Urban Education Report: Inequality, Disparate Opportunities


A report released by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education has taken a closer look at the state of urban education in 50 of the largest cities in the United States, finding “staggering” inequalities for poor and ethnic students.

The report, titled “Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities,” found that, on average, white students were four times more likely than Black students to attend a high-performing school.  Black students were twice as likely to be punished through the use of out-of-school suspensions.

Some exceptions did apply.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, black students were found to be suspended slightly less than white students, and black and Hispanic students in Chicago participated in advanced courses and college entrance exams at higher rates, writes Anya Kamenetz for NPR.

The report found that fewer than 1 in 3 students from the districts analyzed take the ACT or SAT in a given year.  The most students to take either exam were found in Memphis, at 30%. For three-fifths of participating districts, fewer than 15% of students were found to take either of the exams each year.  Although colleges are beginning to lean toward making the tests optional for admissions, most institutions across the country still require one or the other.

In terms of overall performance, 40% of the lowest performing schools remained at the bottom three years later.  However, some schools were able to improve their grades, writes Amy Scott for Marketplace.  On average, graduation rates were found to be around 75%.

“In New Orleans, the schools that started in that bottom 5 percent went to zero, so none of them stayed there for three years running,” said Michael DeArmond, a senior research analyst at the center and one of the report’s authors. Washington, D.C., made similar gains.

The report made no mention as to what worked in those cities to increase performance.  However, DeArmond said he would like to see the data used by mayors and other city leaders to improve school systems across the country for all students.

While suggestions to increase performance were not included, the report did show how cities measure up on a number of different metrics, including test scores, graduation rates and suspension rates, and cities that are making progress by increasing opportunity were identified.

Cities that are home to schools managed by several sectors and agencies were chosen by the report’s authors.