Students of Color Are Falling Further Behind

Do you recall when the theme of American education was “No Child Left Behind?  According to a new report from The Education Trust, many children are being left behind.

When people talk about the “dropout problem”, I believe that they are focusing on the wrong thing.  It is not just that the nation’s dropout rate must be lowered but that the “achievement gap” must be narrowed.  One of the positive things that No Child Left Behind requires is that graduation rates must be disaggregated. 

The performance gap between minority and white high school students continues to expand across the United States, with minority teenagers performing at academic levels equal to or lower than those of 30 years ago according to a report from the Education Trust.  While achievement levels have improved considerably for Latino and African-American elementary and middle school students, educators say their academic performance drops during high school years. On average, African-American and Latino high school seniors perform math and read at the same level as 13-year-old white students.

The Education Trust says African-American and Latino students have made little to no progress in 12th-grade reading scores since 1994, continuing to lag behind white students. Math achievement has also remained flat, with the gap between white students and those of color widening.

Educators cite these causes for the disparity in performance:

  • Lowered expectations for students of color
  • Growing income inequality and lack of resources in low-income school districts
  • Unequal access to experienced teachers
  • An increased number of “out of field” teachers instructing minority students in subjects outside their area of expertise
  • These factors, experts say, produce an opportunity gap for students of color.
  • Students of color are also less likely to be given advanced-level coursework.

School advocates say students of color, regardless of class, are frequently met with lowered expectations from teachers and administrators. With such expectations come lowered requirements in the classroom, they say. Students in low-income schools are more likely to be given an “A” for work that would receive a “C” in a more affluent school, according to “Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Between Groups: Lessons from Schools and Districts on the Performance Frontier,” an Education Trust study released last November.

Research from the Education Trust study indicates that more white high school graduates were enrolled in college prep courses than were their African-American, Latino and Native American counterparts. Often, schools attended by those minorities do not offer advanced classes.

Many middle-class black youngsters are placed in less competitive classes, and a black child with high fifth-grade math scores is less likely to be enrolled in algebra in eighth grade, according to the Education Trust study.

Another obstacle for poor and minority students is that they are more likely than white students to have inexperienced and “out of field” teachers. Minorities at high-poverty schools are twice as likely to be taught by “out of field” teachers — for instance, a math instructor teaching English or a science instructor teaching history.

Low-income minority students are also more likely to have newly minted teachers, many of who aren’t equipped to help underperforming students get on track. According to the Education Trust, low-performing students are more likely to be assigned to ineffective teachers.

Poverty also hampers minority student achievement. Blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by the economy, with more and more children falling into poverty.

Minority students typically attend schools that lack resources. They are also more likely to attend schools where the student-teacher ratio is high, books and computers are outdated and teacher aides aren’t available to provide extra help for those who need it most.

The sluggish economy has forced many school districts to slash budgets, eliminating after-school programs and arts instruction. Many schools are underfunded, even in more affluent districts.  Poor parents working two and three jobs often don’t have the wherewithal to advocate for their children, education experts say. Often, the parents themselves received a substandard education. This creates a dynamic in which generations of families are stuck in a cycle of underachievement.

The Federal Government has with its support of No Child and Race for the Top has endorsed narrowing of the achievement gap.  Yet state governors who would like to eliminate tenure and put less experienced teachers into minority classrooms are feeding into the enlarging of the achievement gap.

No child has risen to low expectations. All students should be thrown into vigorous classes and be given proper academic support to ensure their success. If they don’t have access to those classes, they won’t be adequately prepared for college.

Public education represents the best chance of escaping from poverty.  Yet many in America seem to have forgotten this.