Educating black youth: Test scores up, but motivation down
by Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org February 17, 2013 12:11AM
Seniors Vincent Banks (left) and James Wells walk to their English class at Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy in Gary, Ind. Wednesday February 13, 2013. The Indiana Black Expo recently released a report detailing different factors that contribute to the quality of life of black children in Indiana. Banks is looking to go to the theater program at DePaul University and Wells plans to attend Ball State University. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
By The Numbers
The Indiana Black Expo looked at data in 17 areas to determine the quality of education black students in Gary are receiving, including:
Third graders passing the English ISTEP: 66 percent in 2008, 68 percent in 2012
Third graders passing the math ISTEP: 62 percent in 2008, 61 percent in 2012
People 25 and older with a high school diploma or equivalent: 75 percent in 2000, 84 percent in 2010
9th graders graduating in four years: 47 percent in 2007, 68 percent in 2011
Graduates planning on attending four-year college: 53 percent n 2007, 60 percent in 2011*
Graduates planning on attending two-year college: 11 percent in 2007, 21 percent in 2011*
Suspensions and expulsions per 1,000 black school children: 427 in 2007, 996 in 2011
Dropouts per 1,000 children ages 15-19: 39 in 2007, 24 in 2011*
Graduates earning a general diploma: 43 percent in 2007, 30 percent in 2011*
Graduates earning a Core 40 diploma: 48 percent in 2007, 65 percent in 2011*
Graduates earning an honors diploma: 10 percent in 2007, 6 percent in 2011*
*Data based on small numbers
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:36AM
As David King sat in a West Side High School classroom, he couldn’t help but hear the sounds of his peers in the hallway.
Locker doors slammed, people laughed and the general noise of foot traffic drifted in.
All this despite the fact it was the middle of a class period, when students were supposed to be in class.
This, the senior said, is just one of the many distractions and other problems that make it so hard for him and his peers to get a quality education.
A crumbling, overcrowded building, security guards who let students get away with breaking the rules, teachers who don’t teach, administrators who seem disconnected from the students and students who see school as their social venue all add up, King said.
“It’s hard to be in this type of environment and get an education because you’re distracted by every little thing,” the Gary student said.
King has also dealt with economic problems at home when his parents struggled to put food on the table and had to decide which bill to pay that month.
King has worked hard not to let any of those issues prevent him from learning and achieving his life goals. His work will soon pay off when he graduates in May and heads off to a university to start on the path toward his ultimate goal — becoming president of the United States.
And as ready as he is to call out the problems in his school, he’s also quick to point out everything he has learned.
“I have been given the best education possible, and I’m completely proud of that,” he said. “... Gary has given me life skills.”
Not all students in Gary overcome challenges as easily as King has, however. Students in Gary Community Schools struggle scoring well on academic tests and meeting requirements to graduate. Now a report from the Indiana Black Expo tries to create an overall picture of the quality of the average black Gary student’s education by looking at ISTEP scores, number of students graduating, number of African-American people in the community with a diploma and a variety of other educational areas.
Some test scores show progress
The report shows mixed results for black Gary youth.
African-American Gary third-grade students are likely to score better than other black students across the state on math ISTEP tests, but those scores have dropped during the past five years by 2 percentage points.
ISTEP English scores are the reverse, with Gary students having shown a slight improvement of 2 percent since 2008. Their results, with 69 percent passing, still lag the state average of 72 percent of black students passing, however.
Black children in Indiana as a whole have also seen much larger gains in their ISTEP scores than those in Gary, with the state average increasing by 15 percent in math and 21 percent in English from 2007 to 2011. Graduation numbers for black youth in Gary have shown a jump from 47 percent in 2007 to 68 percent in 2011, but that rate still lags 8 percentage points behind the state average for black students.
The number of students seeking a general diploma, which does not prepare students for college, dropped from 43 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2011. It appears those students, like David King, are now working toward a Core 40 diploma, which is college-oriented. At the same time, fewer students are seeking an honors diploma, and their numbers trail not only the state average of black students but also the state average for all students.
Poverty, lack of interest at issue
The report says these categories are important to understanding the true state of education for black children in Gary. For instance, a Core 40 diploma is the minimum requirement for students to attend any of Indiana’s public colleges. Not only are students who receive at least a Core 40 diploma more prepared for college, they also will likely spend less money on college because they won’t need remedial tutoring and will finish college quicker than students who aren’t as prepared, the report says.
