The previous article in this series, the first of four on the disadvantages suffered by black and brown students in U.S. school systems, summarized the increasing re-segregation of K-12 classrooms. This article describes various problems that further contribute to the inferiority of the educational experience offered to minority and especially low-income minority students.

A System Designed to Fail

Public schools in the U.S. are generally funded by a combination of federal, state and local governments. If the system were designed to succeed, the allocation of funds might be based primarily on need.

In such a system, some additional moneys might go to those school districts whose students’ needs were the most acute. This idea runs so counter to the way things actually work as to seem at first almost heretical.

Property taxes are one of the most important constituents of K-12 funding in this country. Since these taxes are allocated in 23 states according to the school district these taxes come from, children with wealthy parents in those states will always attend schools with the highest budgets.

This problem is generally understood, but widely underestimated. Since over half the students in U.S. public schools come from low-income families, the connection between wealth and education budgets means that most of these students — nearly all, in fact — will be taught by less-qualified and/or less-experienced teachers in overcrowded classrooms. The kinds of special purpose funding that is most acutely needed in poor school districts goes primarily instead to the school districts that need it least. On average, schools in the poorest school districts receive 15% less per pupil than schools in wealthier districts.

In half of the 100 largest American cities, a majority of Latinx and African-American students attend schools where over 75% of the students qualify as poor or low-income. The effective herding of these students into schools with the least amount of funding threatens their future, but the problem isn’t limited to those students alone.

What this also means is that nearly half of all American students receive substandard educations, which is a national crisis depriving the country of a much needed supply of skilled and trained workers.

Unconscious Bias and Slow-Track Herding

Another reason black and brown students receive inferior educations has nothing to do with money. They often receive inferior educations because it’s assumed — often, not always, by white teachers — that they’re incapable of absorbing or benefiting from a better one.

A 2015 study determined that non-black teachers systematically lower estimates of educational potential for black students below their expectations for white students. This held particularly true for black males.

The study further found that when a black student was evaluated by one white teacher and one non-white teacher, white teachers consistently rated black students lower than the ratings given by non-white teachers.

One story told by many successful African-American and Latinx adults with advanced degrees involves teachers or student advisors who tried to dissuade them from attending college! An African-American acquaintance of mine is still waiting to confront the student advisor who, despite my friend’s straight-A grades, suggested that she’d “be more comfortable” in a trade-school setting.

After graduating from college, she started her own business; for several years her income has placed her in the economic top 1%. But how many students of color have been advised away from fulfilling their potential by this kind of bad advice based on unconscious bias?

It’s well-documented that these lowered expectations negatively affect student performance and self-esteem. Aggravating this problem is a shortage of non-white teachers in K-12 programs. While 44 percent of the students are of color, 83 percent of their teachers are white.

The next article in this four-part series describes and attempts to account for a troubling phenomenon: Black and brown students from intact families, middle-class background and attending well-funded schools in affluent school districts still underperform white cohorts.

Why is this so and what will improve outcomes?