Report: California Is Failing Black Students


By Manny Otiko and Charlene Muhammad

California Black Media


The California Legislative Black Caucus is preparing strategies for accountability after a new report revealed Black students are disproportionately suffering from disparities and inequalities in access, opportunity, and achievement in education.


State lawmakers held a briefing to examine findings of the report, “Black Minds Matter: Supporting the Educational Success of Black Children in California.”


“Our goal is to demonstrate that there are replicable program models that the state and local districts should consider as they contemplate ways to close the achievement gap,” said Assemblymember Shirley Weber, a Democrat who represents cities in the San Diego area.


Weber chaired the Feb. 10 informational hearing in partnership with the Education Trust – West, the Oakland-based organization that advocates for educational justice and the high academic achievement for California students of color or come from low-income families.


The report found that Black students are less likely to graduate high school within four years, have access to college preparatory programs, or graduate from college.


“Black Minds Matter” also illustrates that Black students are more likely to be suspended or placed in remedial or special education programs.


The briefing on the study comes in the wake of the two-year-old “Black Lives Matter” movement against police violence, which has drawn national attention.


The ‘Black Minds Matter” movement grew out of a partnership between the Education Trust-West and the San Jose-based California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE), which provides culturally-informed services to students, families, and teachers.


Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust – West, said when people think about the needs of Black children, it is important to talk about the context and the history.


Only two out of 10 Black students meet the state standards for mathematics, and only three out of 10 reach standards for English, according to Smith.


“We’ve made progress in educating Black students, but if we are going to close the achievement gaps, we are going to have to make leaps,” Smith said. “We’d like to see the state address this issue.”


Statistics from the California Department of Education reveal that about 68 percent of Black students graduate high school within four years.


But a closer look at the data reveals deeper problems, Smith says.


Only 40 percent of Black students who attend segregated (or predominantly Black) high schools in low-income areas graduate.


“Poverty plays a factor, but it can’t be explained by poverty alone,” Smith said. “A study in Houston found that Black parents are most likely to check their child’s homework than any other ethnic group. A national study also found that Black parents are most likely to value college as important for success.”


Smith recommended partnering with local community organizations to correct the problems, create incentive programs and ensure that all students have effective educators.


Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, gave his perspective on the state’s role in education and acknowledged that there is room for improvement.


“Education is the key,” he said. “I know what positive expectations lead to and how important expectations are.”


Torlakson said he was moved by student presentations after several students shared the pain they go through dealing with prejudice and how some people around Black students lower their expectations of them.


Assemblymember Cheryl Brown, a Democrat who represents communities in the San Bernardino area, asked if the Department of Education dedicated any staff to the lowest performing students.


The problem was a lack of resources, Torlakson indicated.


Weber noted part of the solution requires accountability even though California has a policy that allows local control over educational funding.


“It is about figuring out where that money is going, because it has not reached the children,” she argued.


“We’re in a critical state in terms of African-American children … if money were an issue, then we’d continue to see a decline in the achievement of everybody,” Weber argued.


Solutions also involve personnel, accountability, and curriculum, Weber said.


“It’s not only a moral thing that we have to do,” she said. “It’s an educational thing. It’s an economic thing. We cannot continue to sentence these children to a life of prison and under employment and poverty because it’s a vicious cycle that we have to break.”


To call the state government’s attention to these problems, “Black Minds Matter” recently staged a rally at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. About 1,000 students attended and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to take immediate action.


Organizers said the coalition’s priorities include getting the state to increase funding to districts with high numbers of Black students. I


Debra Watkins, CAAAE executive director, said the coalition also seeks to empower Black students to take charge of their educational destiny.


The school system is often hostile to Black students,” she said. “It is overtly racist at times.”


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