One in five black high school students in California drop out before they can graduate. That's the highest dropout rate of any race or ethnicity in the state, and much higher than the state's overall 12% dropout rate.
Nationally, many factors play a role: Housing discrimination reinforces school segregation; there aren’t enough black teachers; school administrators and public employees treat black students differently — video surfaced Monday of a white school resource officer in South Carolina slamming a student who appears to be black to to the ground, then dragging her across the floor.
A new report from the nonprofit education advocacy group Education Trust - West, to be released Wednesday, tries to answer those questions for California students. The authors pulled together existing data to show that at every benchmark in black students' lives, from preschool through college, they face greater challenges than many of their peers. The report, called “Black Minds Matter,” also includes examples of districts in the state that are addressing these issues with tangible results.
California is different from most states in that it serves many students of color, but most are Latino. Black K-12 public school students are large in numbers — about 373,000 — but that's only 6% of the state's public school population. A third of those students are in Los Angeles County.
California is trying to improve access to prekindergarten and kindergarten classes by requiring districts to offer transitional kindergarten to students. A program in San Francisco that offers families free or reduced-price preschool for 4-year-olds has increased its enrollment of black and Latino students.
The black students who are enrolled also begin to face racism in the classroom that early, as a recent report from the California attorney general’s office points out.
Black students typically attend schools in which 69% of students are black, Latino or Native American. Compare that to a typical white student’s school, where 38% of students are black, Latino or Native American, and the rest are white or Asian — the two ethnicities with the most access to schools in middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, that better prepare them for the CSU and UC system, as a 2014 UCLA study (where this data came from) notes.
And despite California's local control funding formula that's meant to allocate resources to low-income students and underserved communities, schools in poorer areas have fewer sources of additional funds from resources like parent funding, Harvard education doctoral candidate Eve Ewing said.
In the 2010-11 school year, 25.8% of black graduates in Riverside Unified completed their A-G requirements. In the 2013-14 school year, that had risen to 33.2%. There’s still a ways to go before they meet the rest of the district’s rate of 41%.