Nationwide schools plagued by racial inequities

New national data shows that minority students continue to populate lower income schools, where funds affect the quality of education. And Pittsburgh is no exception.

In fact, Pittsburgh is among the cities with the largest gap between whites and students of color attending low-income majority schools, according to the Atlantic’s reporting of data from the National Equity Atlas.

From the Atlantic:

Pittsburgh is also one of the country’s most highly segregated cities, according to Atlas data. As with other cities, its schools show major gaps between the shares of white and non-white students attending mostly low-income schools.

A 56-point gap separates the share of all students of color and the share of white students attending a school where at least half of their peers are poor. That gap is even wider — a full 67 percentage points — between white and black students. Ninety-two percent of black students in Pittsburgh attend a majority-poverty school.

Other cities with large gaps include Birmingham, Alabama; Rochester, New York; and Dallas, Texas.

In 90 of the nation’s 95 largest cities, public schools that serve poor or low-income students are primarily composed of minorities, including black, Latino, Asian or Native American students.

Nationally, however, Pittsburgh had one of the lowest percentages of students who attend high-poverty schools; the Atlas ranked Pittsburgh 125th of 146 cities. In 2014, about 10 percent of Pittsburgh students were in high-poverty schools. By comparison, two Texas cities topped the list with about 88 percent.

Pennsylvania was ranked 27th for its percentage of students in high-poverty schools. About 16 percent of students in the state attend such schools. Mississippi, the state with the most students in high-poverty schools, had 47 percent; New Hampshire had only 1.5 percent, according to Atlas data.

The disparities have continued to increase over the last 14 years. According to Atlas data, this rise parallels a similar increase in minority populations in the United States.

Sean F. Reardon, a professor at Stanford, told the Atlantic the difference in racial populations at a school was the “best predictor of the racial achievement gap.”

Nationally, three-fourths of black and Hispanic students attend schools where most students are low income, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. This, in turn, affects the quality of education.

Reardon told the Atlantic:

It’s that school poverty turns out to be a good proxy for the quality of a school. They are in poorer community, they have less local resources, they have fewer parents with college degrees, they have fewer two parent families where there are parents who can come spend time volunteering in the school, they have a harder time attracting the best teachers

So for a lot of reasons schools serving poor kids tend to have fewer resources, both economic and social capital resources.

In Allegheny County, 11 of 43 school districts are considered high poverty. According to a report from PennCAN, an organization for research-backed education reform, in these districts only about 50 percent of students are proficient in math and reading, which falls six percentage points below the state average.

The study identified “opportunity schools” that were bridging the divide between income and quality of education, but only six of 102 high-poverty schools in the county qualified, reaching only 6 percent of the students.  

From the report:

The public education system in Allegheny County is plagued by an income and racial achievement gap that undermines the region’s economic competitiveness and robs students of the most precious feature of our democratic ideals: opportunity. The schools celebrated in this report provide proof that zip code does not have to equal destiny.

Reach PublicSource intern Lauren Rosenblatt at lrosenblatt@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @LRosenblatt_.