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5/18/2017 Academic streaming harms black students: Editorial | Toronto Star

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Academic streaming harms black


students: Editorial
A new study once again shows the negative impacts on black students of academic streaming.

York University professor Carl James is the lead author of a new report on the barriers to
success black students face in schools.(PROVIDED PHOTO)

Sun., April 30, 2017

Nearly a quarter century has passed since the Toronto District School Board first documented a
disturbing fact about the academic prospects of its black students. As the board began to collect

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5/18/2017 Academic streaming harms black students: Editorial | Toronto Star

race-based data in the early 1990s, it confirmed that black children were vastly underrepresented
in its academic, university-geared courses, and overrepresented in its hands-on, applied courses, a
fact that both reflected and reinforced racial inequalities.

In response, the board planned to end the practice of academic streaming in 1999. But almost two
decades later, the policy persists and, as a new comprehensive study from York University makes
clear, so do its troubling consequences.

Using race-based data collected between 2006 and 2011, the authors found that only 53 per cent of
black students are enrolled in university-geared courses, compared to 81 per cent of white students
and 80 per cent of students of other races.

These figures are virtually unchanged since 1993. As the report concludes, black students in
Toronto continue to face an achievement and opportunity gap in GTA schools.

The problem goes beyond streaming. Black students are far more likely to be suspended or
expelled than other children and far less likely to graduate.

This is in part a reflection of larger socio-economic disparities, which have long been linked to
educational success. But it also seems to reflect a persistent and subtle form of institutional racism.

The study, which draws on testimony from students, community members, and educators,
includes multiple stories of black students being strongly encouraged by teachers and guidance
counselors to take applied, rather than academic courses, with little regard for their aptitudes or
life prospects. Studies have also shown that educators are more likely to suspend black students
than white ones with identical records of problematic behaviour.

As the York University report points out, there are steps the province can and should take to try to
even the playing field.

It should, for instance, do what it failed to do in 1999 and finally end academic streaming. A
number of high schools are already experimenting with scrapping their non-academic streams;
these pilot projects should become provincial policy. Bias should not be allowed to limit
potential.

It should require that all school boards collect race-based data. The TDSB is the only board to
collect this invaluable information, which is essential to understanding the extent of the
challenge and measuring the success of attempted remedies.

It should consider alternatives to suspensions, expulsions or other forms of discipline that might
unduly harm students educational prospects.

And it should work to diversify the teaching workforce as a way of mitigating potential bias and
otherwise improving the experience of students of colour.

This cant wait another 25 years. The school system should be a tool for redressing inequities, not
compounding them.

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5/18/2017 Academic streaming harms black students: Editorial | Toronto Star

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