Public Schools Are Failing African-American Students

What do parents think of the country’s public schools? Americans give higher grades to the post office than they do to public schools. Reason’s Lisa Snell’s new column:

An August 2008 poll conducted by Education Next and Harvard University finds that Americans think less of their schools than of their police departments and post offices. When asked to grade the post office, 70 percent of respondents gave an “A” or “B.” In contrast, only 20 percent of Americans said public schools deserve an “A” or a “B.” Twenty-six percent of the country actually gave their public schools a grade of “D” or “F.” And African-Americans are even more down on public schools, 31 percent gave public schools a “D” or an “F.” …California is failing its black children. California’s 2008 standardized test scores, just released, show that 46 percent of students statewide scored proficient in English-language-arts and 43 percent scored proficient in math. Unfortunately, only 33 percent of African-Americans score proficient in English and only 28 percent score proficient in math. This problem is even more severe in urban areas like Los Angeles where only 29 percent of blacks scored proficient in English and 25 percent scored proficient in math. As State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released the 2008 statewide test scores on August 14, he said, “I am acutely concerned about our African-American students. African-American students as a whole scored in English-language arts just one point above Latino students, a subgroup that includes a significant number of English learners. This, coupled with an alarming dropout rate among African-Americans, indicates a crisis in the education of black children.” Yet there is one segment of public education where African-American children are not in crisis. They are succeeding in public charter schools. Watts Learning Center, a Los Angeles charter school made up entirely (100 percent) of economically-disadvantaged African-American students, beats statewide test score averages for all California students – for every grade. Watt’s Learning Center’s fifth-graders scored 52 percent proficient in science. The statewide average for all students was 46 percent. The school’s fifth graders also scored 62 percent proficient in English, 14 points better than the state average of 48 percent. Watts scored 72 percent proficient in math, while the state average for all students was 21 percent lower, 51 percent. Many other Los Angeles charter schools replicate Watts Learning Center’s results with low-income African-American students at the middle school and high school levels.

Reason Foundation’s Education Research