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Archive for Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Black and Hispanic students see school as hostile environment

May 31, 2006

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— Black and Hispanic students see school as a more rowdy, disrespectful and dangerous place than their white classmates do, a poll says.

The findings suggest that many minority kids are struggling in the equivalent of a hostile work environment, according to Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research group that tracks education trends.

Minority children in public middle and high schools are more likely than white children to describe profanity, truancy, fighting, weapons and drug abuse as "very serious" problems.

The black and Hispanic children - under pressure to close their test-score gaps with whites - also see more pervasive academic woes, such as lower standards, higher dropout rates and kids who advance even if they don't learn.

"There is so much discussion about the achievement gap, and we talk about teachers and curriculum and testing and money," said Jean Johnson, Public Agenda's executive vice president and an author of the report.

"We need to add something to that list - school climate. For these kids, it has become such a distracting atmosphere," Johnson said.

Thirty percent of black students - three in every 10 - said teachers spend more time trying to keep order in class than teaching; 14 percent of white students said the same.

More than half of black students said kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language is a very serious problem, compared to less than one-third of white students.

Hispanic students also reported worse social and academic conditions in school than white children, although the gaps were not as large as they were between blacks and whites.

On the plus side, the poll found positive results that cut across race and ethnicity.

Majorities of children said they are learning a lot in reading, writing and math classes. Most students said at least one teacher who has gotten them interested in a subject they usually hate.

The students agreed on matters of work ethic, too.

About eight in 10 said it is good for school districts to require higher standards, even if that means kids must go to summer school. Almost 60 percent of black students acknowledged they could try a little harder, compared to 53 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of whites.

In perspective, most students said schools were meeting expectations on most measures.

Yet the minority children were more likely to see students struggling to get by in class, to see unfair enforcement of discipline rules, to say schools aren't getting enough money.

"Students of color are correct in their understanding that their schools get less in the way of resources, and offer less in the way of high standards," said Ross Wiener, policy director of The Education Trust, an advocacy group for poor and minority children. "It is a shame that a country dedicated to equal opportunity tolerates these inequities."

Among students in public schools, 59 percent are white, 19 percent are Hispanic and 17 percent are black, according to Education Department numbers from the 2003-04 school year.

In the poll, students in wealthier schools reported fewer serious problems than students in poor schools.

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