Being minority or poor should not dictate level of academic achievement   9 comments

DISCLAIMER: Sorry for so many numbers!

As I perused the AJC’s ‘Get Schooled’ blog this morning, I came across Maureen Downey’s post about a new study by the Southern Education Foundation. Interesting read.The South has become the first region in the country to have both the largest population of poor and minority students. Other than that exact statement, I am not too sure why this topic is newsworthy. Demographics are changing. Didn’t we already know that? If I am not mistaken, back in 2000 experts predicted that Hispanic/Latinos would become the largest minority group, surpassing Blacks/African Americans. What I find disturbing is the correlation between minority status and/or poverty with low academic expectations by the ‘experts’ and public education institutions. I guess I missed that lesson during my certification program. For the record, let me reiterate my platform: I do not buy into stereotypes and I refuse to become one. What I would like to see is some research that emphatically (and empirically) proves that if you are poor and/or minority, you cannot and will not learn anything or perform on par with White, Asian, and affluent students. I don’t want to see NAEP stats or AYP data; I want to see research that says minority students are incapable of learning, must accept someone else’s limitations, and resolve to be underachievers. That is essentially what this correlation is saying. By the way, wasn’t a similar correlation spewed before? Like in The Bell Curve?

It’s time for these so-called education foundations and think-tanks to call a spade a spade (no racial overtone intended). When are we going to really start digging and revealing what is really going on in the South? I will share some statistics on Georgia, since that is where I live. Let’s look at the population growth/changing demographics in Georgia for the past 5 years (3-5 years is a good span when tracking change):

2004-05 State Student Enrollment: 1,515,646

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 8%
  • ELL: 4%
  • FARL (low-income): 48%

2005-06 State Student Enrollment: 1,559,828

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 8%
  • ELL: 5%
  • FARL: 50%

2006-07 State Student Enrollment: 1,589,839

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 9%
  • ELL: 5%
  • FARL: 50%

2007-08 State Student Enrollment: 1,609,681

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 10%
  • ELL: 5%
  • FARL: 51%

2008-09 State Student Enrollment: 1,615,066

  • Black/African American: 38%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 10%
  • ELL: 6%
  • FARL: 53%

The above information is not awe-inspiring alone, but when we look at the state’s Special Education demographics for the same groups/years we get a completely different perspective. The following information is not available on the state’s web site; I obtained it through an Open Records Request.

2004-05 Special Education Enrollment: 242,565

  • Black/African American: 39.9%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 5.5%
  • ELL: 2.3%
  • FARL: 54.4%

2005-06 Special Education Enrollment: 241,773

  • Black/African American: 40.2%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 6.1%
  • ELL: 2.7%
  • FARL: 55.3%

2006-07 Special Education Enrollment: 244,210

  • Black/African American: 40.1%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 6.8%
  • ELL: 2.9%
  • FARL: 58.5%

2007-08 Special Education Enrollment: 235,016

  • Black/African American: 40.2%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 7.3%
  • ELL: 2.9%
  • FARL: 59.5%

*2008-09 Special Education Enrollment: 224,064

  • Black/African American: 40.3%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 7.8%
  • ELL: 3.1%
  • FARL: 61%

What does all of this mean?

  1. For at least 5 years, minority and/or low-income students have accounted for at least 50% of the students in Special Education (except 04-05. slightly under 50%). Believe me when I say the numbers for Gifted are almost the polar opposite.
  2. None of the think-tanks have factored in misdiagnosis, tracking, etc. into their formula for why minority and low-income students continue to underperform when compared to White, Asian, and affluent students.
  3. Georgia has a history of misdiagnoses and ‘directing’ African American students into Special Education programs. See here.

Simply put, does anyone find it strange that African Americans make up 38% of the state’s total student population, yet the enrollment in Special Education has been holding steady at 40%? Even more unnerving is the fact that 61% of students in Special Education are from low-income families. There is some overlap: Students from the other categories also fall into the low-income group. In my opinion, this is more newsworthy than the (obvious) fact that Georgia’s Hispanic/Latino student population has grown every year. The growth for Blacks/African Americans is not as noticeable. I await the critics’ rhetoric about single parent familes because you cannot tell form the SEF’s study or state data which students have two parents or which two-parent households are considered low-income. Pretty soon the superficial variables will be eliminated and people will have to admit the real problem. That should be interesting.

*Unusual drop in enrollment; waiting on Open Records Request from OCR to find if some form of corrective legal action was taken to address enrollment disparities.

9 responses to “Being minority or poor should not dictate level of academic achievement

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Your research is second only to your courage in addressing the significant subject of misdiagnosis in FARL populations. Education foundations should be lining up to learn more and to fund your work.

  2. Pingback: Read: Diversity Department || Dropout Nation

  3. Dear EducationCEO:

    I wrote the SEF report, A New Diverse Majority: Students of Color in the South’s Public Schools. However you may have read coverage of the report, you would be hard pressed to find anything in the report to suggest that “if you are poor and/or minority, you cannot and will not learn anything or perform on par with White, Asian, and affluent students.”
    Quite the opposite. This report and others on the SEF website ( call for profound changes in the way America finances and undertakes public education because poor and minority students are not learning to their potential.
    You mention the problem of mis-diagnosis for special education. That certainly is one problem. Another larger disparity relates to school discipline. The percentage of African American students suspended or expelled far exceeds their student population in almost every Southern state, including Georgia.
    What the SEF report, in essence, says is that these problems no longer simply deny groups of individual students a fair opportunity to learn and their own educational justice but, with a ne majority, they endanger the entire community’s quality of life and economic prosperity — regardles of race or income — unless profound changes are made.
    The reality is that far too many students of color and low income studnts of all races and ethnicities aren’t getting the education they need. The students who need the most resources and support are now usually getting the least. For large numbers of these students to succeed, this pattern has to change. Our report is a call to arms in fighting for that change.
    Best wishes.

