What’s Stopping Black Students’ Success

Experts explain that poor teachers and barriers to resources fuel an academic achievement gap.

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According to the Department of Education, the salary for a New York City teacher starts at $45,530 but can rise to $100,049 annually. In addition, the New York City Charter School Center reported in May that 67,500 students applied for 14,600 open seats in charter schools for the 2012 school year. The Mass Insight Education and Research Institute looked at New York schools as part of an examination (pdf) of how to combat America’s lowest-performing schools.

To ensure accountability, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Walcott are negotiating the addition of teacher evaluations and wage increases. The opposing sides are currently at a standstill, and without a collective agreement soon, the threat of a teachers strike looms.

From Toldson’s perspective, apathetic teachers as well as overzealous disciplinary action are key reasons behind the city’s achievement gap. And while New York may not institute the now-infamous school-to-prison pipeline of Mississippi, the way in which black and Latino children are suspended is unbalanced and reflects educational inequity across the country.

According to the Civil Rights Data Collection 2009-10 report (pdf), which culled statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts across the country from pre-K to high school, African-American students are three-and-a-half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. One in five African-American boys and more than one in 10 African-American girls received an out-of-school suspension. Although black students account for 18 percent of the schools’ populations, they represented 35 percent of pupils suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions.

Toldson added that safety measures, like metal detectors and security guards, implemented to protect children from threats that were prevalent in the mid-1990s come at the expense of postsecondary advisers, gifted instructors and even certain courses of study.

“The systematic omission of rigorous courses in high schools that have black and Latino kids is a problem,” Toldson explained. “You have schools that don’t offer physics or calculus, yet New York has competitive state universities that require those classes for admission. The two public entities aren’t aligned.”

Less than a third of high schools with mostly African-American and Hispanic students offer calculus, and only 40 percent offer physics, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection report.

Ultimately, the achievement gap boils down to whether schools and families like those in New York City are willing to break the status quo and fight for the prioritization of competitive education for black and brown children — but at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a deadline for that.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott was contacted for comment but did not respond at press time.

Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.