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New report shows gaps based on race in areas from teacher experience to school discipline and recommends solutions.

INDIANAPOLIS (October 12, 2021) — Nearly seven decades after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case ruled that racial segregation in America’s schools is unconstitutional, education outcomes in Indianapolis remain vastly unequal. A new report commissioned by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation finds that Black and Hispanic students in Marion County are likely to experience a disproportionate and chronic lack of access to a high-quality education from birth all the way through college.

The data point to racial disparities in education opportunities starting in early childhood. These gaps follow students throughout grades K-12, where Black and Hispanic students are more likely to lack access to high-performing schools and experienced teachers. COVID-19 exacerbated this reality: about 70% of Black and Hispanic students in Marion County now attend low-performing schools, while the percentage of white students attending low-performing schools has remained nearly the same as it was pre-pandemic. Within neighborhoods whose residents are primarily Black or Hispanic, only 7% of schools are performing above the state average on state exams, compared to 47% of schools in primarily white neighborhoods.

Gaps in education access contribute to inequities in education outcomes. Black and Hispanic students in grades 3-8 achieve English and math proficiency at roughly half the rate of white peers. Black and Hispanic students are also less likely to be identified as “high ability,” contributing to inequities in enrollment in advanced coursework, which is shown to improve student engagement. These disparities significantly impact college readiness for Black and Hispanic students, according to the report, with just 22% of Black students and 29% of Hispanic students in grades 3-8 scoring as proficient on 2019 ILEARN math exams, compared to 52% of white students. Disparities are reflected in high school graduation, college enrollment and college completion rates, with Black and Hispanic students enrolling and completing at significantly lower rates than their white peers.

“The stark and troubling gaps in educational attainment for Black and Hispanic students point to a critical need to examine our education and workforce development policies and systems, as well as the social supports provided to children and their families outside of school,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. “Ensuring every student in Marion County has equal opportunity to access a high-quality education is critical to ensuring the vibrancy of our community. That’s why we must urgently take action to bolster supports for Black and Hispanic students, drawing from evidence-based solutions.”

Unequal discipline policies also disproportionately affect Black students and further influence education outcomes. In 2018-2019, Black students enrolled in K-12 Marion County public schools were twice as likely to be suspended or expelled and were nine times more likely to be arrested in school compared to white students. Studies show that suspended or expelled students are less likely to complete high school – and are more likely to interact with the criminal justice system.

The report recommends solutions to promote equity for all students, including: supporting programs that recruit and retain Black and Hispanic teachers and administrators; establishing school-level discipline reporting to all school boards in Marion County; improving data collection regarding early childhood education outcomes and the state’s 21st Century Scholars program; and investing in college enrollment and persistence programs that incorporate direct coaching and other supports.

Fiddian-Green, who serves on the Management Committee for the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership-Indy Chamber Business Equity for Indy (BEI) initiative and as co-chair of the BEI Learning and Talent Opportunities Taskforce, noted that the report can provide evidence-based policy recommendations for the Taskforce’s consideration.

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ABOUT THE RICHARD M. FAIRBANKS FOUNDATION

Since 1986, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has strived to advance the vitality of Indianapolis and the well-being of its people by addressing the city’s most significant challenges and opportunities. Through strategic grantmaking, research and evaluation, and cross-sector collaborations, the Foundation aims to improve outcomes across its three focus areas: Education, Health, and the Vitality of Indianapolis. Learn more at RMFF.org.

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