    • Great! How can I help! My intent/tone was that there are other reasons why these groups of students are not performing, such as those I listed in the blog. However, very few studies ever acknowledge those reasons or even the discrepancy in discipline as you mentioned. My point is this: How many more studies have to be conducted before someone actually starts doing something about it? Actually, with regard to the funding issue, you’d be surprised how much money some of the schools receive for students. There is ther basic funding unit from the state/federal government, the local amount, then there is also funding for Title I and Special Education. What we need to focus on is HOW this money is being spent. There needs to be more accountability for tax dollars because there are some schools in urban areas that receive less and are getting results. I fear that some people will read that report (despite what it says) and begin spewing this rhetoric about Blacks, Latinos, and low-income students being incapable of learning. We need to start addressing the issues of educational inequity and it will take more than a report. Too many education ‘authorities’ are more concerned with playing politics and making nice and do not want to run the risk of offending anyone, e.g., superintendents, politicians, and Cathy Cox. We have to ask ourselves: What’s more important: Addressing these issues with research-based solutions or fulfilling our professional aspirations?

      Thank you for the feedback.

  4. I have a Master’s and a Doctorate in Education. I have been working with white, black, hispanic and students with disabilities for 22 years. I have a masters and a doctorate in education. It is true that all students are capable of learning. It is important to set high expectations and provide as many opportunities for students to achieve. However, for my experience some students in these categories lack the parental support and resources. Parents within this “demographic” lack the skills and resources to help their children. Schools are now responsible for these students and it is overwhelming for teachers to keep up with meeting all the needs of their students. I currently have a school administrator with a physical education degress supervising special education and math. Schools are also lacking leadership and skills to deal with the students. Most of the blame is placed on teachers with low pay no raises no support or leadership from the “top brass”. As a teacher you can stay after achool with the students, provide extra work and incentives, prepare students for all tests and quizzes before all assessments, provide homework time, study time, extra activities, enrichment lessons, extra review lessons, extra time, more of everything for students. But, some students are not interested in achievement. It is not a priority for some students. We need students, parents and teachers working together to make things work for all students all of the time in all of the public schools. But, money is always the deciding factor. During most of my career I always looked for help from the parents, within the last 10 years of my career, I am finding that the parents are the problem. Drugs, poor education, poor decisions, divorce, separation, ADHD, learning disabilties, emotional disabilities, psychological, and economical issues affecting parents and as a result affect academic achievement. The issues are bigger than the public schools, drugs and economical problems continue to affect achievement for lower income students, blacks, hispanics, and students with disabilities.

    • I agree with most of your points, but I strongly disagree with the assumption that kids are not interested in achievement. Public education (the system) is failing kids because it does not allow room for teaching to kids’ intelligence, which is done in most private/montessori schools. We do not hear those parents complaining about their kids not learning because they have a formula that works: Kids first. Until public education takes that approach, we will continue to grapple with this achievement gap.

      Thanks for posting!

    • I have read your posts and I find them interesting. I would like to share my story. I am 26 years old and I recently moved to Rome, GA. I am from Frederick Maryland and moved here because my husband had a home here and it was a place we could call our own. Unfortunately, the neighborhood we live in is not the greatest as well as the side of town. My son has autism and is EXTREMELY smart. He is a grade level above in reading as well as math. The schools in this area did not meet their AYP for the year, as well as the year before. This is so sad because there are so many schools and there is not enough being done about the poor education system. Our home is located on the city and county line but unfortunately falls within the city line. My husband and I work a lot, he works out of town during the whole week and I work shift work so I decided to give my mother in law guardianship rights so she could care for my son while we weren’t able to and this was important because she is familiar with his needs. With her caring for him, he would have the opportunity to go to a county school which is a bit better in reputation and education. The first week of school, he was there a week before they targeted him and withdrew him stating the reason was that I resided somewhere else. So then I hired an attorney and had a legal guardianship drawn up. They threatened me, belittled me, nit picked and got angry and said how the document is not worded correctly, even though it was signed by the judge. So they were forced to take it. A week later after returning to school , after he has already missed a month of school, he was withdrawn again. This time they said because they decided that a guardianship was not going to work, and they refused to take him into their school system. All my child wants to do is learn, he LOVES learning and loves school. He was a straight A student the past two years. I was directed to another attorney who questioned the Chief Operations Officer as to why they werent accepting the guardianship and he stated he didnt have to give a reason. We were directed to ask him what the residency requirements are and his exact response was “I dont have to tell you anything, look it up on the internet” It is clear to me that these people do not care about whats best for a child or what the right thing to do. The only thing they care about is a pay check. These people should be ashamed to call themselves educators. Soo now here I am, stuck and I am forced to send my child to a horrible school who is known for poor education. These people DONT even recognize No Child Left Behind, because when I brought it up they stated that it has nothing to do with anything. PLEASE if someone is out there, maybe you can help us and my little boy who just wants a decent education

  5. I have followed this discussion with interest. I, too, am interested in this issue from a professional perspective. I am an Australian researcher working in an English university – and the issues you have raised seem to me to be universal.

    In particular I am interested in the achievement of students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds who enter University (Higher Education). It seems that they are not achieving as well as more ‘traditional’ students.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on this?

    Dr Steven Wilkinson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: