Foon Rhee

Can Trump help narrow racial gaps in schools?

First-graders Ethan Tang, left, and Elijah Muhammad pick out free books at the Carmichael library on Nov. 9.
First-graders Ethan Tang, left, and Elijah Muhammad pick out free books at the Carmichael library on Nov. 9.

There is understandable fear in the land among many African American and Latino families about a Donald Trump presidency.

It’s not just incidents of racism and hate; it’s what his policies will mean for their well-being and for their children. So it’s a good time for a new study out this month that shows how much ground black and Latino children have to make up in California.

Many of the biggest racial disparities are in education, according to the scorecard compiled by Children Now, an advocacy group based in Oakland. For example, in Sacramento County, while 49 percent of white third-graders read at grade level, only 26 percent of Latino students and 22 percent of African American students do. And while 44 percent of white eighth-graders meet state standards in math, just 22 percent of Latinos and 16 percent of African Americans do.

The racial gap is evident even in wealthier counties. In San Francisco, for instance, while 73 percent of white third-graders read at grade level, only 30 percent of Latino students and 16 percent of African American students do. And the differences are even bigger across counties. A paltry 23 percent of black third-graders in Fresno County read at grade level, but 65 percent do in El Dorado County.

The online data tool lets you see how each California county stacks up on 28 indicators in three groupings: education, health and economic well-being. For those who want a quick take, there’s a five-star rating system. Sacramento County earns three-and-a-half stars for economic well-being, but only two-and-a-half in education and health. San Francisco gets four stars on economic well-being, three-and-a-half on education and three on health, while Marin gets four stars in all three categories.

Children Now says that policymakers need to take a hard look at the numbers and invest more in child care, health care and education.

By approving the Proposition 55 tax extensions last week, voters gave Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature more resources for public schools. In 2013, they pushed through a local funding formula aimed at giving more money to poorer school districts.

So perhaps these education gaps will narrow in the next few years. Or maybe not, depending partly on what edicts Trump forces upon California.

For instance, he advocates a much different approach to help poor students – taking $20 billion in federal education funding and funneling it into vouchers that could be used at private or charter schools.

On Wednesday, Trump announced he had picked a charter school advocate, billionaire GOP donor Betsy DeVos, as his nominee for education secretary, much to the consternation of Democrats and teachers’ unions who say that private school vouchers would devastate public schools.

During a campaign debate, Trump claimed that inner-city blacks and Hispanics are “living in hell.” In his Thanksgiving message calling for unity, he promised again to fix their plight . What he actually does on education policy could determine whether he keeps that pledge.

By the numbers

The percentage of different groups of students that meet state standards in selected counties:

El Dorado

  • Third-grade reading: 61% white, 36% Latino, 65% black
  • Eighth-grade math: 56% white, 33% Latino, 31% black


  • Third-grade reading: 62% white, 31% Latino, 23% black
  • Eighth-grade math: 50% white, 21% Latino, 13% black


  • Third-grade reading: 59% white, 41% Latino, 47% black
  • Eighth-grade math: 55% white, 34% Latino, 29% black


  • Third-grade reading: 49% white, 26% Latino, 22% black
  • Eighth-grade math: 44% white, 22% Latino, 16% black


  • Third-grade reading: 45% white, 28% Latino, 31% black
  • Eighth-grade math: 38% white, 20% Latino, 18% black


  • Third-grade reading: 58% white, 27% Latino, 27% black
  • Eighth-grade math: 56% white, 20% Latino, 22% black

Source: Children Now