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Press Release · February 23, 2005

Policy Puzzle: Leveling Educational Playing Field Proves Tricky

Blacks And Hispanics Have Fewer Family, School Resources ... And Worse Outcomes

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 23, 2005 — Despite a long history of creative policies and significant investment aimed at providing an equitable and high quality education for all students, California still faces remarkably large gaps in academic achievement between racial and ethnic groups, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Among young adults born in the state, only 13 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of blacks have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31 percent of whites and 62 percent of Asians. At every step – eligibility, admission, enrollment, and graduation – Hispanic and black students fare worse than white or Asian students in the University of California system. Using data from 2002-03, the study found that 6 percent of black high school seniors and 7 percent of Hispanic seniors were eligible to attend a UC, compared to 16 percent of white seniors and 31 percent of Asian seniors. Moreover, one-third of high school graduates in California are Hispanic, yet they are only 12 percent of UC graduates. Blacks make up 7 percent of the state’s high school graduates, but only 3 percent of UC graduates.

Blacks, and particularly Hispanics, are also underrepresented in the California State University system, and among transfers from the California Community College system to four-year institutions. “A college education is one of the most important indicators of lifelong economic success,” says the study’s author and PPIC program director Deborah Reed. “These wide disparities in college completion paint an uneven picture of the prospects for young people from different racial and ethnic groups in California.”

Why the achievement gaps? Black and Hispanic children are less likely to have a mother who has completed high school, to live with both parents at home, and to have a family income above the poverty level – family circumstances closely associated with limited school preparation. One stark example: Eighty percent of white children and 88 percent of Asian children in California live with both parents, compared to 38 percent of black children and 66 percent of Hispanic children.

When it comes to school resources, disparities between racial and ethnic groups also remain glaring. Over half (52%) of Hispanic and 43 percent of black children attend elementary and high schools that have low academic performance, compared to 10 and 11 percent of white elementary and high school children, respectively, and 15 and 16 percent of Asian elementary and high school children, respectively. Whites (5%) are also far less likely to attend a high school that is considered critically overcrowded than are blacks (24%), Hispanics (22%), or Asians (15%).

Reducing these disparities and improving outcomes in K-12 education has been the focus of many policy initiatives and lawsuits in California. Current initiatives include requiring high school students to pass an exit exam in order to graduate, providing schools with rewards and sanctions based on performance, focusing on providing qualified teachers, and increasing funding for materials and facilities at low performing schools.

More Key Findings

  • Eleven percent of American Indians earn bachelor’s degrees – the lowest rate of any group.
  • Educational attainment among Pacific Islander students is slightly higher than for blacks and Hispanics, but well below that of whites.
  • Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Filipino children attend preschool at much lower rates than children from other racial and ethnic groups.
  • There are wide variations between different Asian and Hispanic sub-groups when it comes to college completion, even among those born in California: 40 percent of Filipino Americans have a bachelor’s degree compared to 70 percent of Chinese Americans; 12 percent of Mexican Americans have completed college compared to 34 percent of Cuban Americans.
  • During the 1990s, college education gaps grew as attendance and completion increased more for whites than for blacks or Hispanics.
  • Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, high school students must pass an exit exam to graduate; 2004 results for tenth graders show Hispanic and black passing rates at about 60 percent, while white and Asian rates are over 85 percent.
  • Despite substantial investment in public higher education, college completion in California is no higher than in the rest of the country for any racial or ethnic group.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.