Friday, June 02, 2006

Could adults work in this environment?

Nearly one-third of black students report serious disruptions and distractions

If an adult were forced to work in an environment where disrespect, bad language, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and other bad behaviors are inflicted by a relative few, but tolerated or winked at by management, it might be considered a "hostile workplace," a new report released by the nonpartisan research organization Public Agenda points out.

Substantial numbers of the nation's black and Hispanic students report conditions like these in their schools, according to a Public Agenda national survey of parents, middle and high school students and teachers. Asked to rate their schools on key academic and social dimensions -– resources, promotion policies, dropout rates, truancy, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and others -- black and Hispanic students are more likely than their white counterparts to report "very serious" problems in nearly every category.

In "Reality Check 2006: How Black and Hispanic Families Rate Their Schools" (the second report issued this year in the Reality Check 2006 series), Public Agenda found that American students have much in common regardless of racial or ethnic background. Majorities of all students back higher standards, say their teachers do a good job in most respects, and express some level of concern about lack of respect, profanity, and drugs and alcohol abuse in their schools. But for minority kids, academic problems like high dropout rates and kids getting passed through the system without learning, and social issues like profanity, disrespect for teachers and drug and alcohol abuse are far more prevalent and "serious" in their schools. According to the report, about 3 in 10 black youngsters attend schools with considerable turmoil:

30% of black students report that teachers spend more time trying to keep order than teaching

30% say their school has very serious problems with drug and alcohol abuse

32% report very serious problems with fighting and weapons

33% say their school is not consistent in enforcing discipline and behavior rules

37% say their school has a very serious problem with kids cutting class

52% say their school has a very serious problem with kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language

Nearly half of Hispanic students (48%) report that their school has a very serious problem with kids dropping out.

Jean Johnson, executive director of Public Agenda's new initiative Education Insights and an author of the report said, "This is not grumbling from a group of easily-shocked adults who haven't been inside a school in years and still haven’t come to grips with today’s teen fashions. These are the judgments of young people themselves who say problems like truancy and disrespect for teachers are very serious in their schools -- not just 'somewhat serious,' but 'very serious.' A lot of these kids are highly aware that their schools are not serving them well, and that has to be discouraging."

Minority parents are also more likely to report serious academic and social problems in their schools. Half of black (49%) and Hispanic (52%) parents say that it is a very serious problem that local schools are "not getting enough money to do a good job," compared to a third of white parents (33%). Minority parents are also twice as likely as white parents to say fighting and weapons are very serious issues and are more likely to question whether local school district superintendents do enough to ensure that schools are safe and orderly. Teachers in minority schools are more likely to complain about large classes, poor teaching conditions and lack of parental support.

This edition of "Reality Check" does include some particularly heartening findings for those who seek silver linings. Majorities of all students -- black (66%), white (72%) and Hispanic (71%) -- report that they have had a teacher who was able to get them interested in a subject that they hadn't really liked before. Additionally, most parents (61%), across racial and ethnic groups, believe their children's schools are better than the ones they attended when they were young.

To read the full report, click here.

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