Who Gets to Learn: The Sorry Statistics

A host of studies have documented the inequities that face students in United States public schools, and the bitter consequences that they produce. Among the most recent research are studies that show:

The education of the adults in the family is critical for family income. The proportion of adults who are not in the labor force and the proportion who experience at least one period of unemployment during the year both decline dramatically as education rises. The poverty rate for high school dropouts is ten times that of college graduates; graduating from high school reduces the probability of being on welfare. Graduates with better skills earn more.

While 83 out of every 100 African-Americans now complete a high school education, only 40 attend college, and 12 earn a bachelor’s degree by age 30. Only one in ten Latinos earns a degree.

In 1990, the U.S. spent an average of $6,565 nationally in schools with less than 5 percent of their children in poverty, and $5,173 per student in schools with more than 25 percent of their children in poverty. Even adjusted for local costs and need, the gap remains: $5,209 in low-poverty schools, $4,044 in high-poverty schools.

Citizens with less education are less likely to vote.

The reading gap narrowed between white and minority 17-year-olds on NAEP tests from 1970 to 1988, then widened again. The mathematics gap narrowed between white and minority 13-year-olds on NAEP tests from 1970 to 1988, then widened again. The gap persists in college prose literacy. n

African-American and Latino students attend predominantly minority schools. Science teachers in racially isolated schools have less education. Classes in high poverty high schools more often are taught by underqualified teachers. Eighth-grade students in poor school districts more often lack math resources. Fourth-graders in poor school districts more often lack reading resources.

A rigorous math curriculum improves scores for all students. Students who complete advanced math and science also score higher on the SAT.

Students who are poor, African-American, or Latino are less likely to be enrolled in a college preparatory track.

“A” students in high-poverty schools achieve at about the same level in math as “C” and “D” students in affluent schools.

Roughly 55 out of 100 white and Asian high school graduates complete algebra 2 and geometry courses; only 35 in 100 African-American and Native American students do. Physics course completion rates vary dramatically: one in four white seniors complete it; one in six African-Americans; one in seven Latinos. Students who take more vocational courses score lower on reading proficiency.

Nearly one in four central-city schools reported in 1991 that they had vacancies they could not fill with a qualified teacher. Forty percent of high school math courses in high-poverty schools were taught by teachers with no expertise in math. Across subjects, poor and minority students were less likely to be in classes with teachers who have at least a minor in the fields they were teaching.

According to the official poverty measure, in 1995, some 20.8% of all US children were poor (more than 14 million children, including more than 5 million preschoolers under the age of six) compared with an adult poverty rate of approximately 11.3% in that same year and a child poverty rate of 15% in the early 1970s. Children who live with poorly educated, relatively young, or minority-race adults are more likely to be classified as poor than children who do not live in such families.

As compared with whites, black adults have lower earnings on average and are more likely to be unemployed or out of the labor force. Black adults are three times as likely as white adults to have incomes too low to meet even the adult’s needs in the family.

Poor children suffer higher incidences of poor physical health, cognitive ability, school achievement, emotional and behavioral outcomes and teenage out-of-wedlock childbearing. Poor children are 1.3 times as likely as non-poor children to experience learning disabilities and developmental delays. Poor-quality schooling correlated with high neighborhood poverty may exacerbate these effects.

Most of the above data come from the Education Trust, Education Watch: State and National Data Book, 1996. 1725 K Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006;   (202) 293-1217    (202) 293-1217 . Information on infant mortality comes from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA.