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The Graduation Gap Between White and Black Students Is Widening in the US

A report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education shows only 59 percent of young black men will graduate in the US, compared with 65 percent of Latino and 80 percent of white students.
Photo by David Goldman/AP

The gap between high school graduation rates of young black men and young white men is widening in the US, adding to a trend that highlights the growing disparity of education attainment levels across the country, according to new report by an education group.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education released its 2015 report on black males and education on Wednesday, which showed that while graduation rates on the whole are on the rise across the US, only 59 percent of young black men will graduate compared with 65 percent of Latino and 80 percent of white, non-Hispanic males across 50 states in the 2012-13 school year.


The report this year focuses on the theme "Black Lives Matter," a cry that has been taken up by rights advocates across the country in the wake of the deaths of several young black men at the hands of police in 2014, which sparked nationwide rallies aiming to squash systemic racial bias and inequality.

Education is an issue at the center of the Black Lives Matter debate, according to Schott Foundation President and CEO Dr. John H. Jackson.

Young black men "matter not only after they die, but they matter while they are living," he told reporters. Jackson added that while a significant proportion of young black men are veterans, build business at a faster rate than the national average, and contribute a higher income proportion to philanthropic and non-profit efforts than an average American household, they are still at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates, which exacerbates the growing racial "opportunity gap."

60 Years after Brown vs. Board of Ed, US schools are still pretty damn segregated. Read more here.

The foundation, which has collected data on graduation in public schools since 2004, said that their most recent report indicates the gap between black and white males has widened to 21 percent — up from 19 percent since the 2012 report.

"While all lives matter, we cannot ignore the fact that, as this reports once again reveals, black male students were at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates in 35 of the 48 states," Jackson said in the report. "Latino males are at the bottom in the other 13 states."


"This fact provides clear evidence of a systemic problem impacting black males rather than a problem with black males," he added.

Jackson noted that some states such as Maine (90 percent), Idaho (80 percent), and Arizona (77 percent) had high rates of graduation among black males, while those with the lowest rates included Nevada (40 percent), D.C. (48 percent), and Nebraska (50 percent).

Notably, "a large number of states within the bottom 10 are states that are located in the South," Jackson said. "The challenge is the largest population of black males live in the South."

Outcomes for African American students in large urban areas — where 10,000 or more black male students were enrolled — were also low in many districts, the report found. In New York City, only 28 percent of the 143,000 enrolled black males graduated — a "serious challenge that the City of New York must address," said Jackson.

But these outcomes can be slowed and the system recast with the cooperation of federal, state, and local officials, the researchers say. The foundation challenged states and localities to begin to report annually on graduation rates themselves and disaggregate the data based on race and gender, saying: "We would like to put ourselves out of business of reporting this data."

"In most states it's easier to find incarceration data than graduation data," Jackson said. "It creates a dynamic — what many might call an invisible population."


Social inequity in American classrooms is longstanding, and growing divides in educational attainment levels are rooted in race and well as poverty. Opportunities for minority students can only be encouraged by addressing the climate and quality of our classrooms, the foundation said. This includes a focus on socio-emotional and economic support for these students as well as looking at academic objectives.

Disproportionate school discipline within the classroom "climate" is one issue the researchers specially pointed to. More black males are being expelled or suspended from schools than any other group, Jackson said. Nationally, some 15 percent receive out-of-school suspensions — twice as many as Latino and three times as many as white males.

"We can't educate students who are not in our schools," he added.

Schools must also address the quality of education starting in a student's early years to boost educational levels in reading, science, math, and other proficiencies, the foundation said. Initiatives such as President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative, which calls for national action on youth education, are a starting point for change, the report added.

"Despite our efforts to address this issue across the country, we continue to see wide disparities," said the Schott Foundation's Dr. Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at New York University.

"Any country that consistently allows this many of its citizens to be under-educated will most assuredly suffer significant consequences," he said. "Of course, the consequences to America have been apparent for some time. They've been manifest in America's over-populated prisons that are literally bursting at the seams with under-educated African American males."

"We should not be able to identify by race or ethnicity or gender in our country who is more likely to graduate and who is more likely to drop out," said Jackson, adding that it is not, or should not be, "normal practice."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields