Study: EBR schools’ white, middle class kids get a good education; poor, black kids lacking

Math test scores compared
Math test scores compared

If you’re white, you have enough money to pay for your lunch and you attend an East Baton Rouge Parish public school, you’re getting among the best educations among urban districts across the U.S., according to new study by the Council of Great City Schools.

But if you are black and qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of student poverty, your education is at or below average among the 21 urban school districts the council used for comparison.

The study was requested by the parish school system, one of 67 districts that pay dues for membership in the Washington, D.C., organization.

The results were presented Thursday morning at the School Board’s Instructional Resource Center.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he asked the council to conduct the study because he knows some people won’t believe it if such research were done in-house.

Taylor said he gave the council no special directives, except to compare student achievement in the parish with similar urban school districts across the country.

“There’s no spin, no scrubbing,” he said. “However it would manifest itself, it would manifest itself.”

Michael Casserly, executive director of the council, presented the data along with Ray Hart, its director of research.

The organization gathered reading and math scores in fourth and eighth grades. It converted scale scores from East Baton Rouge Parish’s LEAP test in 2012 to the scale used that same year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

NAEP is often referred to as the “nation’s report card.”

Twenty-one urban school districts test enough students for their own NAEP results. The council also compared all the districts, including East Baton Rouge, with a sample of private school students nationwide.

“In summary, it looks like this, that EBR scores are somewhat lower than other urban districts, mostly because of your poverty,” Casserly said.

These school districts tend to have high concentrations of poor and minority children, but East Baton Rouge, with 80 percent or more in both categories, typically has even more, he said.

Also, half of the parish’s much smaller population of white students live in poverty, much higher than the comparison districts, he said.

Math scores for East Baton Rouge Parish black children living in poverty were in the middle of the pack, according to the council, while reading scores were well behind those of other urban districts, a problem that worsened by eighth grade.

Hart cited Atlanta and Baltimore as districts that are doing better than the norm in reading instruction. He said East Baton Rouge Parish might want to examine such districts as it figures out ways to improve.

When the council looked at the scores of higher-income students who can afford their own lunch, East Baton Rouge Parish fourth- and eighth graders — black, white and Hispanic — ranked at or near the top.

“There’s no reason to think students in those schools do better, either in another district, or if they went private school,” Casserly said.

“This clearly shows that we are adept at educating middle-class children,” Taylor concluded after the presentation.

Taylor said it also shows that the district has work to do to catch up with other districts when it comes to educating children in poverty.

“Clearly, our budget needs to reflect how do we help the children who need the most help,” he said.