The modern system of education in the USA aims at meeting the needs of every student and offers a high quality of knowledge. However, these options are available not to every learner included in the public school system. Many students belonging to minority groups do not relish the opportunity to obtain equal treatment to those belonging to majority groups. One of such underserved learner populations is one of African American students. These young people suffer from racial disparities of various kinds, including discipline, achievement, and college readiness. Moreover, the concept of school segregation adds to the negativity of the situation. The present paper aims at disclosing the currently prevailing racial disparities within the public school system. Apart from discussing the disparities and equalities governing school education, the paper covers other significant dimensions of the issue. Particularly, there is an analysis of the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining teachers. Also, there is a series of recommendations for colleges and universities that are likely to enhance the process of educating future teachers. Overall, the paper offers a multidimensional analysis of the racial disparities problems in U.S. schools.
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Current Racial Disparities within Public School Districts
Access to equal opportunities for school students is the principal factor affecting their future careers and lives. Unfortunately, the present situation regarding this matter is not satisfactory in the USA. Disparities within public school education mainly focus on students’ race. According to nationwide statistics, the likelihood of White learners being in an advanced placement class is 1.8 times higher for White students than for Black ones (Groeger, Waldman, & Eads, 2018). At the same time, the probability of African American students being suspended is between 2.5 and 11.7 times higher than that of White students (Groeger et al., 2018). Racial disparities within public school districts prevail in various dimensions, including discipline, academic achievement, college readiness, and resource allocation.
The problem of disparities in discipline is rather acute in U.S. public schools. Morris and Perry (2016) emphasize the effect of disciplinary inequalities on students’ academic achievement. Scholars note that racial disparities in adulthood, including health, employment, and incarceration, have a rather close connection to inequalities in academic achievement, which arise from unfairly distributed disciplinary measures. According to researchers, one of the core difficulties of the US system of education in this respect is that such disparities do not gain sufficient acknowledgment. Carter, Skiba, Arredondo, and Pollock (2016) argue that despite numerous attempts to counteract bias and stereotypes at schools, activists have not been much successful. A specifically negative factor that prevails in modern education is the Black male stereotype (Carter et al., 2016). Due to continuous processes of color-blindness, micro-aggression, and implicit bias, African American students all over the country suffer from unfair treatment and more severe disciplinary measures than White students. Therefore, the first step in eliminating racial inequalities in discipline is recognizing their existence.
Statistics on discipline segregation available from a nationwide report are alarming. Even in the states with the smallest difference between Black and White students’ likelihood of suspension, the level of inequality is distressing. In Florida and Maine, the probability of suspension among African American students versus White ones is 2.4 times higher (Groeger et al., 2018). Unfortunately, these are only the lowest statistics, hence the best. Meanwhile, the highest degree of disparity prevails in the District of Columbia with the distressing 11.7x likelihood divergence (Groeger et al., 2018). In many states, the difference varies between three and six times as much for Black students as opposed to White ones (Groeger et al., 2018). Since researchers have found evidence connecting the rate of suspension to the level of academic achievement, it is crucial to pay more attention to this problem.
Scholars working on the investigation of disparities in school discipline note that a variety of negative consequences may arise as a result of such a gap. Skiba, Arredondo, and Rausch (2014) report that persistent racial disparities in suspensions lead to a low rate of graduating and increase the likelihood of entering the school-prison pipeline by Black youths. Furthermore, researchers remark that a longitudinal study of African American learners in Florida indicated that 39% of them underwent suspension in comparison to the 22% rate among White students (Skiba et al., 2014). The situation becomes further aggravated by gender disparities within the racial groups. Notably, the most vulnerable group of all is that consisting of Black male students. These individuals are at the highest risk of being excluded or arrested.
Researchers conclude that racial inequality in the discipline has not emerged recently but has been evolving for many centuries due to a variety of historical events and processes. Carter et al. (2016) mention that the damage caused by slavery, forced migration, and other factors that promoted the unfair treatment of Black people created social and economic disadvantages for this population group. Racial disparities are hard to resist because of the unwillingness of many Americans to admit their existence. Hence, to eliminate the prevalence of discipline inequalities, society in general and the system of education, in particular, should, first of all, engage in a conversation about the problem. Upon doing this, it will become possible to look for solutions to the challenge in question.
