The Crisis in Black Education | Early Disparities

By Lisa Dyas February 03, 2017

This February, we will share a series of posts examining the education system, and the crucial role education has played in the lives of African Americans. We hope these posts will increase awareness, spark conversations, encourage self-reflection and lead to deeper explorations about the education system’s responsibility to a fair and just society. We hope that you will join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

The Crisis in Black Education | Early Disparities

by Jane Fischberg

Education continues to be an important strategy to achieve economic mobility, and gain access to higher quality of life.  However, 60 years after the Brown vs. The Board of Education decision that desegregated schools, there are still gross inequities along racial lines.  Research on disparities and long-term outcomes for African American children expose the bleak truth: African Americans are disproportionately shut out of meaningful educational opportunities.

African American students are less likely than white students to have access to rigorous readiness curriculum -- and they are more likely be suspended from school for the same infractions,  and to be taught by less experienced teachers, according to comprehensive data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. 

One of the striking facts to emerge from the data is that disparities start as early as early childhood education (ECE) programs.  

African American children from low-income homes tend to be in ECE classrooms with lower ratings of instructional support.  Students of color are more likely than their peers to attend schools with a higher concentration of first-year and inexperienced teachers. Teachers in predominately black and Latino schools are paid less than their counterparts, resulting in high turnover.  As a result, too many African American children enter kindergarten a year or more behind in academic and social-emotional skills.  Starting out school from behind can trap students in a cycle of continuous catch-up in their learning.

In ECE programs, African American children are 3.6 times more likely to face suspension than their white peers.  Black boys are 19 percent of preschool boys, but represent 45 percent of male preschool children who are suspended.  Similarly, Black girls are 20 percent of female preschool enrollment, but experience 54 percent of suspensions among preschool girls. This phenomenon can send the message to children that they are “bad” and not welcomed at school.  Black boys, especially, suffer, because this feeds the dominant cultural narrative that Black men are dangerous.  This biased approach to discipline can trigger a lifetime of identity issues and disenfranchisement.

Access to high-quality ECE can boost cognitive and social skills in children, help mitigate for disparities in early learning experiences and the effects of childhood trauma, and improve long-term economic and life indicators for low-income African American children and other children of color.  These are all critical benefits that can help break the cycle of poverty and reduce inequality over the long run. 

If you would like to find out what you can do to increase access to quality ECE, connect with the National Black Child Development Institute – you can track its efforts to support federal, state and local initiatives to provide increasing numbers of children with access to quality early education and care, and learn how to add your voice.