Sunday, August 09, 2020


Article Index

D. Exclusion from Honor and College Preparatory Classes

African-American students are systematically excluded from honors classes, college prep courses, and gifted programs. They are more often placed on a special education track and excluded from educational tracks designed for advanced placement and gifted programs. For example, in NAACP v. City of Thomasville School District, the court determined that the practice of ability group[ing] or tracking, resulted in a disproportionate number of African-American students being placed in the lower ability group, thus not being placed in the academically advanced classes. The court stated, Tragically, it appears that for many of these children, the die is cast as early as kindergarten. These children do not appear to be reevaluated (and thus potentially re-tracked) during their progressions through the system.

The court, nevertheless, held that there was no evidence that the school district intentionally used the tracking system to exclude African-American students from certain classes. In essence, the court sanctioned a system which maintains the segregation of students on the basis of race. The white students are assigned to advanced courses and minorities are assigned to low ability classes. Approximately thirty years before the decision in City of Thomasville School Dist., the District of Columbia Circuit Court in Hobson v. Hansen, held that African-American students were discriminately tracked into lower level, less challenging schools. This practice of segregating African-American students into general education courses continues to be practiced by many school districts.

*24 The exclusion of African-American students from advanced courses is not always blatant, but often subtle. This subtlety was obvious in People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education, where the plaintiffs, African-American and Hispanic, argued that while the school may be desegregated, classrooms within the school were still segregated. The plaintiffs argued that minority students were underrepresented in advance courses. In dismissing this claim, the court reasoned that minorities had an opportunity to enroll in such cases. Specifically, the court stated, It is provincial and naive to suppose that because [the school district] once engaged in de facto segregation of its public schools, the choices of its minority students regarding voluntary enrollment in advanced classes open to all are a legacy of that segregation.

This reasoning on the part of the court clearly indicates a lack of understanding of the long term negative impact segregation and isolation can have on minority students. The mere fact that a school board announces that they are no longer excluding minorities from advanced classes, where in the past white students were nourished, mentored, and encouraged to take such courses, will not, without more, eradicate the present effect of past discrimination. The inference that only white students are capable of taking such courses may linger until school districts take positive actions to ensure that minorities, especially African-American males, feel welcome in such classes. Moreover, the use of tracking maintains segregation within a school system.

African-American males are systematically excluded from taking advanced courses in science, mathematics, and foreign languages. These courses are considered college preparatory courses that may lead to acceptance in college, scholarships, and advanced placement in college courses. These exclusions may be intentional on the part of teachers as part of a stereotypical bias that African-American males lack the intelligence, motivation, and support from their parents to be successful. Teachers may reinforce their stereotypical biases by *25 projecting low expectations for achievement toward African-American male students. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy becomes a reality. African-American males are more likely to be placed in lower, less challenging educational tracks. Likewise, African-American males are more likely to be taking remedial mathematics and general English. In addition to being excluded from honor classes, they are absent from honor and academic related organizations. From elementary school to college, African-American males are intensely recruited to play school sports but are not recruited or encouraged to join or participate in academic school clubs and organizations.

African-American males are less likely than whites to be identified as gifted and to participate in gifted educational programs. Often, these programs are not well publicized and are secretly shared with a select group of parents. Students are selected based on a teacher's recommendation. These programs permit students to participate*26 in a variety of enrichment programs, as well as placement in advanced courses. Unlike in sports, African-American males are not groomed and actively recruited for these programs. School systems that intentionally exclude African-American students from gifted and college prep programs may be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Civil rights complaints may be filed with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education

The systematic exclusion and isolation of African-American males from gifted school programs perpetuates the stereotypical biases that African-American males are only interested in sports. It also further perpetuates their perceived academic inferiority. In Strauder v. West Virginia, Justice Strong expressed the concern that the exclusion of African-American men from serving as jurors was like permanently placing a brand of inferiority on them in violation of the law. Similarly, the over-placement of African-American males in special education programs, and the practice of systematically excluding them from advance courses, forever brands them as inferior among other students and teachers.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law