Adams ’12 Studies Effects of Racial Segregation in Urban Schools

Shannon Adams ’12 delved into the implications of race relations in urban public schools, and the potential solutions to remedy the issues urban schools face, in her Brace Fellowship presentation on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Adams examined the success gap between African American males and other demographics in her project, “Back to Black: African American Males and the Re-Segregation of Schools in Urban America.”

Adams first noted that though the desegregation of urban public schools occurred nearly sixty years ago, numerous inner-city schools are still racially segregated. Adams posited that African American males’ lack of success in the classroom could be a testament to the segregation in current education systems.

“Segregation in schools, exacerbated by the stress of adolescence and the lack of role models to guide them, negatively affects black boys by providing them with an inferior educational experience that prevents them from reaching their full potential and reinforces low self worth early on in their academic careers,” said Adams.

Adams’ research focused on public schools in Baltimore, where she lives. She offered a context for her research, by explaining the racial structure of public schools in Baltimore. In 1950s, white families began moving to the suburbs leaving an African American majority within the city.

According to Adams, the percentage of African Americans in the city of Baltimore’s urban center rose from 23.8% in 1950 to 65% in 2000.

This “majority minority” led to a natural segregation in inner-city schools. Adams offered the example of Cliff Park High School while discussing this topic.

While 2000 white students and 34 blacks were enrolled in the Cliff Park High School in 1957, just ten years later 12 white and over 2000 black students were enrolled.

Adams also found that only 1.7% of public school teachers were black males. According to Adams, the discrepancy between the racial background of most teachers and most students can create tension, and is one of the negative effects of school segregation.

Adams suggested that the low percentage of male teachers means that black male students lack intellectual role models.

“The students then turn to pop culture to find role models,” said Adams. “What these black males then find are role models of rappers and athletes, with very few intellectuals. This creates anti-intellectual stigmas for black males, reinforced by adolescent group mentalities.”

According to Adams because many of the inner-city students come from low-income homes, the tax base cannot provide sufficient funding, forcing urban schools to persist on an inadequate budget.

As a result, the schools lack resources to pay “high-quality” teachers. With a smaller faculty, these schools also tend to have classes with over-enrollment.

Adams sad that she became interested in researching the success gap between African American males and other demographics after noticing how African Americans were negatively portrayed in media.

“I wanted to look at why that is, and why [the stereotype of African American males having negative roles in society] is so commonly accepted and why it is so often true,” said Adams.

“Talking to family that works in the Baltimore school system about how they thought the system really failed the kids and how it needs to be fixed and one of the roots of that problem is that it is such a segregated system really got me interested as well.”

Jill Thompson, Associate Dean of Admission at Andover, studied this issue in graduate school and was amazed by Adams’s thorough research.

“I was impressed by the work and research that she’d done. She covered a lot of the major topics that we talked about in some of my graduate school courses,” said Thompson.

Ryan Hartung ’12 said that he was surprised by the statistics Adams presented.

“I had an idea of some sort of imbalance, but I had no idea exactly how drastic that imbalance was between blacks and whites in inner city versus suburban schools. She put into perspective how serious the issue is,” he said.

Adams said, “I really wanted to expand my knowledge on the subject and be able to share that with people who wouldn’t usually know about it. We all go to private school here, and I wanted to share the experiences other students in our age group are having.”

“If you can’t get more money, you should make sure it is being used in the best way possible for the students,” explained Adams.