“In the schools more Negro students are demanding courses that lead to college and beyond, refusing to settle for the crude vocational training that limited so many of them in the past,” wrote Martin Luther King in his autobiography, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. If King were alive today, would he be pleased with the progress African-Americans have made in moving to college and beyond? Or disappointed? How are African-American students faring now, compared to 42 years ago?
The good news is that since Dr. King’s death, the number of African-Americans over the age of 25 with a high school diploma has increased by over 214%. (This is according to the U.S. Census Bureau). At this rate, African-Americans will reach equality in high school attainment with whites by 2018. The end of legally segregated schools has brought many opportunities for educational advancement by African-Americans. College graduation rates have moved forward at a slower pace than the high school rates, but nevertheless, there has been significant progress: the African-American college graduation rate has increased by almost 400% since 1968. Back then the black graduation rate was 41% of the white rate. Today it is 61%.
The bad news is that as a nation, we still have a long way to go. For even though the number of African-Americans with high school diplomas has risen dramatically, and segregation is now illegal, it is also true that African-American students are more likely to find themselves in the lowest-performing schools with student populations that are disproportionately poor. Indeed, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recognized in 2008 that there is “the persistence of de facto segregation in public schools” in the United States.
Looked at from the perspective of the No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB), the picture is similar. Between 2004 and 2008, scores for young minority students increased, but so did those of white students, leaving the achievement gap firmly and widely in place. “There’s not much indication that NCLB is causing the kind of change we were all hoping for,” said G. Gage Kingsbury, a testing expert who is a director at the Northwest Evaluation Association in Portland, OR. “Trends after the law took effect mimic trends we were seeing before. But in terms of watershed change, that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Even more alarming, some African-Americans college graduates in search of a job have taken to “whitening” their resumes. In a front page story on racial disparities in hiring minorities, published in the New York Times in December, several of the two dozen college-educationed blacks interviewed admitted that they had taken steps to hide their race, or at least the diminish the level of “blackness” in their resumes. One young woman omitted the name of her college, a historically black university, while another changed her name from “Tahani” to “T.S.” They felt they had to do this to eliminate one more
potential hurdle that might keep them from even getting an interview. Research has shown that applicants with black-sounding names get fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names, even when they have equivalent credentials.
I’m sure that Dr. King would be pleased with the progress we have made in the past 42 years, but would let us know that we still have a long way to go.
Quinn Anya: Creative Commons