The second significant aspect under the influence of racial disparities in education is students’ academic achievement. Researchers report that racial segregation and student achievement are closely linked (Reardon, 2016). African American students, as well as other minority group representatives, frequently become isolated in schools where socioeconomic and racial segregation prevails (Flashman, 2014). Over 80% of Black students attend majority-minority schools, with more than 60% of their classmates living in low-income families (Flashman, 2014). Scholars associate such segregation patterns with the increasing achievement gap.
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According to statistical data, the rate of academic opportunity is much higher among White students than among Non-White ones. Particularly, White learners are 1.8 times as likely as African Americans to be in the advanced placement class (Groeger et al., 2018). Furthermore, as Grissom and Redding (2016) note, high-achieving Black students are underrepresented in gifted programs. As the U.S. Department of Education reports, in 2009, Black students constituted 16.7% of the general student population, but only 9.8% of Blacks were participants of gifted programs (Grissom & Redding, 2016). Such a disparity attracted the attention of researchers since they indicated both the unfair treatment of minority groups and a reduced possibility of high academic achievement.
The underrepresentation of African American students in gifted programs relates to generally lower achievement among this learner group. However, the unfair distribution of students in such programs occurs as a result of other negative issues. For instance, Black students’ families are less likely than white ones to obtain information about processes of identification for gifted programs (Grissom & Redding, 2016). What is more, African American families rarely can afford a visit to a private psychologist or some other specialist who could assess their child’s abilities. Data available on elementary school students indicates that only 83% of Black children attend schools with gifted programs in contrast to 93% of Hispanics, 91% of Asians, and 90% of Whites (Grissom & Redding, 2016). At the school level, African American learners are more likely to remain unnoticed as compared to White students.
One of the core determinants in the process of selecting children for participation in gifted programs is teachers. Educators are the ones who make referrals, thus playing “a gatekeeping role” in the process of allocating students to gifted programs (Grissom & Redding, 2016, p. 1). Seeing such discrimination, Black students frequently tend to lose interest in gaining better results since they realize that their efforts will remain unnoticed.
Another viable reason why African American students’ achievement is lower than that of White learners is the circle of friends and acquaintances that includes the child. As Flashman (2014) notes, young people whose friends have higher grades tend to improve their results. Meanwhile, Black students most often communicate with individuals from their racial group, which eliminates their opportunity to increase their academic achievement. Therefore, scholars argue that to enhance the likelihood of Black students gaining better academic outcomes, schools need to put an end to segregation and bias. If every child receives equal chances for developing their skills and participating in gifted programs, the nationwide results will be more optimistic.
Academic achievement is the factor that predicts students’ ability to enter a college upon graduating from school. As Bryant (2015) remarks, the attainment of a college degree is a fundamental solution to eliminate poverty and cover the wealth gap between Whites and Blacks living in the USA. In modern society, the acquisition of postsecondary education has become a prerequisite for success in the job market. Researchers predict that by 2020, nearly 66% of jobs will demand a college degree, 30% of them calling for at least a bachelor’s degree (Bryant, 2015). Thus, it is evident that under these circumstances, more and more young people should complete a college degree to be able to find a well-paid job. Still, the majority of Black students leave high school without a proper level of preparation to enter college.
The insufficient readiness to obtain a college education by African American students is one of the burdens of the modern educational system. What is more, due to a demographic shift, the major part of US students are Non-Whites (Bryant, 2015). Therefore, the failure of these individuals to complete their school education successfully may have crucial negative outcomes for the country’s economy and labor market. Society prefers to focus on Black students’ low achievement, family issues, and communities. Furthermore, it is common practice to attribute this population group’s poor performance to cultural and environmental divergences (Bryant, 2015). However, there is a far more important factor which, unfortunately, does not receive substantial attention. This issue involves the deficiencies of school systems, especially the ones with minority populations’ prevalence (Bryant, 2015). Thus, it is necessary to analyze these flaws to find out how the US system of education might focus on them.
