Report: Black students in Montgomery Co. disconnected from school, work

BETHESDA, Md. — About one in four black and African-American students in Montgomery County has felt discrimination while at school, a study finds.

That goes up to 30 percent for high school graduates and 35 percent for high school dropouts, a new study says.

The study by The Community Foundation also found that 31 percent of Montgomery County high school students reported being stopped by police, as well as 49 percent of graduates and 64 percent of dropouts.

Every stop doesn’t end in an arrest, but about 13 percent of students and 20 percent of graduates reported being arrested. That figure jumps to 45 percent for high school dropouts.

Discrimination and police contact are just two problems. The Community Foundation is looking at an effort to improve the school experience for Montgomery County’s black and African-American high school students.

Between 2013 and 2014, roughly 8,000 youth in the county were disconnected, meaning they are neither in school nor working, or are weakly connected to school or work, according to a 2013 Office of Legislative Oversight report. However, black and African Americans are three times more likely to be disconnected than their peers.

The dropout rate for black and African-American students in the county was 9 percent, compared with less than 3 percent for their white and Asian-American peers.

And these students, by and large, are not dropping out to work: The report also found that only 31 percent of youth who dropped out of school were employed.

The report details some potential reasons for these issues.

Potential risks were discovered in seven areas: academic performance and school behavior; emotional well-being; the need for support; parental support and expectations; teacher support and expectations; risk behavior; and school environment.

In the classroom, dropouts were far more likely to be receiving C grades or below before they dropped out, and twice as likely to have failed a subject. These students also were more than twice as likely to have been suspended during their last year in school.

Emotionally, students who dropped out were 65 percent more likely to feel sad or hopeless, and 33 percent less likely to feel positive about their futures.

At home, high school dropouts were 50 percent less likely to receive encouragement from their parents to do well in school and 40 percent less likely to receive support from parents to finish high school or set expectations beyond high school.

Dropouts were 36 percent less likely to receive help from teachers to stay engaged in their classes and roughly a quarter were less likely to believe their teachers expected them to finish high school or go on to college.

These students were far more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as using alcohol, marijuana and tobacco, or have some sort of gang connection, either personally or through a friend or sibling.

The organization made four recommendations to help reverse this trend.

The first is for Montgomery County Public Schools to make policy and resource adjustments to reduce the dropout rate among black and African-American students. It recommends improving school culture through promoting academic achievement and increasing diversity. The foundation also would like to see more engagement with parents.

The second is to provide a support structure to help reconnect disconnected youth.  The organization says several services will need to work together to help troubled students. It would like the school system to improve its efforts to prepare students for the workforce.

The third recommendation is to find a way to reduce contact between law enforcement and minorities, which, the report says, increases the risk that students may develop a negative relationship with police.

The fourth is for community organizations to work together to reconnect the county’s disconnected youth to work and education.

The study comprised three groups of youths and young adults ages 14 to 24, roughly 400 in high school, about 400 who had graduated and about 400 students who dropped out.

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