Judging the Moral Character of Black and Hispanic Children

FAIRFAX, Va.

Examining the academic achievement disparities in K-12 education between Black and Hispanic students compared to White and Asian students is not a science, however the study of moral and ethical disparities that exist between the same groups could be groundbreaking and controversial.

In suburban Washington, D.C., the Fairfax County School Board (VA.), one of the nation’s largest school systems, was scheduled to vote Thursday night on whether to accept a staff report that concludes that Black and Hispanic students received lower marks than White and Asian American students because they demonstrate a lack of “sound moral character and ethical judgment,” according to a story in The Washington Post.

The report on student behavior, first presented to the board on March 27, measured the moral-ethical gap by computing the number of third-grade students who received “good” or “outstanding” marks on report cards in areas such as “accepts responsibility,” “listens to and follows directions,” “respects personal and school property,” “complies with established rules,” and “follows through on assignments,” according to The Post.

For older students, the report’s findings were based on the number of state-reported disciplinary infractions, a category where Black and Hispanic students fared worse than their White counterparts. The report also revealed other gaps among Black and Hispanic students when compared to White and Asian students. In skills such as being able to “contribute effectively within a group dynamic,” “resolve conflicts” and “make healthy life choices,” Whites and Asians outpaced Blacks and Hispanics, The Post reported.

“I really worry about the impact this type of data could have on the spirits of Black and Hispanic children in our school system,” said Martina Hone, the school board’s only Black member. “It’s damaging and feeds into the negative stereotypes about African-Americans and Hispanics that some in the mainstream have [and] the defeatist attitudes some of our young people have about themselves.”

Hone was to spearhead a vote to postpone accepting the report until the school board and staff members had time to discuss the merits of this type of data analysis.

In 2006, the Fairfax County School Board mandated that Fairfax County teachers divide any data they collected, in terms of a students’ socioeconomic status, learning ability, reading level and every other significant data by race. “I believe that the intention of that was so that [the school board] identify problem areas and fix them. They [failed] to realize that when you collect data so susceptible to bias, it’s just not valid data,” Hone said.

The Fairfax County School Board has three specific objectives: to promote high academic achievement among all students, civic engagement and to provide students with essential life skills in the form of morality and ethics. However, its challenge lies in inspiring all of its students including minority students, which make up 46 percent of the student population, to succeed in all three areas.

“When you don’t have a school board or school system that reflects the diversity of the community that we serve, [there are] consequences. It makes a difference in how things are viewed,” Hone said.

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