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Educators Alarmed: Black, Latino High School Students Perform at Levels of 30 Years Ago

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According to Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University, “Where there’s tracking, [you have] obstacles to getting into the more rigorous classes, and the teachers aren’t that committed to teaching. Those are all signs of a dysfunctional culture. . . .In many schools, instead of encouraging kids [of color] to take [advanced courses], they’re discouraging them and putting up obstacles.”

Coming from a middle-class family doesn’t protect minority students from such obstacles. Wilkins says middle-class black youngsters aren’t doing as well as their white peers. Many 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.

“A lot of the time, those [middle-class black] kids are in schools where they are in the minority,” Noguera says. “If they don’t have teachers that are encouraging them, they feel alienated.”

Another obstacle for poor and minority students is that they are more likely than white students to have inexperienced and “out of field” teachers. According to Wilkins, 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. That, education experts say, is a recipe for disaster.

Low-income minority students are also more likely to have newly minted teachers, many of whom 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.

“Some of the least experienced teachers are put in classrooms with our most needy kids,” says LaShawn Routé Chatmon, executive director of the National Equity Project based in Oakland. “This doesn’t mean that new teachers can’t serve needy students. But there is a trend of large numbers of teachers who aren’t fully prepared.”

The result? According to Chatmon, inexperienced teachers inadvertently perpetuate the achievement gap. Students performing below their grade must be taught at an accelerated level, she says. Teachers must be “warm demanders,” showing students respect, encouraging them to be partners in their learning and communicating clearly that they are expected to master the subject matter, Chatmon says.

This is particularly critical in the early years of high school when students learn groundwork for more advanced coursework.

“All the research shows that ninth grade is a pivotal year, for all students, but in particular minority students,” Capozzi says. “If you don’t catch them in ninth grade, the rise in dropouts increases dramatically.”

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

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.

“Young people of color are overrepresented in the poorest schools and the poorest neighborhoods,” Apollon says. “There is a cumulative and compounding effect of structural deficiencies in many schools.”

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. But wealthier schools benefit because parents can organize fundraisers or pay for private tutors.

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.

Also part of the poor performance of minority students is “unconscious bias.” Teachers may think that students from poor families are so traumatized that they can’t learn, experts say, and so they don’t push those children to excel. Chatmon says that as African-American boys grow physically, teachers often talk about being afraid of “their size” and tend to overpunish them. As a result, a disproportionate number of black male students are suspended and miss class instruction, making it that much harder for them to catch up.

“Unconscious bias clearly plays a role in tracking young boys of color in particular into the slower track courses,” Apollon says. “Unconscious bias clearly plays a role in terms of discipline as well. Obviously, if you’re being suspended from school, all the teachers think you’re disruptive. They’ll have lower expectations of students that have been labeled ‘undisciplined.’ That certainly will have a negative impact on a student’s ability to succeed.”

This post was originally published by America’s Wire.


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6:44PM PST on Feb 18, 2012

@Tavis H. It is most definitely racism when teachers assume a student will not succeed because of their race. Just as it was classism that I experienced while growing up in a gentrified neighborhood. Minority students are not placed in classes that challenge them, look at statistics for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, the vast majority of the spots in these programs are both within wealthy white schools, and taken up by white, wealthy students.
I know I wouldn't have cared about high school unless I had been in those IB classes. My teachers would have treated me like just another face in the sea of poor, stupid students who will end up behind a grill after graduation. I would never have been challenged to look beyond my own perspective. I would have felt like my full time job was a wall rather than a bridge to further my education. I would have known my prospects for higher education were limited at best to a community college.(Which I actually did attend for three years for financial purposes.) And I would have dropped out and gotten my GED, like so many other minority students do for the same reasons (and far more) that I listed above.

3:26PM PST on Feb 8, 2012

Thanks for sharing.

3:27PM PST on Jan 27, 2012

This should, but it probably won't wake up a few folks in government. Why? Because it is the very same population that is growing. Need I say more.

10:44AM PST on Jan 27, 2012


After all, what point is there in getting straight-A's at an underfunded inner-city public school if you can't even guarantee that there will be a way for you to even go to college/university, let alone guaranteeing an opportunity at a better-paying job.

Defeatism is an integral part of poor students' mentality. All around them they see nothing but failure, broken dreams, and crushed spirits. How can you blame them for following an example set by EVERYONE AROUND THEM, especially when no one has come to them and said, "There is a way out through hard work and study."

It seems so out of reach to these poor/minority students that they just give up. And it's not because they are lazy or stupid. It's because we have failed at even giving them an idea of what they could have, and giving them a realistically-achievable method of getting there.

10:44AM PST on Jan 27, 2012

@Tavis H.

I guess you don't understand the real problem here.

The real problem is that the families of these students aren't doing any better. They're generally not getting better, higher-paying jobs with any benefits, nor are they receiving any more public help. In fact, they're receiving less and less assistance each year due to budget cuts.

The problem with minority students faring poorly in schools is not that they're "stupid" or "they don't want to learn". The problem is that we as a society have not shown them that following our path of education will ever lead to anything better.

Face it, if your family is not rich, you're most likely NOT GOING TO COLLEGE. If you can't get a scholarship, and your family has bad credit, you are up !@$% creek without a paddle. Even if you were a straight-A student, you can be swept under the financial carpet and denied loans (which are an astronomically-priced LOTTERY TICKET at this point in the Great Recession, but I digress).

The problem is not that these kids don't want to learn. The problem is that we haven't made an effort as a country to show them that (even if there is no 100% guarantee) that there is a good opportunity for them to make life better through education. [continued]

9:47AM PST on Jan 27, 2012

Need to mention that factors include systemic underfunding of public schools in general and schools in low income areas in particular (factors NCLB and standardized testing as a measure of performance only exacerbate) - i.e., de facto resegregation of education.

9:33AM PST on Jan 27, 2012

And if stating the truth is racist, then you may call me racist as much as you like.

9:30AM PST on Jan 27, 2012

@ Kaitlin C.

Why is the first reaction to any fact that doesn't glorify minorities screaming racism at it? As I have said in my comment, the biggest factor in a student's education is the student. If they don't want to learn, they aren't going to. Kathy is right, it is a culture thing. Many blacks don't try to become educated because they are accused by their peers of "trying to act white." So in reality, the low results are a direct result of racism, it's just not in the direction that you had hoped. Until the STUDENTS' attitudes change, the scores won't rise. The white kids don't seem to have much trouble passing. That's because the household attitude and culture is encouraging the kids to become educated and learn.

This isn't Disney. There's not a villain to get upset at. It's called personal responsibility, look into it.

10:38PM PST on Jan 26, 2012

horrible figures

8:38PM PST on Jan 26, 2012

I was very lucky that my parents were able to matriculate me into schools in the wealthy part of town. I know I got a better education, it isn't fair or right, but that is true. I remember in Elementary and Middle School, teachers were always disappointed on how I did on homework, especially because it was so inferior to my classwork. Working in the wealthy schools, these teachers didn't realize that I did not receive careful supervision and help with my school work at home. My mom was attending the community college in our town at the time and neither of my parents had the resources for a private tutor. Teachers really need to know what their student's home life is like to be able to provide a nurturing environment and a healthy learning experience. AND less emphasis on homework, kids are already in class around 30 hours a week, I think that is enough. Homework in college is different, a student is only in class around 12 hours a week, of course there has to be more time put into an education per week than that.

Sorry but I can't not address this when it is right below my own comment:
You may hate to sound racist, but you do.

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