When the Status Quo Is Not Good Enough

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

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Many school leaders do not regularly monitor their collective GPA because, unlike with standardized test scores, it is not required by law. Every school should publish their composite GPA and make 3.0 or better a benchmark of success. If the school has a composite GPA that is less than 3.0, that school should have specific strategies to raise standards.

One strategy could be the "lifting tides" approach, whereby a school gathers all students in the top quartile and challenges them to raise the bar. At the same time, schools could provide learning supports and curriculum enhancement to other students.

Twenty-five percent or more black students in honors classes: Nationwide, 25 percent of high school students are enrolled in honors classes, according to the High School Longitudinal Survey. Thirty-three percent of white females take those types of courses, while it's 27 percent for white males, 22 percent for black females and 15 percent for black males. For a school to make adequate progress toward educating black children, they should offer them access to honors classes that meet or exceed honors class enrollment for all students nationally.

Six percent or less black students in special education: Nationwide, 6 percent of high school students are in special education. Our research in CTSQ demonstrates that black males are the most likely to be placed in special education, even in the absence of a learning or behavioral disorder. We also demonstrate that, in the right academic environment, even black males with disabilities can end up in honors classes. Adequate strides toward educating black children require that schools eliminate the biases related to assigning black males to special education, and make a commitment to reducing the representation of black males in special education to be at or below the national average for all students.

10 percent or less of black students have ever been suspended: No school can make adequate progress unless they suspend students at a rate that is less than the national average for all students. In CTSQ we calculated the national suspension rate for all students at 10 percent, and 26 percent for black males, based on the High School Longitudinal Survey.

However, I recently spoke to Dr. Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies project, and Dr. Russ Skiba, the principal investigator of the Equity Project, and they recommended that the benchmark for schools should be no more than 3 percent of students suspended. They based this number on extensive analyses that revealed that racial disparities in suspensions were so pervasive that a fair benchmark should only consider the rate of suspensions among white students.

In CTSQ, we explain that disengaged learners who lack the social acuity to manage learning environments are the students most vulnerable to suspensions, not students who pose legitimate risks to the security of the school. A focus on disciplining students often competes with learning, altering teachers' perceptions of their responsibilities toward their students. Giving support tools to disengaged students, such as tutoring, mentoring and counseling, can reconnect them to the academic process and reduce the odds that they misbehave.

One hundred percent of students involved in extracurricular activities: Schools should work to have nearly 100 percent of their students involved in extracurricular activities. In my first Breaking Barriers report, I found that extracurricular activities promote skills and values that foster a sense of attachment, commitment and responsibility to the school. Implementing more extracurricular activities, particularly those that instill school pride, appreciation of art and culture and academic identity can increase school performance and reduce violence at the school.

Unfortunately, when I ask school leaders, "What percent of your students are involved in an extracurricular activity?" the typical response is, "I don't know." Every school should take a homeroom survey of their students' participation in extracurricular activities. In cases where the participation rate is low, the school should have targeted initiatives to increase involvement. Specific examples of school activities are sports teams, band, orchestra, performing arts, debate teams, honor societies, foreign language clubs, math clubs and computers and robotics clubs.

Beyond the Numbers