Scholars identify three principal educational problems that play an essential role in student’s readiness to enter a college. These difficulties are access to preparatory courses, school counselors, and experienced educators (Bryant, 2015). The first aspect concerns the need for rigorous courses where students could improve their content knowledge and enrich their higher-order thinking skills. As a result, participation in such courses can enhance students’ college readiness. However, as Bryant (2015) notices, minority students do not have sufficient access to such an opportunity. The second aspect relates to the role of school counselors, who constitute an important advantage for those seeking a college education. School counselors serve as learners’ advocates and encourage students to pursue their cherished academic dreams. However, as Bryant (2015) reports, school counselors frequently discourage Black students from pursuing a college degree by demonstrating no interest or belief in their knowledge and skills. Lastly, experienced teachers can promote students’ knowledge and college readiness. However, African American students rarely have access to schools with teachers who are interested in inculcating knowledge and establishing positive relationships with students.
Apart from the three main factors affecting students’ college readiness, there is one more aspect that deserves consideration concerning the present discussion. The problem with Black students’ readiness to enter a college is that many of them are first-generation college students (Black, Cortes, & Lincove, 2015; Bryant, 2015). This fact, along with racial inequality, poverty, and belonging to a minority group, plays a detrimental role in establishing learners’ college preparation. Therefore, to increase the readiness level of African American students who desire to enter a college, it is necessary to alter the system of education. Specifically, it is crucial to eliminate this population group’s access to schools with experienced teachers and increase their possibilities to cooperate with counselors.
Discipline, academic achievement, and college readiness are three of the four racial disparities issue prevailing in the current educational system. The last one on the list is school segregation, which relates to resource allocation. In the past, scholars used to consider school segregation and resource allocation intertwined (Gamoran & An, 2016). Particularly, there existed an opinion that schools attended by African American students did not receive adequate resources. However, further research indicated that the connection between the two factors was not self-evident. Still, the problem of Black students attending segregated schools prevailed.
The politics of school segregation presupposes that students belonging to minority ethnic groups attend particular types of school that typically do not attract socially and economically advantaged populations. According to Munk, McMillan, and Lewis (2014), it is typical to consider low-income and minority learners as those with poor learning outcomes. Researchers distinguish between several problems related to the issue of school segregation. Firstly, schools with the prevailing number of Black students have to deal with a larger number of needs, such as emotional, educational, medical, and physical (Munk et al., 2014). Secondly, such schools often do not have sufficient non-commercial resources. Next, there is also difficulty hiring and retaining qualified teachers. Another issue is that there may exist a disagreement between the dominant school culture and those of minority students (Munk et al., 2014). Furthermore, segregated schools may suffer from low student and teacher engagement levels.
Since segregation has a direct effect on students’ achievement, it is vital to analyze the types of this negative phenomenon and the reasons for their emergence. Reardon (2016) offers an elaborate classification of school segregation types, including school and residential segregation, between-school and between-district types, and students’ exposure to Black and poor neighbors or classmates. Also, the difference between White and Black learners’ exposure to poor and African American classmates and neighbors constitutes an important dimension of segregation.
There are two main ways of measuring segregation: exposure and unevenness. Exposure, or isolation, measures indicate the average socioeconomic or racial structure of schools or neighborhoods of the students (Reardon, 2016). For instance, the median rate of Black students in an African American child’s school or neighborhood represents the measure of racial isolation. Meanwhile, the unevenness measure explains the disparity in the median socioeconomic or racial school arrangement between students with different racial backgrounds (Reardon, 2016). Therefore, while exposure measures characterize the context of students of some race, unevenness measures express the varieties in average circumstances between the two racial groups. Simply put, unevenness measures are the varieties of exposure measures.
Segregation is partially responsible for the achievement gap existing between White and Black students. According to Gamoran and An (2016), the No Child Left Behind project, which was initiated to set guidelines for performance, revealed dramatic statistics regarding many schools. Specifically, a growing number of schools could not meet the standard. One of the principal reasons for such a failure was that schools with a high degree of minority students demonstrated low scores. Therefore, it is evident that segregation produces a negative effect on Black students’ achievement. To eliminate the prevalence of such outcomes, it is necessary to reduce the level of school segregation in the US.
