- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009


For 10 years, Portland Public Schools teacher Tony Hopson watched from the front of the classroom as black students were pushed out of the school doors.

He saw a district that funneled the worst teachers into the classrooms where students had the greatest need — teachers who didn’t think black students could achieve and counselors who discouraged black students from taking advanced courses.

Mr. Hopson says it seemed the potential of many black children was cast aside like scraps of notebook paper on the floor.

“We already know how to educate any child whose education is important to us,” said Mr. Hopson, 55, who now runs the Self Enhancement Inc. mentoring program and middle school, which he founded in 1981 to help educate black children.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to educate black kids,” he said. “The educational system doesn’t think they’re important.”

The numbers bear him out.

Just 14 percent of black fourth-graders are proficient in national reading assessments, compared with 43 percent of white students. By eighth grade, there’s a 30-point gap in math scores between black and white students, according to 2008 Educational Testing Service reports.

By the time they reach 12th grade, black students are four years behind their white peers in English, math and science and post an average SAT score 200 points lower than do white students, reports the Education Trust, a District-based public policy group.

Also, while nearly 80 percent of white students finish high school, only about 56 percent of black students do, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. If they get to college, black students are half as likely to graduate.

Nationally, black students are three times more likely to be placed in special-education programs than white students and half as likely to be in ones for gifted youngsters, according to the Harvard Civil Rights Project.

Scholars call this the racial achievement gap — a decades-long disparity that is at the heart of educational inequity in the black and Latino communities. Mr. Hopson and other educators warn that as America’s demographics shift from mostly white to mostly brown and black, the achievement gap — left unabated — will have a major impact on the country’s economy and work force.

Experts say that if college enrollment numbers among minorities continue to fall, the nation’s work force will produce fewer workers to fill critical technology and information jobs. A less educated and less skilled work force also is likely to be a social and financial burden on this country — high school dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated, to work poverty-wage jobs and to rely on social services.

A 2007 Children’s Defense Fund report, “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” says poor children are most at risk of ending up uneducated and in jail. According to the report, a black boy born in 2001 has a one-in-three chance of going to prison in his lifetime. A black girl has a one-in-17 chance. A Hispanic boy born in 2001 has a one-in-six chance of going to prison in his lifetime, and a Hispanic girl has a one-in-45 chance.

“Disproportionately, people who fail in school are going to be incarcerated, homeless or on welfare in the future,” said Hardin Coleman, dean of the Boston University School of Education.

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