School & District Management

Graduation Rates Rise; Gap Between Black and White Males Grows, Report Says

By Denisa R. Superville — February 11, 2015 9 min read
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While the nation’s graduation rate, including that of black and Latino males, has continued to grow, the gap between black males and their white peers has widened, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

The report, “Black Lives Matter: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” is the fifth such study the foundation has released on the state of black males in public education.

Since the last report in 2012, the gap between the four-year graduation rate for black males and white males widened from 19 points in the 2009-10 school year to 21 points in the 2012-13 year. For Latinos, the gap shrunk to 15 points from 20 during that same period, according to the report.

The national graduation rate for black males was 59 percent, 65 percent for Latinos, and 80 percent for white males for the 2012-13 school year, according to the report. Particularly striking was Detroit where only 20 percent of black males graduated on time in the 2011-12.

John H. Jackson, the foundation’s president and CEO, said that the data indicate that federal, state, and district policies need to be examined to address the disparities in ways that will make a difference in the lives of black and Latino males.

“This report is about making a declarative statement that [Black lives] matter not only after they die, but they matter also when they are living,” said Jackson in a conference call. “And since they matter, there are some things that the federal government, states and districts must...put in place— policies and practices—so that we can clearly make sure they have an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to succeed. And while we say black lives matter, we believe that all lives matter. The two statements are not mutually exclusive. But it is important to highlight particularly the black male population in this instance because, as our data indicate, in 35 of the 48 states as it relates to four-year graduation rates, black males are at the bottom.”

The report takes a state-level view of the graduation rates and the gaps for all three groups, and a district-level view of the graduation rate for blacks and whites in the top 50 school districts where the black male enrollment exceeded 10,000.

The highest four-year graduation rates for Latino males were found in Alaska, Maine, West Virginia, New Jersey and Missouri. The states with the lowest Latino graduation rates included Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Washington state, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Utah, Connecticut, and Nevada.

Huge gaps of more than 25 percent between the graduation rates for Latino and white males were in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin.

The states with the highest black male graduation rates were Maine, Idaho, Arizona, South Dakota and New Jersey, all with rates of more than 70 percent. In Maine it was 90 percent.

But with the exception of New Jersey, those states had very low enrollment of black males. New Jersey and Tennessee were the only two states with large black student populations where the graduation rates for black males were more than 70 percent. In New Jersey, the black male graduation rate in the 2012-13 school year was 76 percent, Latino 77 percent and white 92 percent. So while the graduation rate was high for blacks and Latino males in New Jersey, the gap between them and their white peers was 16 and 15 percentage points respectively. In Tennessee, the rates were 70 percent for black males, 74 percent for Latinos and 81 for white males.

The states with the lowest graduation rates for African-American males were Nevada, Nebraska, Mississippi, Indiana, and South Carolina, where rates for black males were 51 percent or less. Jackson said the low graduation rates in southern states were a cause of concern because the majority of black students were enrolled in southern schools.

Connecticut, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Nebraska all had gaps of more than 25 percentage points between black and white male students.

Among the districts with black male student enrollment of at least 10,000, Detroit ranked the lowest, at number 50, in graduating its black male students. Twenty percent of its black males graduated in the 2011-12 school year. That number was even lower, 7 percent, for white male students.

In addition to Detroit, the bottom six included, New York City, whose rate was 28 percent; Chatham County, Ga., whose rate was 27 percent; Richmond County, Ga., at 27 percent; Philadelphia, at 24 percent; and Clark County, Nev., at 22 percent.

Johnson said that New York City’s numbers were particularly notable since the city educates the largest number of black students in the country.

Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the city’s department of education, provided alternative numbers, which showed an upward trajectory in the graduation rates for black and Latino students. In 2014, the city’s schools had a 53 percent four-year graduation rate for its black males, up from 49 percent in 2012. Similarly, the white male graduation rate rose from 70.3 percent in 2013 to 73 percent in 2014. For Latino males, those numbers were 48.6 in 2012 and 52.2 in 2014.

