America is in the midst of an education crisis. Sadly, this deeply fractured education system is hurting students of color the most. Throughout our series, Broken System, we will highlight some of the most pressing issues impacting Black students today.
America’s skewed education system hurts Black students in more ways than just keeping many performing below grade level. It also prevents many of those performing at or above grade level from getting ahead through the absence of opportunity because oftentimes the talents of Black children go unnoticed.
A 2016 report released by the American Educational Research Association found that Black third grade students are half as likely as their white counterparts to participate in gifted and talented programs. Unsurprisingly, the reason for this disproportionate ratio is bias–teacher bias. Black students are being referred to gifted and talented programs at a rate that is 66 percent less than that of white students because teachers are doubting the academic abilities of Black students.
“Large disparities exist in gifted assignment by race and ethnicity in elementary schools with gifted programs, and neither math and reading assessment scores nor other background characteristics fully account for the disproportionately low assignment of Black students, in particular,” the study’s authors Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding explained. “Nor are the disparities explained by the kinds of schools Black students attend. There is some suggestion that the race of the teacher to which a student is assigned does predict a student’s assignment probability.”
Interestingly, the study found that when taught by Black educators, Black students were three times more likely to be assigned to these advanced programs in elementary school. Sadly, this racial disparity presented in advanced or accelerated courses only increases as students get older. A 2018 report from the New York Equity Coalition found that Black students are often held to lower standards and are denied access to advanced course offerings such as Advanced Placement classes, which allow high school students to earn college credits from local universities. Thirty percent of Black students had no access to those advanced courses.
“Students of color are underrepresented across the board in gatekeeper courses that prepare students for college and career opportunities,” the report’s authors explained. “These inequities are important because racial and ethnic disparities in course access translate into gaps in postsecondary opportunity. For example, in 2017, White high school students completed 89,506 AP exams where they earned a score of 3 or higher— which is generally accepted for college credit. During the same year, Latino and Black students completed just 27,100 AP exams where they earned a score of 3 or higher. That means white students had 230 percent more opportunities to earn college credit than their Latino and Black peers, despite representing only 8 percent more high school enrollees.”
Though the study only focused on New York, the data is reflective of a more pervasive issue that is affecting students of color on a nationwide scale. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, during the 2015-2016 school year, white students accounted for 51 percent of high school enrollment and 51 percent of students enrolled in advanced placement courses while Black students made up 16 percent of high school enrollment and only 12 percent of students enrolled in AP courses.
Similar numbers are present in middle school when it comes to high school-level courses such as Algebra 1 and Earth Science. If taken in middle school, students would have the opportunity to take more advanced math and science courses in high school. Unfortunately, white and asian students are disproportionately represented in these courses while Black students typically don’t take them until junior or senior year of high school.
When Black students aren’t even being granted the opportunities to get ahead in areas where they excel, it’s quite telling. It’s hard to win within a system that was designed for you to fail.