NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

My Brother’s Keeper: Using data to measure the educational progress of boys and young men of color

By Grace Kena

In February 2014, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper. This effort was designed to promote opportunity for and to unlock the full potential of the nation’s young people, including boys and young men of color, with help from government agencies, community leaders, private philanthropies, and businesses. As part of this initiative, federal agencies were asked to improve the accessibility of data that highlight both the challenges and the accomplishments of young people in progressing through the education system and entering the labor force. These statistics provide a composite view of recent trends for males and females across a variety of key dimensions.

Academic performance gaps in learning behaviors, knowledge, and skills, among children in various racial/ethnic groups are found as early as infancy,[1] preschool, and kindergarten[2]. In addition, children from lower-income families tend to have poorer educational outcomes than their peers from more well- off families, and relatively high percentages of males and females of color live in poverty. The latest data show that among 12th graders, the average reading and mathematics assessment scores for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native 12th-graders were lower than the average scores for their peers. In addition, the percentage of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds who had not completed high school was higher than the average percentage. The percentages of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native young men in this age group who were enrolled in college were also lower than the average, and the percentages of Black and Hispanic young men ages 25–29 who had earned a bachelor’s or higher degree were lower than the average for young men in this age group.

On the other hand, young people are making progress in education. For example, average mathematics scores increased between 2005 and 2013 for all male students as well as for Black and Hispanic students overall. The percentage of males ages 18–24 who had not completed high school decreased from 2000 to 2014 for most racial/ethnic groups, and the decreases for Black and Hispanic young men were among the largest. In addition, the percentages of Black and Hispanic young men in this age group who were enrolled in college increased from 2000 to 2013.


Percentage of male 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges, by race/ethnicity: 2000 and 2013

Figure. Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2013

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2013. 


More education data from the My Brother’s Keeper initiative can be found in the feature in The Condition of Education 2015, and on the My Brother’s Keeper data site. Information on changes to existing programs and the creation of new public-private partnerships designed to meet the needs of young people are available on the White House site. You can also learn more about the findings from the video below:

This blog was originally posted on June 24, 2015 and was updated on August 6, 2015

[1] National Center for Education Statistics. The Condition of Education 2009, Indicators 2 and 3. 

[2] Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 

 

Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty?

By Tom Snyder and Lauren Musu-Gillette

The percentage of students receiving free or reduced price lunch is often used as a proxy measure for the percentage of students living in poverty. While the percentage of students receiving free or reduced price lunch can provide some information about relative poverty, it should not be confused with the actual percentage of students in poverty enrolled in school. In 2012, just over half of public school children were eligible for free/reduced price lunches. In contrast, the actual poverty rate of public school students was 22 percent. Despite the correlation between the two measures, it is important to understand that they differ in important ways and that the difference is growing.

As the largest federal program for elementary and secondary schools, the National School Lunch Program provided meals to more than 31 million children each school day in 2012. All lunches provided by the National School Lunch Program are considered subsidized to some extent because meal-service programs at schools must operate as non-profit programs. While all students at participating schools are eligible for regular priced lunches through the National School Lunch Program, there are multiple ways in which a child can become eligible for a free/reduced price lunch. Traditionally, family income has been used to establish eligibility for free/reduced price lunch.  

One way the percentage of students in poverty and those eligible for free/reduced price lunch differ is that many students eligible for free/reduced price lunch fall above the federal poverty threshold. A student from a household with an income at or below 130 percent of the poverty income threshold is eligible for free lunch. A student from a household with an income between 130 percent and up to 185 percent of the poverty threshold is eligible for reduced price lunch.

In addition, some groups of children such as foster children, children participating in Head Start and Migrant Education Programs, or children receiving services under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act are eligible for free/reduced price lunch. Also, under the Community Eligibility option, some non-poor children may be included in the program if their district decides that it would be more efficient from an administrative or service delivery perspective to provide the free lunches to all children in the school. Thus, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced price lunch includes all students at or below 185 percent of the poverty threshold, plus some additional non-poor children who meet other eligibility criteria, plus other students in schools and districts that have exercised the Community Eligibility option, which results in a percentage that is more than double the official poverty rate.

Despite its limitations, the free/reduced price lunch data are frequently used by education researchers as a proxy for school poverty since this count is generally available at the school level, while the poverty rate is typically not available. Because the free/reduced price lunch eligibility is derived from the federal poverty level, and therefore highly related to it, the free/reduced price lunch percentage is useful to researchers from an analytic perspective.

In reports such as the Condition of Education, NCES has characterized a school as a high poverty school when more than 75 percent of its students are eligible for a free/reduced price lunch. In 2012-13, about 24 percent of students attended public schools that were classified as high poverty. Using this high poverty definition enables us to identify important differences among students: 45 percent of Black and Hispanic students attended such high poverty schools compared to 8 percent of White students.


Percentage of public school students in low-poverty and high-poverty schools, by race/ethnicity: School year 2012-13

This chart presents bars on the percentage of children attending low poverty and high poverty schools by race/ethnicity in school year 2012-13. The bars are in two groups, one group is for low poverty schools and the other group is for high poverty schools. The first group of bars show that 21 percent of total children, 29 percent of White children, 7 percent of Black children, 8 percent of Hispanic children, 38 percent of Asian children, 12 percent of Pacific Islander children, 8 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children, and 22 percent of children of two or more races were in low-poverty schools in 2012-13. The second group of bars show that 24 percent of total children, 8 percent of White children, 45 percent of Black children, 45 percent of Hispanic children, 16 percent of Asian children, 26 percent of Pacific Islander children, 36 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children, and 17 percent of children of two or more races were in high-poverty schools in 2012-13.

NOTE: High-poverty schools are defined as public schools where more than 75.0 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), and low-poverty schools are defined as public schools where 25.0 percent or less of the students are eligible for FRPL. 

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Sturvey," 2012-13. 


One of the important limitations of the free/reduced lunch count is that the change in the eligibility requirements under the Community Eligibility option has meant that more children are qualifying for free/reduced price lunches.  Between 2000-01 and 2012-13, the percentage of children eligible for a free/reduced price lunch increased from 38 percent to 50 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points. In contrast, the percentage of public school children who lived in poverty increased from 17 to 23 percent, an increase of 6 percentage points.

While the free/reduced lunch percentages can serve as a useful indicator of the relative numbers of poor children, it does not substitute as a measure of the level of child poverty, nor of changes in poverty rates over time. It is also important to keep in mind that neither free/reduced price lunch eligibility nor poverty should be considered measures of socioeconomic status (SES), which measures a broader spectrum of family characteristics (e.g. parental education and occupations) that may be related to student performance. Some NCES surveys already collect SES data while others are investigating options for collecting better indicators of students’ SES. These efforts will be detailed in a future blog post.

For more information on recent changes to free/reduced price lunch eligibility data in EDFacts see Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Eligibility Data in EDFacts: A White Paper on Current Status and Potential Changes