Educational Policies Impacting Low-Income African American Families
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The best-known origin of the phrase “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” A timely title of a book written by Martin Luther King Jr. The prompting for King’s book and the title is apropos for what is needed in education at this date in time. Where do we go from here in terms of education policies in general and for low-income African American families, in particular, is the focus of this paper. Education and education policy are pertinent issues in all communities, regardless of socio-economic status, race, or gender. Education or the lack thereof is associated with quality of life and every metric related to success for individuals, communities, societies, states, and even global. While some communities are faring better than others, sizable achievement gaps remain between low-socioeconomic and high-socioeconomic communities and between black and white students. Education policies and effective implementation are pivotal in response to the disparities between the haves and have nots and marginalized communities. This paper examines some of the issues and challenges concerning education policy addressing the achievement gaps in the United States, in particular, low-income African American single-parent families k-12. Finally, the question of where do we go from the present state of affairs?
As the civil rights community had to pause, reflect and assess its, past, present and future direction so too must the U. S. education policies for those concern about the persistent achievement gap in k-12 for all communities and for low-socioeconomic African American single parent families in particular.
Public education is governed by national education policies that establishes its boundaries, guidelines and rules that dictates its aspirations and limitations. Many of those policies for the past fifty plus years have endeavored to address the achievement gap between White and African American students. Recent policies have sought to employ a diverse approach in implementing problem-solving, critical thinking as well the capacity to traverse diverse cultural and socioeconomic communities. Disparities in academic achievement in relation to high and low-income students in recent years has expanded. The test scores between high and low-income students born in the early part of the twenty first century has increased nearly forty percent compared to those born in the 70s (Reardon 2011).
Although the imbalanced that characterizes the relationship between high and low-income students has grown, the achievement inequalities involving white and black children remain constant, yet statistically significant(National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] 2015; Reardon 2011).
A Review of the Literature Documenting the Inception and Extent of the Issue
The Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) of 1965, signed into law by President Johnson, asserts that the law would close the divide between helplessness and hope for more than 5 million educationally deprived children, as the nation had made a new commitment to quality and equality in the education of our young people. This landmark commitment was passed the same year as the Voting Rights Act and a year following the Economic Opportunity Act and the Civil Rights Act. From 1965 and 2001, Congress reauthorized ESEA at regular intervals (Gameson et al., 2015). In order to improve public education and to increase accountability for public school districts across the nation, ESEA was replaced by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was signed into law on January 8, 2002, by George W. Bush.
Consequently, NCLB addresses programs funded by the original ESEA like Title I, Title II, Title III, Title IV, and Title V. As the largest federally funded program, Title I provide supplemental funds to supplement the needs of low-income families. Title II provides grants to state agencies and subgrants to local educational agencies to increase student achievement consistent with the challenging state academics requirements; enhance the effectiveness and quality of principals, teachers, and others in leadership positions; increase the number of teachers, principles, and school leaders that are effective in helping students achieve in schools; grant minority and low-income pupils greater access to effective teachers, principals, and other school leaders (United States Department of Education, 2017).
Title III, known as the English language acquisition, language enhancement, and academic act, is part of ESEA, and its purpose is as follows:
• to help assure English learners, youth, including immigrant children, obtain proficiency in English alone with developing elevated levels of academic achievement in English
• to assist English students in obtaining higher academic achievement so that all learners of English can meet the same challenging State academic standards that all children are expected to meet.
• To assist teachers (including preschool teachers), principles, local and state public school agencies with implementing, establishing, and maintaining efficient instruction in langue education programs that are devised to aid in instructing learners of English along with children and youth of immigrants.
• To aid educators (including preschool educators), administrators, and other school officials, local and state education organizations, to establish and develop the ability to administer efficient education opportunities devised to teach English learners, including children and youth of immigrants.
• to promote parental, family, and community participation in language instruction educational programs for parents, families, and communities of English learners (United States Department of Education, 2016).
Title IV, 21st Century Schools, required state, local schools, and other entities to provide prior written consent for all students under the age of 18 who wish to participate in any mental-health assessment or services funded under this Title. Under Title V, flexibility and accountability, state and local educational agencies were given the flexibility in the administration of federal funds that most effectively address the distinctive needs of states and localities (United States Department of Education, 2015).
The main objective of ESEA was to improve the educational experience for underprivileged students by providing much-needed funding based on the large concentration of low-income students. The main problem with ESEA, as with any other education policy, is that in order to improve any situation or problem, the first step is to address the core of the problem and then implement a strategy to fix it. Moreover, professionals and society have become comfortable and complacent with concluding that children who are easily distracted require a label, medication, and special education accommodations. African Americans, particularly males, face many challenges in society inside and outside of the school setting. This strained relationship has led to an increase in the number of school dropouts, school suspension, behavioral problems in schools and academic functioning in the classroom, poor school acclimation, and even incarceration. As a result, our educational system struggles to consistently meet the needs of African American families in K-12 public education nationwide.
Behavioral and emotional problems are listed among the most prevalent chronic health conditions of childhood and often have serious negative consequences for a child’s academic achievement and social development. In accordance with the U. S. Department of Education (2015), K-12 students experience behavior problems consistently. In fact, on an annual basis, more than 3.5 million students are identified as experiencing some level of a behavior problem. Unfortunately, those who are often expelled have been diagnosed with an emotional or behavioral disability. Though emotional and behavioral disturbances significantly and adversely affect educational performance, race, ethnicity, and gender are factors that contribute to disproportionality of minority students with behavioral difficulties as well. Bowman et al. (2018) conclude that some children have learned to deal with problems by fighting rather than negotiating or working things out. Fighting leads to discipline problems within the schools and efforts from administrators and teachers to understand the students’ actions in order to help them learn how to cope with their issues in a warm, caring, and culturally competent way.
