More than 25 percent of black youths surveyed in Montgomery County feel that people have discriminated against them at school, and more than 40 percent say they have been stopped by police, according to a new report that examines the disconnection from work and school among young African Americans in the Washington suburb.
A majority of those who responded to the survey said they felt as if they were part of their schools, although most also said they need more teachers and counselors who care about black students being successful, according to the report. More than half wanted more academic support programs.
The report points to the difficult experiences black youths have in and out of school, and its analysis recommends a more comprehensive strategy in Montgomery — across the school system, county and community — to narrow persistent achievement gaps and improve the broader outlook for young African Americans.
It noted that the dropout rate for black students, though improving since 2010, was 9 percent in Montgomery in 2013, compared with less than 3 percent for white students.
“We have to listen to the young people’s voices,” said DeRionne P. Pollard, president of Montgomery College, which worked on the report with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and the Rockville consulting firm BETAH Associates. “They’re telling us they live in a community where they may not have access to workforce development or to key resources to help them be successful.”
The study, to be presented at a news conference Friday, focused on survey results from 1,200 young people ages 14 to 24, a roughly equal mix of high school students, graduates and dropouts; African American students represent 21.4 percent of Montgomery’s enrollment of more than 156,000 this year. The survey — administered by youths hired to survey others in the community — aimed to identify potential risk and protective factors as a way to help improve opportunities.
“Students drop out of school for many reasons,” the report said. “We must identify these reasons and make it the community’s priority to enact real, lasting solutions to address them.”
A similarly close look at the experiences of Hispanic students in Montgomery County was published last year.
The new report said black youths were disproportionately suspended from school in Montgomery, with a rate of 9 percent in 2013 compared with less than 3 percent for white and Asian students. Those who dropped out of school were more than twice as likely to have been suspended during their last year of high school than graduates, according to the survey.
Montgomery school officials were positive about the report’s recommendations and said they recognize some African American students feel discriminated against or disconnected.
“That is one of reasons we are focusing on cultural proficiency,” Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said. “Our students need to feel they are welcome in school and valued at school.”
Tofig said the report also affirms work being done to narrow achievement gaps, engage families and community members and increase staff diversity. He noted that black students in Montgomery outperform their African American peers on the state and national levels on academic measures such as AP exams. School officials appreciate the report’s recognition that many of the issues cited go beyond school walls, involving parents, county agencies and the community, he said.
The survey found that students who drop out of school had more difficult paths than those who earned a high school diploma:
●Those who dropped out were more likely to have failed a subject during their last year of school, get low grade-point averages and feel sad or hopeless.
●Dropouts were less likely to feel encouraged by their parents to do well in school or to feel their parents expected them to go to college.
●Dropouts were more likely to be arrested at some point or placed in juvenile detention or jail; and they were more likely to be in a gang or have a sibling in a gang.
●Only 31 percent of youths who dropped out had jobs, and nearly half of that group said their economic conditions were bad or very bad.
The report’s four main recommendations include that the school system work with others to lower dropout rates and close the achievement gap for African American students and that the county create “a coordinated array of services and supports” to reconnect youths to education and the workforce.
It called on many in Montgomery — including the African American community, law enforcement, and county and school leaders — to reduce disproportionate minority contact with the justice system. It said the philanthropic sector should work to galvanize support for reconnecting youths.
How much funding is available is unclear. The report comes amid a budget crunch in Montgomery, as school officials face the possibility of significant shortfalls for the next budget cycle.
“I think it’s a very important time to continue to look at strengthening supports for African American youth,” said LaKeesha Woods, the report’s lead researcher. “The goal is that every young person has what they need to be successful going into adulthood.”