African American Schools Need Access to Qualified Teachers, School Counselors, Rigorous Coursework

Today more than ever, we know the value of a college education.  By the year 2020, it is estimated that two-thirds of American jobs will require college experience. Thirty percent will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 36 percent will require at least some college or an associate degree.

Unfortunately, not every student can access a quality high school experience that prepares them for postsecondary success.  This is especially true for African Americans, who attend the least resourced schools and suffer the worst academic outcomes. CLASP’s new report, College Preparation for African American Students: Gaps in the High School Educational Experience, explores how these students suffer without access to quality teachers, college readiness courses, and school counselors, as well as what must be done to improve the system. 

Experienced, well-educated teachers are critical to student development. According to research, teachers’ combination of educational attainment, credential status, and years of experience significantly affect the remediation rates of students enrolling in college. Unfortunately, highly qualified teachers are in short supply in predominantly African American schools.  According to the report:

  • African American students are four times more likely than White students to attend a school where one in five teachers are not certified.
  • African American students are four times more likely than White students to attend a school where over 20 percent of teachers are in their first year.
  • African American students need teachers equipped with a cultural pedagogy that positively engages them. 

Students who have access to college-level preparation in high school are more likely to seek and succeed in higher education. But far too many high-minority schools do not offer these courses, making it nearly impossible for students to gain the skills necessary to enter and succeed in college.  The report finds:

  • Only 57 percent of African American students have access to the full array of college preparatory courses (such as Algebra II, Calculus, and Physics), compared to 71 percent of White students.
  • In the schools that do offer college preparatory courses, few African American students enroll because of lowered teacher expectations, lack of preparation in earlier grades, and other factors.

School counselors are essential to prepare students for postsecondary success. They support the college transition through career counseling, identifying financial aid resources, and helping students select the college that fits best with their aspirations. Unfortunately, African American students typically attend schools with high student-to-counselor ratios or, in some cases, no counselor at all.  The report highlights alarming data:

  • In the 100 largest school districts, 9.4 percent of schools with predominately Black and Latino populations have no counselor—compared to 6.5 percent of other schools.
  • Across the country, 20 percent of all schools do not have a counselor. Smaller and more affluent schools tend to have better counselor-to-student ratios and a greater focus on college preparation.

As a young African American man from a small suburb in Maryland, I recognize the significance of what this report highlights. Only several years removed from high school and one from college, I realize now the tragic inequality in our educational system. Not every student has equal access to the resources that yield college readiness. But there is reason for optimism; the narrative of inequality need not persist forever. I would not be in the position I am in today without the quality schools I attended throughout my life. Access to rigorous coursework, experienced and culturally competent teachers, and close relationships with my counselors were not just my experience; they were basic expectations. These things matter. In schools and communities with fewer resources—such as Baltimore City, where 1 in 4 teachers are novice, or Atlanta, where the counselor-to-student ratio is 64 percent higher than recommended—they matter even more.

To read College Preparation for African-American Students: Gaps in the High School Educational Experience, click here

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