As reported in Moynihan’s report, 1964, the gap between the Negro and most other groups in American society is widening. Therefore, the collapse of the nuclear family among the lower class would preserve the gap between possibilities for Negroes and some ethnic groups while promoting favoritism for others (Ziol-Guest, Duncan, & Kalil, 2015). The National Center for Education Statistics (2015), reports during the 2013-14 school year, African Americans represented 13.7% out of school suspension more than any other racial/ethnic group. Furthermore, in 2016, African American children, under the age of 18 living with married parents, represented 33%, a single mother, and no spouse represented 56%, and single father and no spouse represented 8%. Children who live in single-parent homes are more likely to perform lower academically than their peers who reside in a two-parent home (Ziol-Guest, Duncan, & Kalil, 2015). As a result, many may feel defeated and decide to drop out with little or no guidance.
Stanford et al. (2017) concur that African American students score lower on the test, and grades are lower than any other ethnic group, which leads to many failing and quitting school altogether. Although some students progress through school, not all exceed; they are less often enrolled in college prep courses or accepted into competitive four-year universities. The National Center for Education Statistics, 2018), from the year 2000 to 2015, African American children’s enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools decreased from 17% to 15%. However, while under the Bush and Obama administration, African American dropout rates decreased from 13.1% to 6.2% for ages 16-24, respectively.
African Americans represent 16% of a total of 6.7 million students ages 3-21 enrolled in public schools served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the 2015-2016 school year, 37% of African American students received services under IDEA for learning disabilities. Congress passed the first iteration of IDEA in 1975, mandating that all children with disabilities to be accommodated with a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE), and it also ensured states that the Federal Government would provide 40% of the average per-pupil expenditure to help offset the cost of educating eligible student (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018).
Closing the achievement gap is a goal among education policymakers, but the disparity among African American students and White students is still a major concern. between 1992 and 2017, the White-Black gap narrowed in reading from 32 points to 26 points. In grade 8, the gap remained the same in mathematics from 1990 to 2017, with white students scoring 32 points higher than the African American students (National Center for Education Statistics (2018). The results in math achievement were mixed, with a 1-point increase among fourth-graders and a 1-point decrease among eighth-graders in relation to their scores in 2017. Washington D. C. was the only place where students posted gains in three out of four grade-subject combinations (Camera, 2019). The achievement gap not only affects the African American community but the entire nation. Efforts to mitigate the deleterious effects of discrimination and racism directed towards African Americans have not produced the desired results; educational injustices continue to be pervasive in the lives of African Americans. (Matthew, Rodrigue, & Reeves, 2016; W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 2014).
An increasingly important aspect of American life is early childhood education, which serves as a predictor of later school performance as well as career and job opportunities, quality of life, health, economics, and social mobility (Sanders-Phillips et al., 2009). Researchers on early brain development identify the importance of the formative years of early childhood as important in shaping a child’s future cognitive, social, and emotional development as well as physical and mental health (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016). Studies on access to early childhood education, parent education, and family life indicate the effectiveness of early childhood education policy initiatives when they concentrate on the family as a whole and include building parental capacity, rather than focusing solely on children’s academic achievement and school readiness (Palm et al., 2018).
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative funded the Head Start program as part of the War on Poverty. This program was managed by Mississippi Action for Progress to serve children ages 3 – 5. Since public schools refused to allocate space for the Head Start program Newell Chapel C.M.E. Church in Meridian, MS became one of three original locations. This landmark program gave way to studies that indicated how students from low-income families entering kindergarten significantly trail their peers from higher-income families (Weyer & Casares, 2019). Currently, Mississippi’s current graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 83%, just one-point shy of the national graduation rate of 84 percent (Mississippi Department of Education, 2018). Consequently, this raises concerns for parents, schools, students, educators, social workers, and many other professionals.
One of the many factors related to academic success among school children is parental involvement. Parental involvement in education has been identified as an important element of academic achievement for at least 40 years. Parents have certain expectations to meet to ensure that their children receive an adequate education. For the most part, parental involvement includes home-based involvement, school-based involvement, and community-based involvement (Hornby & Rayleen, 2011). Studies on parenting have revealed that parent-child relationships and the family environment are the foundation of children’s future well-being and learning (Palm et al., 2018).
In 2018, African Americans living in nonmetro areas had the highest incidence of poverty at 31.6%. (USDA, 2020). Poverty for African Americans surpasses that of other groups (USDA, 2017). Though the poverty rate for Whites, Hispanics, and Asians families has declined in recent years, for African Americans, it remains steady. 38% of Black children lived below the poverty line in 2015, four times greater than that of White and Asian children (Alter, 2017). Poverty-stricken African American parents spend less time with their children as they struggle to make ends meet. Many barely make enough money to pay their bills while their children, living in segregated and poor neighborhoods, lack resources in the community and schools.
Many schools serving African American students experience segregation as a result of isolated high poverty neighborhoods instead of diverse middle-class ones. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to desegregate schools without desegregating low-income and neighborhoods, which leads to a limitation on the educational policy. In order for any education policy to impact the African American community, the core issues and challenges that affect families, especially those living in poverty, must be addressed (Bowman et al. 2018).
Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA), was the educational policy signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015.