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Study: Learning Conditions Impact Performance

Three in 10 Black students are expected to learn in environments plagued by profanity, fighting, disrespect and drug abuse, according to a new study that suggests academic disparities between the races cannot be addressed until disparate learning environments are improved.


Black and Hispanic students, teachers and parents are more likely than their white counterparts to report “very serious” problems with the academic and social conditions of their middle and high schools, according to a report released today (Wednesday) by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization.


High dropout rates, social promotion and alcohol abuse are also found in the school environment of three in 10 black students, the study found. Half of Black (49 percent) and Hispanic (52 percent) parents say local schools are “not getting enough money to do a good job,” compared to a third of white parents. And teachers in Black and Hispanic schools are more likely to grumble about large classes, poor teaching conditions and lack of parental support than their White counterparts.


The study, “Reality Check 2006: How Black and Hispanic Families Rate Their Schools,” could serve as evidence in the standardized test debate for those that argue you can’t have standardized tests without equal schools.


“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,” said Ruth A. Wooden, president of the 31-year-old Public Agenda.

“These finding 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,” Wooden added.

Public Education Network President Wendy D. Puriefoy said the study tells policymakers that “creating powerful learning environments, promoting respectful dialogue, ensuring student safety” are just as important priorities for limited school funds as increasing performance on standardized tests.

The study was the second report issued this year in the Reality Check 2006 series, a set of public opinion tracking surveys on important issues in public education. The findings of the study are based on two focus groups with parents and through surveying a random sample of more than 1,300 public school teachers, more than 1,300 public school students in grades six through 12 and more than 700 public school teachers.


Between 30 and 37 percent Black students say that their teachers spend more time trying to keep order than teaching. About half of the Black students say there is a serious problem with kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language, while similarly about half of the Hispanic students say their school has a serious problem with kids dropping out.


“This is not grumbling from a group of easily-shocked adults who haven’t been inside a school in years,” said Jean Johnson, the report’s author. “These are the judgments of young people themselves. A lot of these kids are highly aware that their schools are not serving them well, and that has to be discouraging.”


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