For Blacks, State's High School Graduation Rates Still Far Behind Whites'
But In Connecticut, Rates For African Americans Outpace National Average
By GRACE E. MERRITT
August 17, 2010
A new national report shows that while African American males in Connecticut graduate high school at a higher rate than the national average, the rate is still only 60 percent and lags far behind white males in the state.
The "Yes We Can" report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education also found that African American male students are expelled or suspended much more often than their white counterparts, and are much less likely to be put in gifted or advanced placement classes.
The report found that 60 percent of African American males in Connecticut graduated in the 2007-08 school year, better than the overall national rate of 47 percent. That was also a dramatic improvement from two years ago, when the Connecticut graduation rate for African American males was 51 percent.
Despite the improvement, there is still a stubborn 23-point graduation gap between black and white students in Connecticut.
"We have seen that type of gap in the graduation rate. We know it's a priority to reverse that," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
Murphy said he expects the state's new secondary school reform law, passed in the last legislative session, will help increase the overall number of high school graduates by requiring students to take tougher math classes and writing an "individual success plan" to reach their goals.
Gwen Samuels, executive director of The State of Black Connecticut Alliance, worries that although the graduation rate for African American males is improving, it could lead to complacency. She said new federal education goals call for setting the bar higher.
"It's not just graduating — it's graduating college- and career-ready. We still have to push," Samuels said. "What are the reading levels they're graduating with? If they are graduating from 12th grade and they still have an eighth-grade reading level, what does that mean?"
The report found that more than 60 percent of Connecticut's black males scored at or above the basic level in fourth-grade math, but less than half reached the basic level by eighth grade.
The report found inequities in other aspects of school policy. Black males are more than three times as likely to be suspended and four times as likely to be expelled as a percentage of the school population compared to white males, the report said.
At the same time, less than half of the number of African American males were admitted to gifted and talented programs compared with white males and nearly twice as many African American males were classified as mentally retarded as whites.
In addition, twice as many white male students were allow to take AP math and science classes in Connecticut than black males.
Part of the problem is that until recently, some Connecticut school systems didn't offer AP classes, something that will change now that new state legislation requires all schools to offer AP courses.
The findings underscore the disparity in school funding between towns in Connecticut, said Michael Holzman, the research consultant who wrote the report.
For example, in 2007-08, the wealthy Fairfield County town of Canaan spent $20,653 per student while Bridgeport, a poor city, spent $12,681, Holzman said.
"Connecticut has the tradition of New England schools and the money to put behind this. They could end this," Holzman said.
The Schott Foundation for Public Education is a public foundation based in Cambridge, Mass., dedicated to increasing opportunities for all students. The "Yes We Can" report, issued every two years, is one of several the foundation produces.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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