The Ethnic-minority Difference

The Ethnic-minority Difference

Large urban school districts across the nation report that they are making progress educating minority students; however, behind the numbers is a stark contrast between the higher performing Hispanic students, and Black students who continue to be left behind.  The reality is the achievement gap is closing at a faster pace for Hispanic students, and the answer might be in the rigorous English as second language (ESL) training Hispanic students receive starting in early education.

It is important that the reporting of academic performance data lumping Black and Hispanic student results together does not continue to disillusion parents, students, and policy makers. The observed results might cause you to think that things are getting better across the board; however, a different picture emerges when you separate the two groups.  Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, reports that between 2002 and 2011 Black student’s readiness benchmarks rose from 3% to 4% while that of Hispanic students rose from 8% to 11%.  The College Board reports that in 2010, Black students made up 14.6% of high school graduates and 8.6% of AP test takers; contrast that with Hispanic students who made up 17% of the graduates and 16% of AP test takers.

The numbers make it clear that the same improvements are not being equally achieved by both groups. Certain school districts have observed that the progress seen in Hispanic students can be attributed to strong teachers, the likelihood of attending better-funded majority Caucasian schools, the school culture in majority Hispanic schools being based on connections to family, and the heavy emphasis on teachers receiving professional development in teaching English as a second language to cope with this burgeoning population.

These facts suggest increased performance ratings in math and science can be attributed to the language improvements of Hispanic students.  I discovered early on in my research through CSTEM, an authentic approach to integrating STEM into Pre K through 12th  curriculum, that student’s not possessing adequate communication skills (i.e. reading, writing, and speaking) generally lag behind in math and science.  Recent data and my research therefore lead me to the conclusion that the emphasis on ESL for Hispanic students should also be in place for Black students.

There is a great need to get back to the basics with Black students who lag behind in their grasp of the English language, not because it is their second language, but rather because a vast number of Black students communicate at home and with their peers using Slang/Broken English/Ebonics, which ultimately spills over to how they communicate at school and when writing. Oftentimes in communities serving majority Black students, strong grammar and English teachers are not consistent throughout their Pre K through 12th grade education journey.  So once these students begin falling behind, there is very little teacher professional development training that focus on tackling this issue in order to improve the grammar and English language deficiencies of such students.  Furthermore, schools tend to offer remediation to Black students focused more on drills, memorization and practice questions for passing state standardized test, rather than mastery of fundamentals of English and Language Arts.

The academic challenges faced by Black and Hispanic students are clearly different, and if we are not careful when lumping the two groups together, we will continue to miss the true picture behind the data.  Having a clear understanding allows our schools to be better able to pinpoint best practices and offer services that truly aid in reducing the achievement gap for these very distinct groups of students.  It is my belief that a renewed emphasis on the development of grammar and English for Black students will result in producing a greater number of math and science scholars of the future.  The concern is failure to address this issue of grouping all minorities together will only lead to a further widening of the achievement gap, where Black students are the ones who truly get left behind, particularly in areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).