The State of the African-American Child

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African-American children face many obstacles to academic success

Black male teacher with studentsDue to the number of African-American children who are born into poverty stricken areas, educational opportunities are becoming increasingly unequal across the United States. That is the conclusion reached in the State of America’s Children Report (2014) by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).

The annual report from non-profit child advocacy organization calls geography and birth a “lottery” that results in children in higher income and White and Asian families being “more likely to have access to high-quality early education that sets them up for later academic and social success, while children of color and poor children are disproportionally denied the opportunity for a strong start.”

School funding is necessary, but difficult to come by when a child is in an impoverished city or community.

The CDF report states that school funding between poorer and richer communities is far from equitable. Equitable funding is commonly defined as spending 40% more on poorer students than richer students to make up for the fact that poorer children face many more challenges to learning.

African-American students in science labAnd based on the report’s findings, “states spend nearly three times more a year for prisoners than it would cost to provide a child with a quality learning experience and more than twice as much as they spend to provide K-12 education.”

Thousands of African American children are left behind simply because they have no control over the sometimes unfortunate circumstances and environments of which they are born.

“At least 50% of black children living in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin were poor and nearly half the states had black child poverty rates of 40% or more,” the report stated.

The report also found that almost three-quarters or more of fourth and eighth grade African-American public school students could not read or compute at grade level in 2013.

Once behind, the students are not getting essential attention and educational needs met to help propel them in the direction of student success.

The result is a national dropout crisis. “One in three African-American students did not graduate from high school in four years,” the report stated.

But things are not all gloomy in the education of African-American children. In fact, in some parts of the country with high concentrations of black students, the uphill battle is being won. For example, African-American students in the Baltimore, Md., region have shown improvement in both graduation and dropout rates.

According to high school data released last year by the Maryland State Department of Education, “Baltimore continues to lead area school systems in improving its dropout rate, and most districts in the region are making progress in graduating more students in four years.”

A data analysis conducted by Education Week’s Editorial Projects in Education Research Center showed that in 2010 graduation rate in Baltimore city was 84%, near the top of the list of the 50 largest school systems in the country. Maryland is 30% African-American, more than double the national rate of 13%. Baltimore’s black population is 64%, the sixth highest among cities with a population of more than 100,000.

Maryland’s success is due, in large part, to increased family and community engagement efforts. If these efforts can be replicated across the country, it would go far in narrowing the academic achievement gap between African-American and white students.

The CDF report outlines the obstacles to achievement faced by the African-American child. But what makes African-American students special is their determination to surpass expectations and prove that nothing is impossible—despite the odds. Some may come from less than ideal backgrounds, but this does not dictate where they are going, especially with parents and teachers who work together to achieve results.

The tenacity of the African-American child is one to be mirrored because it comes from a place of persistence and hope for a bright, successful future.

Shaina Croom is the editorial specialist and managing editor of Our Children Magazine at National PTA.