The Demographic Divide— African-American Students in Focus in California

 by Manuel Buenrostro

Demographics should not be destiny — all students are entitled to a quality education that enables them to meet their potential. It is for this reason that CSBA has continued to highlight the conditions and opportunity gaps of California’s diverse student population.

This includes the nearly 400,000 African-American students, or six percent of all students, enrolled in California K-12 public schools. The group is the sixth largest population of African-American students in the country — larger than the overall student population of 15 other states.

However, the potential of African-American students is not currently reflected in their academic achievement. According to the 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment results in English language arts/literacy and mathematics, a lower proportion of African-American students met or exceeded expectations than all other ethnic subgroups. This reflects the need for schools and communities to ensure that every student achieves.

As part of that effort, CSBA issued two key policy briefs in spring 2016, focused on African-American students:

  • The first, African-American Students in Focus: Demographics and Achievement of California’s African-American Students, focuses on the educational outcomes for African-American students and systemic challenges to their obtaining access to an excellent education
  • The second, African-American Students in Focus: Closing Opportunity and Achievement Gaps for African-American Students, focuses on specific strategies that board members and state, county and district leaders can use as they work with staff to , focuses on specific strategies that board members and state, county and district leaders can use as they work with staff to raise achievement levels for African-American students
  • The information in these briefs can help board members ensure that equal opportunity for all students is a reality in their schools by staying engaged with their communities, asking questions and addressing gaps where they exist.

    Strategies to Support African-American Students

    While there is no easy fix, there are certain county, district and school strategies that can help to counter opportunity gaps and improve outcomes for African-American students. Several of these strategies, mentioned in the African-American Students in Focus briefs, include:

        1. Invest in Early Education
        2. Provide Access to High-Quality Curriculum and Materials
        3. Support Access to High-Quality Staff
        4. Ensure Adequate and Necessary Student Supports
        5. Cultivate Cultural Respect and Relevance
        6. Foster Collaboration
        7. Support Family and Community Engagement

    These strategies help to counteract the many challenges faced by African-American students, including a higher prevalence of childhood poverty, higher concentrations in high-poverty and less diverse schools, and lower access to resources, including rigorous courses, quality instructional materials and qualified teachers.

    Teacher Shortage as an Opportunity

    While all of these strategies are important, the issue of staff diversity and quality, especially during the ongoing teacher shortage, presents both an immediate challenge and an opportunity. Currently, California holds the widest gap between the proportion of nonwhite students and the proportion of nonwhite teachers amongst all states in the country. In addition, African-American students are more likely to attend schools with higher poverty rates, which tend to employ a greater number of teachers who have less experience and preparation.

    As counties and districts find local solutions to the teacher shortage, they are also finding solutions that recruit teachers who are more diverse, provide quality preparation that builds their cultural competencies and encourages candidates to teach in the schools with a greater number of socioeconomically disadvantaged and students of color.

    These efforts include Teacher Residency Programs in Chico, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno, and Teach Tomorrow in Oakland. The programs have been able to recruit more diverse candidates into the teaching profession and keep them in the classroom longer. For example, national statistics on teacher residency programs show an 84 percent three-year retention rate and an enrollment of significantly more teachers of color than traditional credentialing programs. Teach Tomorrow Oakland has a 78 percent retention rate, and more than half of its teachers are on track to complete their five-year commitment to teach in Oakland.This is particularly important when considering that teachers and administrators with an understanding of the cultures and backgrounds of diverse students and a predisposition to work with diverse populations, have been shown to have higher expectations, which is associated with greater student success.

    CSBA encourages board members and other education leaders to read the two African-American Students in Focus policy briefs and the related articles below:

    Ulrich Boser (2015), “Teacher Diversity Revisited,” Center for American Progress.

    Larry Ferlazzo (2015), “Response: Strategies for Recruiting Teachers of Color,” Education Week

    Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt, and Nicholas W. Papageorge (2016), “Who Believes in me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations,” Economics of Education Review

    National Center for Teacher Residencies, “Impact & Results.” Accessed April 7, 2016

    buenrostroManuel Buenrostro is a policy and programs officer for CSBA.