UNCF databook provides statistical look at K-12 education

FAIRFAX, Va.

A new report from The College Fund/UNCF says that
African American students begin school eagerly and score about as well
as white students on tests of verbal memory and social and
developmental skills. But for many, the fourth grade marks the
beginning of a downward academic spiral.

The findings, released early this month, are compiled in a new,
370-page reference book devoted to pre-school, primary, and secondary
education of African American students. It is the second volume of a
three-part portrait of African Americans and education. According to
College Fund president and CEO, William H. Gray III, volume II of The
African American Education Data Book is less encouraging than the first
volume, devoted to higher and adult education. Volume III, which will
focus on school-to-work and college trends, is expected to be released
in August, said Dr. Michael T. Nettles, executive director of the
Frederick Patterson Research Institute, the research arm of The College
Fund/UNCF.

Volume II of the Data Book series explores the attitudes and social
behavior of African American students in relation to their educational
advancement. Parental involvement, school safety, teacher preparation,
television viewing, and economic disadvantage are among a number of
factors identified as key to the educational experience of African
Americans.

“When measured against high standards, as on the National Assessment
of Educational Progress, far too many Black children fall short,” said
Nettles.

According to Gray, volume I, which was released in March, had more
good news. Among other things, it documented the growth in college
graduation rates among African Americans, particularly women.

“This study,” Gray said, “has more negatives. Our next task is to find out why.”

While the second volume compiles decades of data from forty national databases and archives, it does not analyze the findings.

Analysis and solutions are urgently needed, according to Gray, “in
light of the current debate in higher education and in graduate and
professional schools surrounding affirmative action and standardized
testing.”

Some of the findings in the new study, which includes data gathered through 1994, include:

* On average, African American students watch more television and
participate in fewer extra-curricular activities than their white
counterparts.

* Although African Americans make up 12.5 percent of the nation’s
population, they represent more than 16.5 percent of all elementary and
secondary public school students.

* African American high school seniors are using marijuana, smoking
cigarettes, and consuming alcohol at dramatically lower rates than
their white peers.

* Young African American children participate in preschool programs
at a higher rate than white students (53 percent versus 44 percent).

* Fewer than one-third of the nation’s African American students
attend schools in large cities, but more than one-half of African
American public school teachers and public school principals work in
urban schools.

Although African American preschoolers score almost as high as white
students in other measures, the fact that many African American
‘students score lower in vocabulary “may well be a precursor to
problems in reading later on,” said Nettles, a professor of education
on leave from the University of Michigan. “And it may be something that
preschools and the early elementary grades can deal with directly by
using materials that have rich vocabulary and engage children’s great
curiosity and imagination.”

Said Gray: “If this gap [in vocabulary skills] is not addressed,
then you permanently doom the majority of African American students to
failure in gaining access to higher education.”

What’s needed, Gray said, “is a call to action,” as well as a
revamping of the preschool curriculum for Black students to include an
academic curriculum that fosters reading and vocabulary skills and is
less focused on providing “baby-sitting service.”

Some scholars hope the hefty volume of information will also
positively influence national education policy affecting African
American students.

“Prevailing policies and practice directed at improving the school
success of African American students have often been guided by good
intentions, conventional wisdom, and limited and sparse data sources
that focus on single explanations of school achievement,” said Dr.
Jacqueline Jordan Irvine of Emory University.

Linda Darling-Hammond of Columbia University agrees, calling The
College Fund’s research series “invaluable.” She suggests that
“anecdotes and hunches” and not research – have been used to “tackle
the root causes of inequality in this country,” and to understand the
“conditions of education for African American students.”

Says Nettles: “Some of the information in this data book is positive. Some of it is pretty discouraging. But to know is to act.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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