Two Reports Reveal Persistent Racial Gaps

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This week's highlight in education news was the end of the teacher's strike in Chicago. But the issues raised by the strike - how to reward and evaluate teachers, how to raise academic performance in many of the nation's schools - are far from resolved, as two national reports on education made clear.

The reports released this week highlighted persistent challenges to improvement, particularly when it comes to race and poverty. A new analysis of U.S. Department of Education data showed that whites are still largely concentrated in schools with other whites, leaving the largest minority groups — black and Latino students — isolated in classrooms.

According to the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, the United States is increasingly multiracial, with white students comprising just over half of all students in public schools, down from four-fifths in 1970.

Still, as Motoko Rich of the New York Times reported , the analysis had 43 percent of Latinos and 38 percent of blacks attending schools where fewer than 10 percent of their classmates are white.

And more than one in seven black and Latino students attend schools where fewer than 1 percent of their classmates are white, according to the group’s analysis of enrollment data from 2009-2010, the latest year for which federal statistics are available.

Segregation of Latino students is most pronounced in California, New York and Texas. The most segregated cities for blacks include Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington.

“Extreme segregation is becoming more common,” said Gary Orfield, an author of the report who is co-director of the Civil Rights Project.

The overlap between schools with high minority populations and those with high levels of poverty was significant. According to the report, the typical black or Latino student attends a school where almost two out of every three classmates come from low-income families. Mr. Orfield said that schools with mostly minority and poor students were likely to have fewer resources, less assertive parent groups and less experienced teachers.

The other report was from the Schott Foundation for Public Education which issued an analysis of national graduation rates.

Only 52 percent of black male and 58 percent of Latino male ninth-graders graduate from high school in four years, compared to 78 percent of White, non-Latino male ninth-graders, the report said. As the Daily News reported, there was small progress among blacks that closed the racial divide on graduation rates by 3 percentage points over nine years to a 26 percentage-point gap.

“At this rate it would take nearly 50 years for black males to graduate at the same rate as white males,” John Jackson, president and CEO of the foundation, told the paper. “I don’t think the country can wait. I don’t think any parent or student can wait for half a century to have the same opportunities, education, jobs as their white male counterparts.”

Moving away from data and analysis, Michael Powell wrote a compelling column in which students and faculty at Bushwick Community High School share what it means to them to have a metal detector for the first time in the school's history. The detectors arrived because a middle school in the same building has had problems with violence.

Bushwick Community has not had a violent episode in a decade. On official surveys last year, 97 out of 101 students said there was no bullying problem here. And 100 out of 100 say they trust an adult at the school to help defuse tensions. That unanimity is almost unmatched in the city.

“The glue in this building is love, and the metal trespasses on that,” says Ellie Weiss, a longtime dean and teacher.

Take a moment to check out another inside view of a city school, this one from WNYC's business show New Tech City. They spent a day at the Academy for Software Engineering to learn how the city is trying to train developers and designers for the burgeoning high-tech industry in New York.

Finally, entrepreneur David Bornstein touted results at the I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers Middle School in Washington Heights.

Starting last year, the school partnered with a non-profit group that provided home computers and helped with broadband access to all of the sixth grade students in the school. It then trained parents, students and teachers on a system call PowerMyLearning.

"The school reports that the percentage of last year’s sixth graders with learning disabilities who met or exceeded standards in math (testing at level 3 or 4) increased by 36 percent, while the percentage of students who had been below standard (testing at level 1) decreased from 23 percent to zero," Bornstein said.

He conceded the technology was just one part of the school's success - the school is small and the faculty highly committed - but he said he found the enthusiasm for the new program, and for learning, infectious.