Challenges with Recruiting and Retaining Teachers
One of the most problematic issues associated with racial disparities in schools is that of hiring experienced and highly effective teachers for work in segregated schools and making them remain at their workplaces. According to Partee (2014a), there is a lower possibility for Black students to have an effective teacher than for White learners. Schools with the majority of African American students usually employ inexperienced educators. As a result, it is not possible to expect high achievement from Black students.
However, a much deeper problem lies not in teacher’s experience but their race. Statistical data indicate that by 2020, Black children will compose about half of all the K-12 students (Jackson & Kohli, 2016). Meanwhile, the percentage of Black teachers is highly incomparable to this number. As Bryan and Ford (2014) report, there are only 6% of Black female teachers and 1% of Black male educators. Compared to White teachers, these numbers are rather low since there are about 75% of White female and 10% of White male educators (Bryan & Ford, 2014). There are several major implications of the underrepresentation of Black teachers in US schools.
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First of all, Black students, especially boys, lack role models from whom they could learn and whose positive characteristics they could imitate. Currently, the lowest achievement among American students belongs to African American males (Bryan & Ford, 2014). A probable explanation of such a tendency is that schools do not meet learners’ needs by not hiring Black teachers. Hence, Black teachers could serve as role models for children, which would increase the performance of minority students. Another positive aspect of recruiting teachers of color is that they reduce the shortage of teachers in minority schools (Jackson & Kohli, 2016). Finally, these educators have a deep understanding of African American cultural values, so they are well-suited for the job. Unfortunately, however, the level of representation of Black teachers does not correspond to the need in them. Almost all of the states have a considerable teacher diversity gap (Partee, 2014b). Therefore, recruiting and retaining such specialists has become a burden of the modern educational system.
The recruitment procedure for teachers is complicated due to several reasons. Firstly, there is a pay gap between White and Black teachers’ earnings. Secondly, these educators constantly experience bias and distrust from their Non-Black colleagues. Thirdly, there is a high responsibility and low resource allocation in public schools (Bland, Church, & Luo, 2014). The most dramatic outcome of a low number of Black teachers lies in the emergence of racial disparities among high school students, including academic achievement and discipline. Ingersoll and May (2016) consider the shortage of minority teachers “a major civil rights issue” (p. 1). Goings and Bianco (2016) further develop this thought by stating that the prospects of African American students to become teachers are rather low due to the lack of positive examples. Statistics indicate that over 40% of U.S. schools do not employ a single Black teacher (Jackson & Kohli, 2016). To improve the situation, researchers recommend enhancing the hiring process, bolstering teachers’ preparation, and improving educators’ working conditions (Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Still, teacher shortages prevail in the US system of education.
Currently, the demand for teachers is higher than the supply. There are several possible explanations of this fact, the first one being the increasing student enrollment (Berry & Shields, 2017). The second reason is that many schools are struggling to restore the positions of teachers that underwent severe cuts during the Great Recession. Thirdly, the number of people entering the profession is constantly dropping. According to statistical data, there has been a 35% drop in teacher preparation program enrollment between 2009 and 2014 (Berry & Shields, 2017). Finally, the US loses about 8% of its educators yearly, with the attrition level being nearly two times higher than in top-performing countries, such as Singapore or Finland.
There are several steps that authorities should take to improve teacher retention. Scholars consider initiating paid teacher residency projects as a viable approach to promoting the supply of professionals (Barth, Dillon, Hull, & Higgins, 2016). Also, a suggestion to return a part of student loans may sound like a productive idea. What is more, creating effective peer teams of minority teachers is a promising trend (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). Therefore, it is possible to conclude that while recruiting teachers involves numerous difficulties, retaining them might gain a considerably improved rate under certain circumstances.
