Friday, June 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Schools

I was at a dinner a few weeks ago when I got into a conversation with some folks about racism. That happens a lot when I tell people about my dissertation research. When I mentioned my findings (which confirm many others) that some white high school students think about racism as individual prejudice only, believe that it is largely a thing of the past, and don’t want to discuss it in school, someone asked how racism still exists today.  That brought up the topic of educational inequity. 

In my young adult novel, The R Word, there is a scene where some high school students do a bit of their own research by comparing two schools, one suburban and mostly white and one urban and mostly African American.  Although the schools are fictional, they are meant to be in the Philly area, and when I wrote the story I envisioned them to be about 30 miles apart. 

Drick Boyd, who also blogs about race at, reminded me that you don’t have to look 30 miles to find schools that are acutely and disturbingly unequal.  Here are two that he mentioned, offered here for comparison.  The stats listed are compiled from a few websites:,, and  These two schools are 3.8 miles, or about 10 minutes away from one another.

Lower Merion High School -
Lower Merion School District
Overbrook High School -
Philadelphia School District
Number of Students
Racial Demographics
White = 77%
Black = 12%
Two or more races = 1%
Asian = 8%
Hispanic = 2%

White: 1%
Black: 97%
Two or more races = 0
Asian = 0
Hispanic: 1%

Economically Disadvantaged
State Rank (based on standardized test scores)
17 out of 676
660 out of 676
Reading Scores
Advanced: 69%
Proficient: 20%
Basic: 6%
Below Basic: 6%

Advanced: 6%
Proficient: 19%
Basic: 25%
Below Basic: 50%

Math Scores
Advanced: 61%
Proficient: 22%
Basic: 10%
Below Basic: 7%

Advanced: 3%
Proficient: 13%
Basic: 24%
Below Basic: 61%

Amount Spent per Student
Average Teacher Salary
$58, 065
Graduation Rate

The differences in these stats are astonishing for two schools not even four miles apart. The average jogger could make if from one school to the other in under an hour. What are the causes for such discrepancies? I’m sure there are many factors involved, and I couldn’t begin to answer that question without engaging in an in-depth study.  Surely spending per pupil is a factor, but it is certainly not the only factor. The poverty that is the legacy of our racist past affects children in all kinds of ways, and when 98% of a school’s population is economically disadvantaged, even the best teachers would have their work cut out for them. But it would seem to me that we should be spending MORE money on children who come from under-resourced communities, not almost $10,000 less per year.  Something here just ain’t right.

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