The city for years has had major initiatives targeted at black and Latino students, among them the Expanded Success Initiative, which includes a focus on 40 schools with high black and Latino student populations. The mayor and chancellor also recently announced an expansion of the city’s Young Men’s Initiative—which started under Mayor Bloomberg and predates President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program—to hire more teachers of color and increase mentoring supports for young males of color.

(Jackson noted that the graduation rates for the Schott Foundation and some states and districts differed because some jurisdictions gave out multiple certificates, including a local diploma by the school district. In those cases, the foundation only factored in students who earned certificates that would allow them to enroll in the state’s own university system. In New York State, for example, that would be the Regents Diploma.)

The report also lamented the difficulty in finding graduation data in some states. Jackson said that in some states it was easier to find incarceration data than graduation data.

It also looked at school climate issues that may affect graduation rates, including out-of-school suspensions rates, which have come under intense scrutiny in the last few years.

Fifteen percent of black male students received out-of-school suspensions, while the same was true for 7 percent of their Latino peers and 5 percent of white counterparts. The highest out-of-school suspension rates for black and white males were in Florida. The highest for Latino students was in Rhode Island. The lowest for Latino males was in New York state, with 3 percent.

Pedro A. Noguera, a professor of education and the executive director of the Metropolitan Center at New York University, said the data suggest the need for a deeper look beyond graduation rates and to other “opportunity to learn” factors, including out-of-school suspensions and special education placements.

“These increasingly become very important for understanding whether or not all children have the opportunity to learn and whether or not our schools are capable of meeting the needs of all kinds of students,” he said. “This report, I think, serves as a barometer for where our country is at the current moment, and whether or not we are in fact making progress.”

The report also hits on notes highlighted in other recent studies, such as the percentage of black and Latino males who are completing college. Their completion rates—16 and 12 percent, respectively—lag that of their white counterparts, 32 percent of whom hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

It also looked at the 8th grade proficiency levels in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The gap in proficiency levels underscored the need for better quality for all students— blacks, Latinos and whites, according to the report.

A standout district appeared to be Montgomery County, in Maryland, just outside Washington. Among the districts covered in the report, Montgomery County had the highest black graduation rate, which was 74 percent for the 2011-12 cohort. (It was followed by Cumberland County, N.C.; Baltimore County, Md., and Guilford County, N.C). Montgomery County also had the highest percentage of black males enrolled in at least one AP course, 6 percent,—though that percentage still lagged that of white males, 16 percent of whom enrolled in at least one AP course.

Noguera said that it was important to go beyond the data to see what was working and what was not.

“It’s particularly important that we not simply look at the data,” Noguera said, “but then ask the next question, why is it that certain places like Montgomery County have made such progress and other places are lagging so far behind?”

The report also made some suggestions for reducing the disparities, including:

  • Meeting student-centered learning needs: Focusing on the individual needs of each student, instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach. The Schott Foundation uses the example of creating “personal opportunity plans” that would include academic, social and health supports for every student who is lagging one grade level or more.

  • Improving data reporting and collection: The foundation is asking for better data from districts and states that are disaggregated by race and gender. It also wants consistent and comparable data across states.

  • Improving school climate, including, for example, instituting a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions and utilizing restorative justice practices.

  • Philanthropic and community investments: The organization supports harnessing the resources of philanthropic groups and the private sector as well as the power of community to expand high-quality education. It suggests the expansion of efforts like those by JP Morgan Chase & Company, which provides mentors and learning opportunities to low-income high school graduates through the Fellowship Initiative; the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, which promotes high-quality early education, highly-prepared effective teachers, and meaningful engagement with parents; and the Campaign for Black Achievement. (J.P. Morgan Chase is one of the funders for the report.)

Jackson said he hopes the report will prompt action.

“I hope number one, that the districts and states will begin to annually report the data, because I think that’s the start of it—you measure what matters,” Jackson said. “Annually, parents, students, policymakers and others should know how different groups of students are performing in the public education system. Secondly, once we are aware of what’s happening or what’s not happening, they would identify the supports that are necessary for each child to have an opportunity to learn. What are those academic, social-emotional, health supports...that create the type of healthy living and learning ecosystems where all students can learn? And then we need to be serious about aligning the resources to deliver those supports.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.