Issues with Teachers’ Cultural Competence
There is another problem that aggravates the issue of racial disparities in schools. The insufficient cultural competence of teachers is what makes students of color lag behind their peers and not feel any satisfaction with their achievements. The growing number of multiple identities, including ethnicity, has made it difficult for school teachers to meet the needs of different students (Alismail, 2016). As Goldenberg (2014) notes, the common phrase “closing the achievement gap” involves much more than educational issues (p. 112). Thus, the scholar argues, it is crucial to “reframe” achievement “in terms of opportunity” (Goldenberg, 2014, p. 112). The problem of low cultural competence of many teachers relates to school segregation and an inadequate number of Black teachers in schools.
Hardly anyone doubts the idea that students’ achievement depends on the role of the teacher. However, it is also highly relevant to take into account cultural differences between the majority culture and the minority one. Teachers that are involved in their students’ experiences are more likely to build a positive perception of learners’ academic potential (Dilworth & Coleman, 2014). Researchers note that the underrepresentation of teachers of color makes things more complicated since these professionals have a more favorable opinion of African American students. As a result, the lack of such educators leads to the impossibility to gain the best outcomes of the educational process. According to Dilworth and Coleman (2014), Black teachers have a higher degree of social consciousness and are more committed to educating African American students. What is more, research indicates that teaching same-race students bring a more positive effect than when a teacher and students are of different races (Dilworth & Coleman, 2014). Taking this evidence into consideration, one may conclude that currently, students of color have no or poor opportunity to become involved in the process of learning to the full extent.
Teachers’ cultural competence plays an important role in the process of education. As Vázquez-Montilla, Just, and Triscari (2014) remark, educators’ beliefs about learners’ cultural backgrounds influence all of the learning aspects. Therefore, with the number of culturally diverse students constantly increasing, it is necessary to boost teachers’ conscious approach to the question of students’ culture. African American students constitute a minority group, but this group is continuously expanding in number. At present, the level of achievement of minority students is lower than that of majority learners (Hachfeld, Hahn, Schroeder, Anders, & Kunter, 2015). Such a situation prevails not only in the USA but also in many other countries (Hachfeld et al., 2015). Research shows that despite being dedicated to their work, most teachers cannot cope with supporting minority students to an adequate extent. As a result, scholars deduce that the preparation of teachers to work in culturally diverse classrooms requires more attention (Hachfeld et al., 2015). Since learners spend much time at school interacting with their educators, it is obvious that the latter has a great effect on the former in terms of how and what they learn.
One of the suggested approaches to enhancing cultural diversity is colorblindness. Some researchers believe that the best way of meeting diversity problems is treating all students in the same way, without paying attention to their racial dissimilarities (Hachfeld et al., 2015). However, it is hardly possible to view this method as a successful one. Most frequently, when colorblind teachers claim to treat every student equally, they choose to treat them by the cultural values of White learners. Research demonstrates that White educators are prone to agreeing with colorblind beliefs (Hachfeld et al., 2015). On the contrary, teachers of color tend to choose multicultural approaches. Hachfeld et al. (2015) report that multicultural-oriented educators demonstrate more pedagogically effective problem-solving tactics and choose less harsh disciplinary measures for their students. Therefore, the colorblindness approach seems not to be effective since it can lead to negative outcomes for learners.
A viable approach to mitigating the problem of cultural diversity is increasing the number of Black teachers in schools. As Jackson and Kohli (2016) note, teachers of color are well-suited for African American students since they have a deep understanding of “the cultural experiences of these learners” (p. 1). Teachers of color have the potential to challenge racial inequality through a deep understanding of Black students’ culture. As a result of including more Black teachers in the system of education, it will be possible to cope both with cultural and achievement gaps in the U.S. schools. The prevailing situation urges substantial change in the system of educators’ cultural competence formation and expression.
Recommendations for Colleges and Universities with Teacher Preparation Programs
Education of future teachers and the formulation of their professional views start in colleges and universities, so it is viable to suggest several changes that the teacher preparation programs should consider. First of all, based on numerous arguments from the research literature, it is necessary to increase opportunities for Black students, especially males, to become teachers. That way, such educators could serve as role models for African American school learners. Sealey-Ruiz and Greene (2015) call this situation “educational genocide” and emphasize the importance of eliminating it (p. 55). Hence, the programs should be race-friendly and must not allow cases of scapegoating of Black students (Jackson & Kohli, 2016). The second recommendation is to change the strategy of colorblindness to multiculturalism in the teacher preparation programs (Sleeter, 2016). Current programs focus on White teacher preparation, which leads to the emergence of cultural diversity problems as early as at the level of obtaining an education. Hence, when one starts working as a teacher, he or she is already disposed toward the unequal treatment of different student groups.
