When the Status Quo Is Not Good Enough

Show Me the Numbers: Challenging current academic standards can ensure black achievement in schools.

Getty Images/The Washington Post

(The Root) -- When it comes to educating black children in the U.S., business as usual is not good enough. Earlier this year, the Department of Education released the Civil Rights Data Collection (pdf) report. The study suggests that opportunity gaps that exist between black and white children across the country center around three key areas: 1. Schools routinely offer black children a less rigorous curriculum that omits classes required for college admission; 2. Schools discipline black children more harshly by suspending them for behaviors (e.g. tardiness) that rarely result in suspensions among white children; and 3. Black students are the most likely to have the lowest paid teachers with the fewest years of classroom experience, and who become teachers through alternative teacher certification programs.

Unfortunately, these inequities represent the status quo in our nation's schools, a status quo that has as many challengers as defenders. The latter often blame parents, and argue that most predominantly black schools are limited in what they can achieve because their students are academically unprepared and socially unruly. While legitimate issues among black children and their families exist, disputing that there are countless (and sometimes faceless) examples of negligent parents and miscreant children does little to resolve generations-old struggles to achieve parity in schools.

To challenge the status quo, we must concede to the following: In the current educational environment, even our most gifted students with the most dedicated parents can leave high school underprepared. In addition, we have yet to create an educational environment in the U.S. that is completely free of institutional racism and systemic biases. Therefore, no one can declare with certainty that irresponsible and apathetic behavior among black people is the root cause of achievement gaps. Finally, with community mobilization and political will we can change the status quo.

Two weeks ago, my colleague Dr. Chance Lewis and I released Challenge the Status Quo: Academic Success for School-Age Black Males (CTSQ) to a group at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Our message to the nearly 250 participants was clear: The problem with black male achievement is institutionalized, and the solution will demand deliberate systematic strategies that involve full cooperation between concerned citizens, parents, activists, teachers, school leaders and policymakers. 

This installment of Show Me the Numbers reveals the statistics that separate good schools from deficient schools. Through policy advocacy and community activism, the goal is for the following figures to augment or replace current assessments of a school's Adequate Yearly Progress, which is currently based solely on standardized test performance.

Numbers That Count

Four and four units of math and science: For schools to prepare students for the most competitive colleges and universities, they need to offer four units of math and four units of science. Most colleges require three units of math, including Algebra I, Geometry and an advanced math such as Algebra II. Colleges requiring four units usually require a math class beyond Algebra II such as Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Algebra III or Probability & Statistics. Colleges requiring three or four units of science usually specify Biology, Chemistry and one or two of the following: Physics (most common), Integrated Science, Aerospace Science, Anatomy and Physiology, Earth Science, Environmental Science, Physical Science, Physics II, Physics of Technology, Biology II or Chemistry II. Most colleges also require a lab course.

As a minimum standard, in CTSQ we recommend PREPS (public reciprocity for education for postsecondary success). In other words, every high school should offer a curriculum that, at a minimum, meets the admissions requirements for the most competitive public university of the state.

The widespread practice of public schools omitting classes required for public college admissions should be a violation of federal law. Immediately, individual schools and their governing school districts should provide a disclosure statement to students' parents and guardians that specifies any courses required for admissions to the most competitive public universities of the state that are not available in their curriculum. The disclosure statement should also provide educational options for students to access the necessary courses within the school district.

3.0 collective GPA: The mean grade point average of all students, regardless of race and gender, is a 3.0, according to the High School Transcript Study. In my research for the report Breaking Barriers, I've found that a school's collective GPA is a good measure of a myriad of positive outcomes, including reduced violence and increased college enrollment. Many schools with the worst problems have a composite GPA that is closer to a 2.0, and the students in their 90th percentile barely have a 3.0.