‘The system has imploded’: A look at redlining, academic achievement gaps

Photo of hallway at oxford elementary school
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
Low-income students in and around Berkeley face major achievement gaps when compared to their higher-income counterparts, according to equity data produced by GreatSchools, a nonprofit that shares academic and demographic data on private and public schools.

Related Posts

Eighty-five years after the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, or HOLC, published a map of redlining in the East Bay, the ramifications of structural racism and Jim Crow are still widely felt — particularly in public schools in and around Berkeley.

According to a UC Berkeley Library News article, redlining was enacted to assess neighborhoods for “lending and insurance risks.” One of the main determining factors of these assessments was race, excluding zones deemed “risky” from certain loans and federal funding, which reinforced poverty.

“The legacy of redlining has a structural dynamic that it has created and perpetuated,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett. “Redlining has maintained an American caste system, where Black people are on the bottom.”

The 1937 map graded communities using the following scale: A was best, B was “still desirable,” C was “definitely declining” and D was “hazardous.” Most of the city’s neighborhoods in regions labeled C and D were predominantly Black.

An interactive map from UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute also shows that Berkeley and Oakland are still largely segregated today.

‘Disparities in academic achievement’: Redlining impacts on education

Equity data produced by GreatSchools, a nonprofit that shares academic and demographic data on private and public schools, shows that schools in redlined parts of Berkeley and Oakland fall behind in providing support to low-income students and students of color. For example, GreatSchools ranks schools in California on an equity scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most equitable and one being the least equitable.

Thousand Oaks Elementary School was graded two out of 10 on the equity scales. Additionally, on a scale of one to 10, low-income students at Thousand Oaks were given a one out of 10 likelihood of meeting state standardized testing goals, while other students at Thousand Oaks were given a nine out of 10 likelihood of meeting standardized benchmarks.

This phenomenon is known as an “achievement gap.” An article from the Penn State Graduate School of Education defines achievement gaps as “the persistent disparity in academic achievement” between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts.

Joshua Rogers, a violence prevention educator with the Teens on Target program at the Oakland nonprofit Youth Alive!, believes that funding and access to resources are the main issues.

“Members of historically disenfranchised neighborhoods make considerably less income than more affluent neighborhoods, which means that fewer taxes can be paid and less income can be allocated to our schools,” Rogers said in an email. “This has led to many school closures and mergers within East and West Oakland schools.”

Rogers said many of the students he works with have students whose teachers have given up on them, and they are given almost no preparation for college.

The disparities that minority and disadvantaged students face do not end with academic achievement, however.

GreatSchools also shows that minority students have much higher rates of chronic absenteeism, or large amounts of absences from school, compared to white students.

Bartlett believes chronic absenteeism exists as the result of the struggles parents of these disadvantaged students face.

“People are missing because their parents are working two jobs or are rent burdened,” Bartlett said. “It is not a conducive environment for stability and showing up to school all of the time.”

To solve issues like chronic absenteeism and achievement gaps, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, instituted the “2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children & Youth,” focused on ending disparities in academic achievement that exist along racial lines, according to the BUSD website.

Other city initiatives include the passing of reparations to help people with financial compensation and stability, according to Bartlett.

A Historical Look

Longtime Berkeley resident, teacher and former member of the Black Panther Party Rosa Higgs remembers a time before achievement gaps. She alleged that Ronald Reagan’s governorship was the turning point for Berkeley schools.

“When Ronald Reagan became Governor of California, he ended the music programs and stopped giving the Black schools the same materials that the white kids were getting,” Higgs alleged. “The system has imploded.”

Higgs also alleged that though redlining was in effect, prior to Reagan, achievement gaps did not exist. According to her, there were Black teachers and principals, and there was “nothing wrong with Berkeley schools.”

While Higgs acknowledged it was wrong to tell people where they could and could not live, she noted that Black communities were not “slums.” She recalled her neighborhood park, San Pablo Park, as having programs like ballet lessons, music lessons and Girl Scouts.

Higgs stated that when schools integrated, many Black teachers were fired. She added that when Black students began going to white schools, they were not taught.

“Four out of five Black boys cannot read on grade level,” Higgs said.

According to Higgs, redlining continued under Reagan, but rather than calling it redlining, people were told they could not qualify for a mortgage and could not afford particular homes.

The impact of this redlining was severe and still continues today.

“The members of the community must come together to fight for our kids,” Rogers said. “If we do not advocate for their needs, then no one will.”

Contact Anna Armstrong at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @annavarmstrongg.