Nearly One-Third of Black Students Report Serious Disruptions and Distractions

QUINCY, Mass – According to a national survey of parents, middle school and high school students conducted by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization, substantial numbers of the nation’s black and Hispanic students report they are forced to go to school where there is disrespect, bad language, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and other bad behaviors.

In a statement released May 31, Public Agenda said it also conducted a special survey of New England parents and students for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Asked to rate their schools on key academic and social dimensions – resources, promotion policies, dropout rates, truancy, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and others – black and Hispanic students are more likely than their white counterparts to report “very serious” problems in nearly every category, both in New England and across the nation.

In Reality Check 2006: How Black and Hispanic Families Rate Their Schools (the second report issued this year in the Reality Check 2006 series), Public Agenda found that American students have much in common regardless of racial or ethnic background. Majorities of all students back higher standards, say their teachers do a good job in most respects, and express some level of concern about lack of respect, profanity, and drugs and alcohol abuse in their schools. But for minority kids, academic problems like high dropout rates and kids getting passed through the system without learning, and social issues like profanity, disrespect for teachers and drug and alcohol abuse are far more prevalent and “serious” in their schools.

Public Agenda’s research on New England schools finds that about 3 in 10 black youngsters attend schools with considerable turmoil:

  • 32 percent of New England’s black students report that teachers spend more time trying to keep order than teaching
  • 39 percent say their school has very serious problems with drug and alcohol abuse
  • 43 percent report very serious problems with fighting and weapons
  • 45 percent say their school has a very serious problem with kids cutting class
  • 55 percent say their school has a very serious problem with kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language
  • One in four of New England’s black students (25 percent) say their school is not consistent in enforcing discipline and behavior rules

“Young people of color are among our fastest growing populations, yet, as these statistics make clear, many of them live and go to school in environments that are not conducive to learning,” said Blenda J. Wilson, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “It is in everyone’s best interest that we reevaluate our priorities and provide all students, regardless of color or family income level, with a fair chance to achieve at high levels academically.”

Jean Johnson, executive director of Public Agenda’s new initiative Education Insights and an author of the report said, “This is not grumbling from a group of easily-shocked adults who haven’t been inside a school in years and still haven’t come to grips with today’s teen fashions. These are the judgments of young people themselves who say problems like truancy and disrespect for teachers are very serous in their schools – not just ‘somewhat serious,’ but ‘very serious.’ A lot of these kids are highly aware that their schools are not serving them well, and that has to be discouraging.”

New England’s minority parents are also more likely to report serious academic and social problems in their schools. Forty-three percent of black parents and 49 percent of Hispanic parents say that it is a very serious problem that local schools are “not getting enough money to do a good job,” compared to less than a third of white parents (31 percent). Minority parents are also twice more likely than white parents to say fighting and weapons are very serious issues and twice as likely to question whether local school district superintendents do enough to ensure that schools are safe and orderly. Teachers in minority schools are more likely to complain about large classes, poor teaching conditions and lack of parental support.

“Much of the testing and standards debate has focused on disparities between minority students and others, but this research shows, yet again, that just looking at curriculum and testing while ignoring basic conditions in schools not only puts the cart before the horse, but leaves the horse unshod, unfed and wandering through the fields,” Public Agenda President Ruth A. Wooden said. “These findings suggest very strongly that rowdy, unsettled schools are a significant hurdle to learning for far too many minority youngsters. What we have here is the unambiguous testimony of students, parents and teachers in minority schools – they want policymakers to make addressing the school environment a major priority.”

For more information, contact Michael Hamill Remaley or Claudia Feurey at (212) 686-6610. Additional information can also be found online at www.publicagenda.org.

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