Thursday, March 17, 2005


A reader expressing concern about revelations Wednesday showing a large racial graduation gap between whites and minority kids in Nebraska schools said we are lucky to have two private schools in inner-city Omaha already picking up some of the slack.

They are the Apollos Preparatory School, and its neighbor, the Omaha Street School, both at 3223 N. 45th St.

Apollos aims to give inner-city kids the best possible start with academic basics in a smaller, more personal setting, with excellent results. Older kids who are “push-outs” and dropouts, almost all of them black, are being served at the Street School.

It takes a whole lot more than just the luck o’ the Irish to keep schools like these going . . . but on this St. Patrick’s Day, we wish them the very, very best of luck, with our thanks and admiration.



Sometimes I feel like the canary down in the mines. When the canary sings, the miners know it’s time to get the heck out of there because she’s a-gonna blow.

Well, this canary is singing about racial disparities in Nebraska’s education system. But it’s not a happy song: far from it. The facts are, well, explosive. Turns out the differences in the outcomes among whites, blacks and Latinos that exist in our K-12 public schools persist into college, and even grow worse, at least in Nebraska.

Wednesday’s Go Big Ed reported that white students graduate from Nebraska high schools at significantly higher rates than African-Americans and Latinos (90% vs. 53% and 50%, respectively). Turns out that graduation gap is reflected in the state’s largest university and is much wider than the difference between the races in graduation rates of surrounding state schools.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, almost twice as many white students graduate within six years as African-American students. While a racial graduation gap exists at each of our neighboring state universities, UNL’s is the widest.

The data is from The Education Trust (
www.edtrust.org), which used National Center for Education Statistics surveys to compare graduation rates of most of the nation’s colleges and universities.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln posted an overall six-year graduation rate in 2003 of 59.5%, which ranked 11th out of 16 in a grouping of state universities from all over the country with approximately the same enrollment, median SAT, cost and so forth.

White students at UNL had a graduation rate of 61.9%, versus 31.7% for African-Americans and 25.5% for Latinos.

Using a web tool provided by Ed Trust (
www.collegeresults.org), Go Big Ed compared UNL to six surrounding state universities. UNL had the lowest graduation rates for African-American students and Latinos among the seven universities, and ranked fifth in the overall graduation rate and fifth in the rate for white students.

The graduation gap between whites and African-Americans at UNL, 61.9% compared to 31.7%, comes to 30.2 percentage points. That compares to 13.2 percentage points at the University of Missouri, 14.8 percentage points at the University of Colorado, 18.6 at Kansas University, 19.7 at Kansas State, 23.3 at Iowa State and 27.1 at Iowa University.

Here are the statistics:

Overall: 59.5%
White: 61.9%
African-American: 31.7%
Latino: 25.5%

Overall: 66.5%
White: 68.4%
African-American: 55.2%
Latino: 56.1%

Iowa U
Overall: 64.5%
White: 65.1%
African-American: 38%
Latino: 64%

Iowa State
Overall: 65.7%
White: 66.9%
African-American: 43.6%
Latino: 58.8%

Overall: 58.1%
White: 59.7%
African-American: 41.1%
Latino: 47.3%

Kansas State
White: 58.2%
African-American: 38.5%
Latino: 38.8%

Overall: 67.8%
White: 69.9%
African-American: 55.1%
Latino: 57%

What’s the answer? Well, I’m a canary, remember? I only know one tune. And that tune is: we HAVE to deliver better academics in the early grades for disadvantaged kids.

For whatever the reason, they’re not getting the basics of reading, writing, figuring and thinking in Nebraska grade schools. And it shows. Once they get to the university, they’re not equipped, and they fail. It’s deplorable.

It doesn’t require more money. In fact, it probably requires less. Look at the inner-city Catholic schools around the country, producing more literacy and numeracy among the hardest-to-educate kids at a lower cost.

We can’t keep throwing money at this problem, because the conventional methods and systems obviously don’t work.

OK, the canary sang. We need to fix this. I say it’s time for school choice. We need to cultivate the kinds of schools that can put this right.

It’s time for Nebraska birds of all colors of feathers to flock together, and do what it takes to improve the educational outcomes of all our kids.

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