Urgent Need

Photo of a BAEO child

On average, at all grade levels nationwide, low-income students of color perform at a substantially lower level than their more affluent white peers—not because they can’t achieve at high levels, but because they haven’t had the opportunity. A 2011 study of the Education Trust (Ed Trust) comparing national assessment data from 1996 to 2009 reveals an achievement gap dividing our nation along racial and economic lines.

  • Among low-income students and students of color, fewer than one in four fourth-graders and one in five eighth-graders scored Proficient or above in either math or English Language arts
  • Over the past 15 years, average performance of our nation’s 17-year-olds has been flat in both reading and math, but the achievement gaps between groups have mainly widened
  • Blacks rank last among the main racial subgroups for the percentage of students graduating high school in four years, and in our largest cities, the high school graduation for Blacks is less than 50%
  • In 2008, only one in ten college students from the lowest income quartile earned a bachelor’s degree by their 24th birthday, compared to 77 percent of college students from the highest income quartile

According to a 2008 report of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a Black student is almost 500 percent more likely to pass through a metal detector than a white student, and still Black students are significantly more likely than white or Hispanic students to feel unsafe at school.

Statistics* concerning the specific plight of Black boys and young men are especially dire.

  • 42% of Black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly
  • Black boys are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their white peers, missing valuable learning time in the classroom
  • Black and Hispanic males constitute almost 80% of youth in special education programs
  • Black boys are 2.5 times less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs, even if their prior achievement reflects the ability to succeed
  • Black male students comprise 20% of all students in the United States classified as mentally retarded, although they are only nine percent of the student population
  • 28% of core academic teachers at high-minority schools lack appropriate certification
  • Nationally, only 11 percent of Black males complete a bachelor’s degree

*A 2011 report of the National Education Association cites several recent studies, including “Yes We Can,” the Schott Foundation’s 50-state report on public education and Black males; “A Call for Change,” by the Council of the Great City Schools; and “We Dream a World,” by the 2025 Campaign for Black Men and Boys.

The Education Trust has assembled a series of state-based reports that clearly illustrate the failure of the status quo. Every Education Watch State Report presents an array of data in an easy-to-read, consistent format so that educators, parents, and public officials can squarely face this issue. Click here to learn more about what’s working—and not working—in your state.

The research points to a number of reasons low-income Black students are struggling to keep pace with their peers, and none suggests an inherent difference of ability based on race. When afforded the same opportunity to achieve at high levels, Black students have proven themselves capable of meeting the most rigorous academic standards, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Schools across the country have realized striking results with predominantly low-income, minority populations by implementing effective practices, aligned with BAEO’s principles on educational quality.

But such schools are the exception. As a rule, our system is failing low-income families of color. Too many low-income and working-class families are consgned to failing schools by virtue of their zip codes, and they lack the financial means and support to opt out. The implications are staggering, including high rates of joblessness, government dependency, crime, and incarceration in the Black community. In 2000, the Justice Policy Institute found evidence that more Black men are in prison than in college.

The achievement gap will continue to divide the haves and have-nots in America until we strengthen the quality of our schools and make high-quality educational options accessible to those in need. It is within our power to remove the weight of low expectations, chaotic classrooms, weak leadership, and poor instruction. It is possible to close the gap in American education and fulfill at last America’s promise to be a land of opportunity for all.