You go to a school where there’s no music, the gym is falling apart, the books are old, the building is near dilapidated, the neighborhood is iffy, the crime rate is high and the drop out rate is higher. If only you went to one of those sparkling, integrated suburban schools. Then you would have better teachers, computer labs and gym equipment that didn’t come from the 1940s. You’d have a better shot at better test scores and graduating there, wouldn’t you?
Mmmmm … maybe.
Just going to an integrated suburban school does not equal automatic instant education. Statistically it seems to no matter where black kids go to school, whether you have the inner city blues, are a desegregation kid or a sagging skinny jean suburbanite, your test scores aren’t quite what they should be.
Traditional explanations for the black-white test score gap have not stood up well to the test of time. During the 1960s, most liberals blamed the gap on some combination of black poverty, racial segregation, and inadequate funding of black schools. Since then, the number of affluent black families has grown dramatically, but their children’s test scores still lag far behind those of white children from equally affluent families. School desegregation may have played some role in reducing the black-white test score gap in the South, but school desegregation also seems to have costs for blacks, and when we compare initially similar students in today’s schools, those who attend desegregated schools learn only slightly more than those in segregated schools.
Recent evidence suggests that disparities in school resources do affect achievement, but resource disparities between black and white children have shrunk steadily over time. The average black child now attends school in a district that spends as much per pupil as the average white child’s district. Black children’s schools also have about the same number of teachers per pupil as white schools. Predominantly white schools seem to attract more skilled teachers than black schools, but while black students who attend predominantly white schools probably benefit from having better teachers, this advantage seems to be offset by the social costs of being in an overwhelmingly white environment. In any event, schools cannot be the main reason for the black-white test score gap, because it appears before children enter school and persists even when black and white children attend the same schools. If schools play an important role in perpetuating the gap, either desegregated schools must be treating black and white children very differently or else black and white children must react very differently to the same treatment. (Brookings Institute Study)
There are lots of theories. Historically people have blamed racism, poverty, single parent homes and lack of education on the part of the parents and that all makes sense — up to a point. But that doesn’t explain the kids I went to school with who came from working-to-upper-middle class homes with business-owner or college educated parents who still produced progeny whose grades stunk. It still doesn’t explain why it was always me and the same four other black students in all the advanced placement classes or why there were even fewer black kids in my honors or college prep courses.
Is this the whole learning = acting white thing?
“What we don’t need in a school or a classroom is for a teacher to say, ‘These poor black children. They really have it tough,’ and not set the bar high enough for them,” said Barry Williams, an educator with the Baltimore Public Schools.
Indeed, some educators have found such stereotypes can undermine academic performance among black students.
“When we try hard to do something and we are expected to do poorly, often that translates into extra anxiety, extra caution, an extra mental burden that we’ve shown, in years and years of research, gets in the way of effective standardized test performance,” said Joshua Aronson of New York University.
Williams, however, puts some of the blame on black students. Some have had the attitude that if you do “well in school, then you are trying to assimilate and become white,” he said.
“There was a sense of dumbing down, which I found disturbing,” he said. (CNN)
Or could it be my own personal theory of this — some black people thought integration meant better and just left it up to the school to educate their children. That these parents assumed the “white school” was best and became less engaged or not engaged at all and went on autopilot assuming the kids would learn via osmosis of all the goody-goodness of the so-called better school.
Sending your child to public school is war. It really doesn’t matter WHAT public school. If you want your child to get the most out of your tax dollars sitting on your laurels won’t cut it. For all the wonderful, engaging and talented teachers and administrators in the world there are some bad eggs who are getting paid high prices for babysitting. Who have tenure and are never leaving and could give a rat’s ass if your kid learns how to read past a fourth grade reading level.
Example No. 1: When my mother, a former school teacher, began preparing my eldest sister for kindergarten she was told NOT to teach her daughter to read because she might teach her how to read wrong. Pay attention to that sentence. She might TEACH her how to READ WRONG. I had no idea there was a “wrong” way to read. Either you can or can’t. But my sister was an A student. Others who were taught to read by the district — well, some did great. Others had that moment of shame in high school when they had their reading levels tested and discovered that they were an 11th grader on a fifth grade comprehension level.
Example No. 2: My mom and my eldest sister again. This time after my sister was enrolled in school and people were “concerned” because she didn’t like coloring. They, meaning a teacher and a doctor, tried to tell my mother she might have a learning disability. My mother, needless to say, did not listen to these people. My eldest sister has two degrees, one in electrical engineering and another in accounting. Coloring not required. But this was a common theme I saw with black students who either were slightly quirky, hyper or had those dreaded “behavioral issues,” which my mom saw mostly as “kids being kids.” These students were often quickly ushered into the Byzantine no-man’s land of special education, never to return again. And never to learn again.
Example No. 3: School participation. I was fortunate. I had a stay-at-home mom. Most of my peers parents had to work. But that isn’t an excuse to not be involved in your child’s education. Too many parents used work as an excuse to be less engaged, then were shocked when they would learn their children were slipping as they aged. If you don’t make education a priority in your home and you don’t communicate your goals clearly for your kids, believe me, life will find them some new goals and aspirations. Like the goal to be a “playa.” And to call anyone who dislikes their “playa” ways “haters.”
Example No. 4: Racism.
Using data from the North Carolina Education Research Data Center, Jackson found that schools that had an increase in black enrollment saw a decrease in their share of high-quality teachers, as measured by years of experience and certification test scores. Teacher effectiveness, as measured by teachers’ ability to improve student test scores, also went down in the schools with an inflow of black students. The change in teacher quality generally occurred when the busing program ended, indicating that teachers moved in anticipation of more black students. (US News & World Report)
Some people don’t care if black kids learn or not. Sometimes that person is their own teacher, guidance counselor or principal. I don’t know how many times I had my guidance counselor try to convince me, a college-bound, A-student, to take home economics over pre-calculus. I told that woman REPEATEDLY to put me in advanced classes and her response was always, “But doesn’t that sound hard?” She was either assuming I was slow because I was black or because I was female or both. Either way, would you trust that woman with your child’s future? My mother and I always picked out my course schedule beforehand to get around such individuals and their not-helpful suggestions.
You cannot assume that “we’ve made it!” and just let your child go into the wilderness of public school without their battle armor on. It is hard to be the minority at an integrated school. I can be an isolating, lonely experience. Odd things can be conjured up as coping mechanism (hence the old “acting white” paradigm). Without good parenting there to combat that you could easily be raising the same stereotypical baby thug you might have gotten at any school, urban or suburban.
Don’t trust your kids to the system. That goes for all parents, black and white. Because, news flash, white parents who do the same thing often get the same disappointing, baby slacker bum results.
Agree? Disagree? Share your comments and opinions below. And if you’re so inclined, you can write the counter-argument to this post, and we’ll print it here on The Black Snob. This story is part of a series on interesting, unusual, funny and unconventional takes on issues. To see the full list of issues that will be covered, click here. To read past stories, click here.