AP Report on Dearth of Black Degrees in Math and Science Missing Role of Failure of Unionized Public Schools

October 23rd, 2011 10:17 PM

At the Associated Press today, National Writer Jesse Washington attempted to dissect the relative dearth of college degrees earned by African-Americans in "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Not that anything he reported was particularly wrong, but in my view he missed the largest contributor to the problem, one that apparently can't be mentioned in polite press company. He used one word -- "uneducated" -- that started to get close but backed away. The five-word phrase he failed to mention, which could usefully carry the acronym "LUPUS":

Lousy, Unionized Public Urban Schools.

Here are the first six paragraphs from Washington's report:

Declining numbers of blacks seen in math, science

With black unemployment reaching historic levels, banks laying off tens of thousands and law school graduates waiting tables, why aren't more African-Americans looking toward science, technology, engineering and math - the still-hiring careers known as STEM?

The answer turns out to be a complex equation of self-doubt, stereotypes, discouragement and economics - and sometimes just wrong perceptions of what math and science are all about.

The percentage of African-Americans earning STEM degrees has fallen during the last decade. It may seem far-fetched for an undereducated black population to aspire to become chemists or computer scientists, but the door is wide open, colleges say, and the shortfall has created opportunities for those who choose this path.

STEM barriers are not unique to black people. The United States does not produce as high a proportion of white engineers, scientists and mathematicians as it used to. Women and Latinos also lag behind white men.

Yet the situation is most acute for African-Americans.

Black people are 12 percent of the U.S. population and 11 percent of all students beyond high school. In 2009, they received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor's degrees, 4 percent of master's degrees, and 2 percent of PhDs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This is all well and good, but to get from Washington's "11% of all students beyond high school" to the 7% of all students with STEM degrees, there's an intermediate step: Blacks only account for 9.8% of all bachelors degrees in the 2008-2009 academic year. This means that either a lot more of the "students beyond high school" are enrolling in junior colleges or that the dropout rate among blacks who go to four-year schools is disproportionately high -- or both.

Far more critically, Washington ignored how horridly prepared so many graduates of urban high schools for science- and math-related pursuits. Though I'm obviously citing the worst of the worst, there are many urban school districts, many if not most with predominantly black student populations, which are almost as bad (link is to BlogProf because the underlying February 24 Detroit News item is no longer available):

Students tested from Detroit Public Schools have scored the worst in the nation again — this time in science, according to national test scores released today.

The district's fourth- and eighth-graders trailed 16 other large cities that participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment, given to students between January and March 2009.

The test found that 80 percent of eighth-graders scored below the "basic" level, meaning they lack fundamental skills in science, while 17 percent scored at the basic level. Only 3 percent were considered proficient and none scored advanced.

With results like that, there isn't a talent pool from which to draw.

The reason for that gets back to what I characterized above as "LUPUS." It's disappointing, but hardly surprising, that Washington wouldn't go there.

I should also point out that much of the $35 billion the Obama administration and Harry Reid wished to get out to schools to preserve teachers' jobs would likely have gone to Detroit and other school districts -- so they could keep on doing what they've been doing so poorly for decades.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.