High School Students Uncover Common Goals, Troubling Differences Among Peers

High School Students Uncover Common Goals, Troubling Differences Among Peers

NEW YORK
A piercing new look by New York metro region high school students at race and education affirms their strong support for racially integrated schools, but cautions that 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education access to quality education and resources have not been fully or evenly implemented. The research and ensuing report were part of the “Opportunity Gap Project” conducted by The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY). A spoken-word theater/dance production and a multimedia book with DVD were also released.
The unprecedented 18-month research project — in which more than 100 metropolitan area high school students participated as researchers — shows common ground between city and suburban high school students in their aspirations to attend college, interest in civic engagement and belief in the value of integration, but reveals significant differences among racial and ethnic groups in the perceptions of the quality of education and opportunities for advancement within their respective schools. For example, more than 40 percent of African American and Afro Caribbean students and over one-third of Latino students registered concerns about the imbalances they witness and experience in their classrooms. These views led the student researchers to re-characterize what is known as the achievement gap as an “opportunity gap.”
The Graduate Center project is the only one to involve multigenerational research in exploring the Brown decision and education today. It brought together a diverse team of researchers — adult and youth, suburban and urban — to probe the views of more than 4,000 secondary school students at racially integrated high schools in metropolitan New York and New Jersey.
“The Opportunity Gap Project clearly shows that students of all races and ethnic groups want to learn and achieve together. But it also tells us that the promise of the Brown decision — quality schooling for all children — is a promise that remains unfulfilled,” said Dr. Michelle Fine, distinguished professor of psychology and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center.
“The expression ‘six degrees of segregation’ refers to the systematic policies that interfere with the vision of Brown — testing, tracking, suspension policies, respect, finance inequity and retreat from desegregation.”
The survey found very strong academic aspirations and support for integration among all groups. More than eight out of 10 students across all groups are motivated to go on to college. In addition, a very high percentage of students across all groups — ranging from 74 percent to 79 percent — agreed with the statement, “Attending a racially integrated school is very important to me.”
However, many of these same students are concerned about the relative absence of integration within their classrooms. More than 40 percent of African American and Afro Caribbean students and over one-third of Latino students believe their school “is not as good as it should be in providing equal opportunity for students of color.” Fewer than half as many as White students registered that concern.
Survey responses and transcript analyses show that even when they have college-educated parents, African American, Afro Caribbean and Latino students have “substantially diminished access to rigorous curriculum compared to their Asian/Pacific Islander and White counterparts.”
Only 42 percent of African American students, compared to 67 percent of White students, believe their teachers think they should be in honors classes.
The survey also found that students most in need of academic support for college, such as SAT prep and tutors are least likely to get such assistance.
Students from all groups expressed worry about standardized tests. Thirty-three percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, 28 percent of White American, 44 percent of African American and 47 of Latino students agreed that, “I worry that standardized tests can prevent me from graduating.”



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