Missouri Is Leaving Its African-American Students Behind
There’s no other way to put it: Missouri schools simply aren’t giving African-American students a chance.
This was made particularly clear to me last month, when the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation released The Path Forward: Improving Educational Opportunities for African-American Students. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help collect and analyze the data for the report, and I attended the launch event co-sponsored by the Chamber and the NAACP in Washington, DC.
The Path Forward broke down African-American student performance state by state. The results for Missouri were beyond disheartening:
· On the 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress, only 15 percent of Missouri’s African-American 4th graders were deemed proficient in reading and only 15 percent were proficient in math.
· By the time they got to 8th grade it was even worse, with only 14 percent of African-American students proficient in reading and only 11 percent proficient in math.
· While the graduation rate stood at 72 percent, only 6 percent of African-American students scored college-ready in all four tested subjects on the ACT.
· Only 2.7 percent of African-American students graduated having passed at least one AP test during their time in high school. That was the third-worst rate in the nation.
There are over 151,000 African-American students in the state’s K-12 schools—16.5 percent of the overall student population. Our state will never reach its potential if that many students are failed by our education system.
So what can we do?
First, we have to break down the barriers between African-American students and quality schools. Right now, tens of thousands of students are trapped in low-quality schools because of where they live. Several of the small, almost entirely African-American districts of St. Louis County have only one high school. If students are not being served there, they have nowhere else to go. Elsewhere in the state, the geographic assignment of schooling often requires African-American students to attend schools that do not meet their needs. By allowing students to enroll across district lines—or even better, by allowing independent charter schools to open and draw students from across district boundaries—the link between where a child lives and where he or she goes to school can be severed.
Second, we have to engage the whole community in creating quality educational environments for African-American students. Statistics like those above remind us that this is an all-hands-on-deck crisis. Granting funding flexibility for students to attend the school that best serves them, regardless of whether it is a public or private school, would encourage churches, nonprofits, and other social organizations to get involved in schooling and reach out to children in need.
Third, we have to push for higher, not lower, expectations for African-American students. In the No Child Left Behind era, schools have been judged based on how well they meet basic targets of proficiency or how well they do at getting students to graduate from high school. Clearly, these are important stepping stones on the way to a well-rounded education, but they are far from sufficient. Passing AP tests, scoring well on college entrance exams and thus not needing remediation, and other more advanced indicators need to be part of the suite of metrics we use to judge student, school, and district success.
The Missouri Constitution calls for the state to fund and support a system of schools because knowledge and intelligence are “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” An education system that fails to educate a large swath of our students is a threat to our rights and liberties, and fixing it should be a priority of our leaders.