Dropping out of high school is also directly tied to a lower income as an adult. A person without at least a high school diploma can expect to make about $630,000 less over their lifetime than someone who has even a GED, according to the report. Low educational attainment leads to a higher likelihood a person will live on public assistance and commit crimes.
Officials with the Gary Community School Corp. didn’t provide comments for this story.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson praised the Indiana Black Expo for gathering the data, saying it shows how problems in Gary are interconnected and made worse by a lack of money.
“I think what you really see here is the impact of poverty on our population,” the mayor said. “... Most every challenge they have outlined here is made that much more difficult when you don’t have the resources to address the challenge, education being first and foremost.”
For instance, parents who struggle economically have to stay focused on providing shelter and food to their children. Often that means they can’t make sure their children complete their homework or attend parent-teacher conferences.
Nate George works with troubled students in Gary through his company N’Finity Consulting LLC, which provides tutoring and mentoring. His work has shown him that poverty plays a large role in students who struggle in school, no matter their race.
However, he also sees how problematic a family’s attitude toward education can be. Too many parents he works with don’t care about education, and they invariably pass that ethos to their children. For instance, although some parents get involved in parenting classes they’re ordered to attend when their child gets into legal trouble, others balk, George said.
“They don’t understand the purpose of it,” he said. “They say, ‘My kid got in trouble, why am I having to go through this?’ ”
George said these families need to buy into education before any real change can take place.
So how to make that change?
“If I had an answer to that one, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” he said.
Different program every year
Gary students know their schools face problems. West Side senior King said he hears concerns from his fellow students that the Gary School Board doesn’t listen to them. They see problem students suspended or expelled by the administration only to find them soon back in school. They say guidance counselors seem to care only about helping the best and the brightest apply for college. They lose respect for an assistant administrator who they perceive does little work.
“There is a sense of frustration from students who come here and want to be here but feel like they are not wanted,” King said.
West Side students aren’t the only one feeling distracted. Emoni Goldman, a senior at Wirt-Emerson Academy for the Performing Arts, said she faces constant distractions, whether from figuring out how to pay for her college application, how to get to cheerleading practice because her mother doesn’t have a car or from other students getting into fights or engaging in other dangerous activity.
“You can’t really enjoy yourself because of fights,” she said.
Then there are the tests.
James Wells, another senior at Wirt-Emerson, said students know their schools aren’t doing well on test scores.
“We felt the pressure because we have to take this test, meet this standard,” he said. “All you hear is testing.”
But the district’s many attempts to try to improve those scores have left students feeling like they’re guinea pigs as each year brings yet another change to their education. Wells remembers one particular strategy to improve students’ writing skills. He hated it so much the normally overachieving student didn’t mind if he failed, Wells said.
Vincent Banks, also a senior at Wirt-Emerson, said he didn’t mind that particular teaching element because he knew it wouldn’t be around for long.
“We need to move and get something that works and stick to it, rather than starting a bunch of things and changing it the next year,” Banks said.
The teens might not know the ins and outs of the problems facing the school district, but they do have ideas on ways to help their fellow students. Like Nate George, Banks sees the importance of families instilling the right attitude in their children. Most importantly, though, it needs to happen at a young age, he said. Banks cites his own experience with his father, whom he credits with instilling values in him when he was young. Now, he is working on becoming an actor and already has an agent.
Banks said when he sees parents bring their children to the restaurant where he works and sees the adults yelling at and slapping their charges, he becomes concerned about how the youngsters will turn out.
The whole community of Gary needs to realize children pick up on its attitude, Wells said. Hearing negativity and seeing abandoned building after abandoned building does little to encourage students, he said.
“What do you think is going to be the mindset of somebody who sees abandoned buildings, gangs and guns every day?” Wells asked.
The divisions and run-down environment also concern King.
“I’m glad to be a Cougar, but when you bring students to a school that looks like it should have been abandoned, that gives them nothing to be proud of, especially when it’s surrounded by 50 abandoned homes,” he said.
Although many people have lamented the closing of schools in Gary, King would like to see even more close. He wants to come back to the city after college and work to build just one high school, a building students can have pride in and one that will bring them all together.
“Schools create divisions,” he said. “And students believe these divisions are greater than the entire city of Gary.”