by Judge Greg Mathis
New data released by the Department of Education and Department of Justice present troubling statistics for minority students in America. The comprehensive survey shows racial disparities in U.S. schools that draw strong similarities to conditions prior to the Brown versus Board of Education ruling to desegregate American schools. On average, African American and Latino students do not have access to the same educational opportunities as their white colleagues, leaving them less prepared when they enter college or join the workforce.
The Civil Rights Data Collection survey includes statistics from every public school in America. The survey found that in high schools that serve the highest percentage of Latino and African American students one in three of those schools did not offer a chemistry course and one in four did not offer a math course higher than Algebra I. In addition, schools that offered advanced education programs on average had only 26 percent of African American and Latino students enrolled in those programs, despite African American and Latino populations of 40 percent. In today’s workforce high-income earners are expected to obtain advanced degrees in fields such as engineering, medicine or finance. However, we see that minorities are not given an equal opportunity to master these skills early on. White students are more likely to begin their college educations with more advanced skills in math and science.
The study also suggests that gaps for minority students in our schools begin at a young age. The Department of Education found African American preschool students account for 48 percent of public preschool student suspensions, even though they only makeup 18 percent of the preschool population. Educators generally agree that early childhood education is the most important stage of development for children. The HighScope Perry Preschool Study found that children under five who had access to early high school education, earned an average of $2,000 per month more than children that did not. When children fall behind at a young age it can be extremely difficult to catch up and can have life-long consequences.
Educational equality and equal opportunity are emerging as the most critical civil rights issues of our time. The statistics in this study suggest that even though segregation was outlawed, African Americans and Latinos are confronted with present day segregation or “Defacto Segregation” in our schools. Across the board they are more likely to attend public schools with less resources and subpar course offerings that cripple their ability to learn and keep up with their non-minority colleagues. I would argue that this educational disparity is the most pressing civil rights issue of our time, because it has such long-lasting effects on our children’s future earnings potential. The Latino and African American communities have a shared fate in this struggle and need to join together to fight for equality.
Ensuring an equal education for minority students has implications far beyond the African American and Latino populations. If Latino and African American students don’t succeed our nation can’t succeed. In the 2010 census, Latinos and African Americans were almost 30 percent of the American population, and this number is expected to increase in the future. The American economy cannot remain at the top of the world if we are not giving our children the tools they need to be successful in the workforce.