that for other Americans, it is essential that the percentage of African-Americans with college degrees doubles and for that it is essential that African-American children attend dramatically better schools than those most of them attend today.
Du Bois ended his account of the establishment of schooling for African-Americans during and immediately after Reconstruction with a paean to what we would today call African-American agency during Jim Crow:
Had it not been for the Negro school and college, the Negro would, to all intents and purposes, have been driven back to slavery. His economic foothold in land and capital was too slight in ten years of turmoil to effect any defense or stability … But already, through establishing public schools and private colleges, and by organizing the Negro church, the Negro had acquired enough leadership and knowledge to thwart the worst designs of the new slave drivers. They avoided the mistake of trying to meet force by force. They bent to the storm of beating, lynching and murder, and kept their souls in spite of pubic and private insult of every description; they built an inner culture which the world recognizes in spite of the fact that it is still half-strangled and inarticulate.
The achievement Du Bois memorializes was indeed admirable, and, as he said, admired. But today more is needed. The closed gate to education opportunity for Black students is not controlled by the Black community. Dr. John H. Jackson has spoken of “the willful neglect” of educational opportunities for African-Americans. It is widely believed that it is the duty of the oppressed to struggle against oppression. Hence the admiration for Spartacus and his successors. But there is no moral law that the struggle against oppression, in whatever realm, must be carried on only by the oppressed, nor any historical analysis that holds that the struggling oppressed, on their own, must succeed in ending their oppression. The direct route to the end of oppression is for the oppressors themselves to work with the oppressed to end it. It is also the moral responsibility of those keeping the gate of educational opportunity closed to join hands with those behind it, to work together to remove that barrier to the fulfillment of the promise of Emancipation.