By Barney Blakeney
When the author of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015” outlined data compiled in several categories that include Educational Attainment, Health and Environmental Hazards and Crime and Policing, most egregious she said, were disparities in public education. A glance at the report’s findings in education indicates that description is an understatement.
The report noted Charleston County has a higher level of educational attainment when compared to other counties in the state. Ninety percent of residents in 2015 had high school diplomas and 40 percent had at least a Bachelor Degree. But looking at the data more closely revealed that in the 2015-2016 school year, the five schools with the highest poverty indicator were predominantly Black schools and those with the lowest poverty indicator were predominantly white. It’s one indicator that African American and white residents do not enjoy comparable levels of educational attainment, the report said.
From the beginning of their experience in public schools Asian and White students outperform Black students in every area, according to results of pre-k and kindergarten readiness assessments. Those trends continue as students complete high school. In 2015 Black seniors scored lower than White seniors on all three SAT tests. The number of students taking and passing advance placement tests showed similar disparities. In 2015 about 78 percent of Asian students passed AP tests, about 76 percent of White students passed the tests while only about 25 percent of Black student passed the tests.
However, the most distressing disparities revealed by the report were in the number of student suspensions and expulsions. During the 2014-2015 school year there were about 8,000 suspensions in Charleston County schools. Black males accounted for about 4,500 of those suspensions. Black females accounted for another 2,000 suspensions. Among elementary school students, Black students accounted for about 1,900 of the 2,200 suspensions. Black males accounted for about 1,400 of those suspensions. The disparity was mirrored at the middle school level where there were about 2,900 suspensions. Black students accounted for 2,400 of them. And at the high school level where there were about 2,900 suspensions, Black students accounted for about 2,300 of them.
Former Charleston County School Board Chairman Hillery Douglas said those disparities exist because a faction or residents in the county is “hellbent” on insuring that progress for Black citizens is limited. That effort is played out in every aspect of daily life, including public education, he said.
“It may be hard to believe those people exist in these times, the 21st century,” Douglas said, “but there are those who would limit our gains in politics, economics, education, you name it. It’s not so pervasive in other parts of the state. But here, it’s blatant.
“To overcome that we must ask ourselves whether our progress will be determined more by us or that group. Do we put forth the effort to guide our children to become successful? We have kids who are smart. Will we invest more in them or in our iphones, hair and nails? It’s a hard job to get people to be engaged. There are so many distractions standing in the way. Some of our people are fighting, but so many don’t know how to fight. They don’t know how to instill in their children the things that make them successful. And there are those among us who let a few dollars influence whether or not we do the right things. We’ve got some politicians who shouldn’t be in office,” Douglas said.
Eliminating the disparities that exist in public education and other areas of Black life will take time, Douglas said. “Some of us who are not in schools need to be educated!” he said. “We’re spending a lot of energy on the wrong things. We’ve got to redirect some of those efforts. But we’ve got to grab the bull by the horns and go back to some old fashioned ways and just do the right thing! It’s a job we all have to work at.”