Black Boys in Crisis: Inequality in Educational Access

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

Looking beyond the disciplinary ramifications of the school-to-prison pipeline, minority students have other disadvantages when it comes to reaching the high school graduation stage (remember, high school dropouts are more likely to end up incarcerated, even if they never encounter behavioral problems in K-12 settings).

Consider this: Black students tend to have fewer teachers who are certified in their degree areas. A US Department of Education report found that in public high schools with at least 50 percent black students, only 75 percent of math teachers were certified, compared to 92 percent in predominantly white schools. In English, the numbers were 59 and 68 percent, respectively, and in science, they were 57 percent and 73 percent.

Numbers like these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the disadvantages that take place in schools where children of color are the majority. When those children are boys, the outlook is even more dismal. Note that a substantial part of teacher training is dealing with the classroom and discipline issues. Teachers who do not have adequate training in their subject area are almost certain to lack the skills to implement effective disciplinary measures.

I taught elementary school for some years, and I can tell you that if you look in the face of any kindergarten student, you’ll find innocence, unquenchable curiosity, and potential. However, more so than the grades that follow, kindergarten is a mixed bag of developmental, social, and academic levels. Some kids arrive with a few years of childcare and preschool under their belts, while others have never had a book read to them. The students who enter the kindergarten classroom are already products of their limited life experiences, but their public-school classrooms are intended to be equalizers. In a perfect world, what has happened outside the classroom should not be a factor in the learning environment, and all students should have the same clean slate.

The current state of our public K-12 education system does not live up to that promise of equality, though. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds often attend schools with fewer resources and less-qualified teachers. When their behavior is out of line with what is accepted as normal, they are removed from the classrooms and placed back into homes that are even less conducive to the learning process than their under-resourced schools. In theory, all students should have the same educational access, starting in kindergarten, but many minority students are already behind their peers from day one. As a result, these students fall behind their more advantaged peers and, without intervention, they struggle to keep up.

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