Since African American students suffer most of all, it is necessary to increase the opportunities for Black teachers to implement their knowledge and cultural experience in schools. Thus, the recommendation to improve the possibilities of future teachers of color emerges out of the principles of the critical race theory (Milner & Laughter, 2014; Sleeter, 2016). Milner and Laughter (2014) suggest three policies that are likely to alleviate racial disparities in schools. The first policy involves reforming teacher education programs to focus on a deeper study of race. The second policy recommends the inclusion of a more profound analysis of poverty. Finally, the third policy outlined by Milner and Laughter (2014) presupposes the addition of investigating the connection between race and poverty to teacher preparation programs. With the implementation of these changes, future teachers are more likely to realize racial disparities between students and mitigate the risks in their practice.
Another viable approach to improving teachers’ professional readiness is focusing on identity-based motivation. As Oyserman and Lewis (2017) argue, this strategy has the potential to reduce racial disparities in academic achievement. Hence, it is necessary to educate future teachers about the necessity of such a method. Identity-based motivation will make it possible to eliminate stigmatization and increase ambition among Black students. Hence, Oyserman and Lewis’s (2017) suggestion offers benefits for minority students that will emerge in case teachers are aware of them and employ them in their work. Gregory et al. (2016) also consider that it is possible to alleviate some of the most significant racial disparities by altering teachers’ practice. Based on a two-year teacher-coaching program, scholars conclude that teachers can reduce the racial discipline gap if they change their practices (Gregory et al., 2016). Therefore, the next recommendation for colleges and universities is to include such teacher-coaching programs in the curriculum.
Adding diversity to teacher preparation programs is another solution that may improve the situation. King and Butler (2015) note that the cultural competence dimension does not hold the necessary level of attention in current teacher preparation programs. Meanwhile, instructing future teachers on cultural diversity can eliminate a series of adverse outcomes in the future. Haddix (2017) also asserts that the lack of teachers of color relates to the low degree of diversity-investigatory measures taken during the process of preparing teachers. Therefore, multicultural pedagogy should occupy one of the prominent places in teacher preparation programs.
One more recommendation concerns reforming educator preparation programs in colleges and universities. Banks (2015) notes that it is crucial to add more cultural experiences to the curriculum so that future teachers could be multicultural. By doing this, higher educational establishments will promote equal opportunities for all school children under the guidance of unbiased teachers. Additionally, the education community should “take collective ownership” of the recruitment, preparation, and support of new teachers (Banks, 2015, p. 60). Finally, colleges and universities should alter their teacher preparation programs so that they would match the needs of young educators. As Dilworth and Coleman (2014) remark, currently, many programs do not offer a sufficient degree of mentorship, which is one of the core elements of teacher retention. Thus, there are many ways in which colleges and universities could change their teacher preparation programs so that they would match both teachers’ and students’ needs. It is essential to introduce change to the educational system to alleviate racial disparities in US schools.
The problem of racial disparities prevailing in US schools is rather acute. Each of the dimensions of this challenge is interconnected with others. Hence, the academic achievement of African American students is low due to unfair disciplinary action taken against these learners. School segregation also adds to inequalities and results in poor performance. As a consequence of these factors, Black students are much less likely than White learners to enter colleges due to their insufficient readiness. Research indicates that it is possible to alleviate the degree of the problem if schools hire more teachers of color. However, there arises a new challenge since due to low academic achievement, few Black students can enter higher educational establishments and become teachers.
Therefore, it is crucial to change the system of education in such a way that would entitle more opportunities for African American students. Specifically, it is necessary to increase cultural diversity, eliminate bias, and provide all learners irrespective of their race or gender with equal possibilities to obtain secondary and higher education. That way, the country will increase its potential in many spheres by allowing more young people to make their contributions to its development.
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