Report on college attendance crisis for black males exaggerated
The following was written by Caroline Grannan, a San Francisco public-school parent, volunteer and advocate. Grannan is a retired daily-newspaper copy editor, who like all former newsroom journalists, compulsively Monday-morning-quarterbacks her ex-colleagues' work.
By Caroline Grannan
There's no doubt that the education crisis for African-American males is a serious and valid concern. A recent report by the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) provided a new slew of data highlighting the problem.
But we don't need to make the crisis sound even worse than it actually is. One piece of data was widely misunderstood – starting with The New York Times' Nov. 9 article on the CGCS report – and cited to exaggerate the emergency. The Times ran a correction once the “d'oh!” kicked in -- which, needless to say, should have happened during the original reporting and editing process.
The misinterpretation also appeared on The Answer Sheet, in the Nov. 22 post “How to help African-American males in school: Treat them like gifted students.”
The misunderstood factoid is this one, quoted here from The New York Times article:
“In college, black men represented just 5 percent of students in 2008.”
But actually, that particular statistic doesn't demonstrate a crisis. That's because black men make up just 6.5 percent of the U.S. population.
Here's The Times' correction:
"Correction: November 12, 2010
An article on Tuesday about a report on the achievement gap in schools between black male students and white male students in reading and math referred incorrectly in some editions to data from Baltimore’s urban school district. The information for the district’s progress in dropout rates and graduation rates for African-American boys in the last academic year was compared with data from three years ago, not four years ago. The article also referred imprecisely to the significance of the number of black men in college. While black men made up “just 5 percent” of college students in 2008, that figure did not represent one of the areas in which blacks showed a lack of achievement, given that black men make up only about 6.5 percent of the general population."
Unfortunately, a quick check of Google and Google News shows this statistic flying around far and wide to demonstrate a supposed crisis. As usual, the original misinterpretation was widely disseminated, while the correction remains tiny, invisible and unnoticed.
I looked to see if the original CGCS report also misunderstood that statistic. But no, it was used to make a particular – and appalling – point. The Times reporter and apparently most everyone else misunderstood the reason that 5 percent figure was used. The CGCS report compared the percentage of college students who are black males (5 percent, as noted) to the percentage of prison inmates who are black males (36 percent).
It might be interesting to do some further research on another day: How does the percentage of college students who are white males compare to the percentage of the overall population who are white males – and check into that for other demographic subgroups, for that matter.
Here's another little piece of logic with bearing on that factoid: Given that it costs an enormous amount to attend college in the United States (in actual costs as well as lost income) – a situation that does not exist in other developed nations, by the way! – it's far more difficult for low-income people to attend college than for high-income people.
Black males are statistically more likely to be low-income than some other demographics, and so they face an extra challenge in the ability to attend college. Considering that, it could be a bright spot that black males are so well-represented among college students.
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| November 26, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Achievement gap, Guest Bloggers | Tags: achievement gap, african-american males, attendance crisis, black males, college attendance and african american males
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