Addressing Racial Disparities in K - 12 Education
by Whitney Gaskins and Delano White
According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) statistics, Black students are less likely to be college-ready. They cite that 61 percent of ACT-tested black students in the 2015 high school graduating class met none of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks, nearly twice the 31 percent rate for all students. There isn’t just one reason for these outcomes. It is noted that in urban communities, students are primarily taught by novice teachers lacking subject matter expertise and under-resourced teachers. This disparity in K-12 leads to inequities in many other areas, including: job readiness, income equality and healthcare. There are four key recommendations to addressing the racial disparities in K-12 education, which include but are not limited to: Increasing the number of qualified Black male teachers, addressing implicit biases within school systems, shrinking the digital divide and supporting informal education opportunities.
Shortage of Black male teachers
The shortage of Black male representation in the classroom has been identified as an issue with student performance. Many Black students have gone through their entire K-12 journey without having a Black male instructor. When there was Black male representation in the classroom, it was during the physical education period, rarely if ever was there Black male teaching Math, Science or ELA. Representation in classrooms has been identified as a key determinant in increasing student efficacy and students. The impact of seeing yourself in your teacher affects student work ethic, behavior and overall outlook on education. Structural programs designed to increase the number of Black males entering K-12 education can have an impact on increasing the success of the students.
Many students in public school systems have attested to being instructed by teachers and counselors (both Black and White) to steer away from STEM and other “difficult” fields towards less challenging fields. One student said, “When the counselors don’t believe you can do it, it’s difficult to believe in yourself.” Formalized implicit bias training for K-12 staff is critical in helping them become an advocate for student success. It has been noted that teachers start looking at Black children as Black adults around 3rd grade. In addition to disparities related to academic guidance, it has been well documented that Black students are disciplined at higher rates with harsher punishments. This implicit bias towards Black students impacts their ability to succeed in educational settings.
The Digital Divide
Addressing the digital divide is important now more than ever due to Covid-19. An excerpt from our article written in the Cincinnati Herald is below.
Over twenty years ago, the Digital Divide was identified as a barrier to student performance. The Digital Divide is formally defined as the gap between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. Generally speaking, that divide follows the socioeconomic divide within our country. Even more differentiating, is the gap that exists when stratifying the data by race, Blacks who tend to be in the lower SES strand than others.
There are some fundamental things that can be done to shrink the divide.
- Every student needs to have a laptop in their hands and access to the internet.
- There need to be safe spaces in the community where the education can continue outside of school hours.
- From a content side, we need to shrink the size of some of the content.
If students are doing everything on their smartphones, some of the content should be easily available on those smartphones. If they can Tik-Tok on a phone, they should also be able to use their smartphone to educate themselves.
Out-of-school programming has also been identified as a key component of student achievement. The continuation of learning through structured afterschool programs and at home with parents, is critical for student advancement. For many Black students, once school ends, so too does their learning. This means that, although the number of hours spent inside of a classroom is the same, the amount of learning is not equal. Additional support is needed for informal education programming for school districts where Black students come home to empty households. This means increasing support for formalized afterschool and weekend programming. Virtual learning that can be done at home is also critical to bridging the learning gap.
The systematic disparities in K-12 education have existed since the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1954. Much energy has been spent in identifying the root causes of the disparities. Many of the causes have been documented, unfortunately our systems have been inadequate in creating effective interventions to eliminate the disparities. As we begin to refocus our energies on the gaps, we must create interventions to support K-12 students. Eliminating the gap also leads to reducing the disparities in other areas that negatively impact Black communities.
Whitney Gaskins is assistant dean in the Office of Inclusive Excellence & Community Engagement at University of Cincinnati and assistant professor in the department of Engineering. She is founder of The Gaskins Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non -profit art and education organization that provides extraordinary opportunities for under-recognized and under-represented youth. The Gaskins Foundation gives our youth resources at many stages of their academic careers as well as their creative lives. https://www.facebook.com/thegaskinsfoundation https://www.twitter.com/ceas_iece
Delano White is a 9-12 Math Instructor and Freshman Co-op Calculus Instructor at Cincinnati STEMulates/UC E3 Program. He is an entrepreneur, author, educator, mentor and community activist. https://www.facebook.com/STEMulates/