New Book Explores Lack Of Support For African-American Students

In her latest book, Desperately Searching for Higher Education among the Ruins of the Great Society, Barbara Fleming focuses on

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Dr. Barbara Fleming in a new book question why foreign students, who study in STEM fields in the U.S., get more support than African-Americans.

Dr. Barbara Fleming

This newly released book on African Americans and education in the U.S., investigates the following question: Why do foreign students who major in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at U.S. colleges and universities get the best education money can buy while the U.S.’s own African-American students get the worst at all levels of the American education pipeline? On the face of it this is not an easy question to answer; but it is certainly a question that deserves an answer, an answer that looks across the landscape of the many issues confronting African-American families as they aspire and attempt to educate their children but often fail to do so through no fault of their own.

In her latest book, Desperately Searching for Higher Education among the Ruins of the Great Society, Barbara Fleming focuses on the failure to properly educate Black and other minority children to the level that allows them to succeed in and graduate from U.S. postsecondary institutions in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields at the same rate as other racial/ethnic groups. This failure is crucial to the future of the U.S. because the White majority population is declining; and the minority population is growing at a rate where minority adults and children will be the majority of the nation’s population in 2045.

And, when this happens, the U.S. economy will become more dependent upon minority groups because minorities will be an important source of growth in the workforce which will fuel the U.S. economy if the academic performance of low-income African American, White, and other minority children on standardized measures of academic achievement in the U.S. improves.

However, no discussion of either the quality of schools that serve most African-Americans families and or their children’s academic deficits can possibly avoid a discussion of the high levels of poverty in African-American families specifically and in African-American communities generally.

The question also deserves an answer because of the unacceptably high numbers of African American students who are low-income, under-educated and ill-prepared to attend college which accounts for their lack of success in enrolling in college and earning degrees at the same level as their White and other minority peers. It also deserves an answer when considering the astounding amount of debt incurred by these same African American students, many of whom drop out of school before they receive their certificates or degrees, especially if they are enrolled in for-profit postsecondary institutions. However, whether African American students drop out or graduate, they end up owing significantly more student loan debt than White and other minority postsecondary students.

African American college students past and present are inundated with both private and federal student loan debt from U.S. postsecondary institutions where they often fail to graduate but remain responsible for the debt. These students are, in essence, in a condition of debt peonage. Both the students who did finish college and the ones who did not are saddled with large debts which they struggle to re-pay back because of their low incomes, a situation which diminishes the quality of their lives and contributes to their continued poverty in the U.S. Because of their family poverty (median Black household income of $40,000 a year vs. $70,000 a year for white households according to 2019 Federal Reserve figures), African American college students pay a premium for higher education in terms of higher amounts of federally-subsidized and privately-financed student loans; higher interest rates on privately-financed student loans; lower enrollment rates in and higher dropout rates from U.S. postsecondary institutions; and lower completion or graduation rates from these same institutions. They pay dearly to achieve the American dream which still eludes most of them, especially African American students who attend for-profit postsecondary institutions where African American student drop-out rates are higher than any other race/ethnicity.

With respect to standardized test scores received by African American students, there is a significant difference between average reading scores achieved by U.S. students by race on both the 2018 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Assessment (NAEP or the Nation’s Report Card) administered every two years by the U.S. Department of Education. On the 2018 PISA Reading Literacy Scale, U.S. student average scores at both the 75th (584 points) and 90th (643 points) percentiles (high end of the score distribution) and average reading scores at the 10th percentile (361 points) (low end of the score distribution) differed significantly. The difference (282 points) between the 10th percentile (where many African American and other low-income student scores reside) and the 90th percentile in the U.S. may be inferred to indicate that the U.S. is operating two school systems: one for affluent, upper middle-class suburbanite families and the other for poor urban and rural families; and this split is pulling the entire elementary and secondary education enterprise of this country down.

According to 2019 NAEP results from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education, the split academic achievement among U.S. elementary and high school students by poverty level is readily apparent in the reading scores of low-income students inasmuch as the scores of poor children are literally going down while the reading scores of more affluent children are improving or going up over time. On both the 2015 and 2018 PISA administrations average scores indicate that students from more affluent schools where 10% or less of students qualified for Free or Reduced-Price lunch (FRPL) scored over one hundred points higher than the average score for Black students in both mathematics and science and 100 points higher than the average for schools where 75% or more of students qualified for FRPL on both PISA 2015 and PISA 2018. Moreover, Black students average scores were even lower than the scores of students from high poverty schools where 75% or more of students qualify for FRPL. Clearly Black children are not succeeding in the U.S. education system to the extent that other racial/ethnic minorities are succeeding.

Desperately Searching for Higher Education among the Ruins of the Great Society was written as a Call to Action for educators and leaders in the African American community in the U.S. for the purpose of informing them and any others who are willing to listen that Black children are not being educated in U.S. public elementary and high schools. The data contained in the report confirms that fact. Desperately Searching is filled with excellent data on the performance of Black students in U.S. elementary and secondary schools; and illustrates the fact that Black students have the lowest scores of any racial/ethnic group on standardized achievement tests (NAEP, TIMSS, PISA) administered to all U.S. students, especially in subject areas that prepare students to study STEM fields in college.

The author’s intention in writing “Desperately Searching…” is to bring the research tools and data needed to address the steep degree of academic deficits being experienced by Black students in U.S. schools to the attention of African American educators and leaders in this country. Barbara’s purpose is to stimulate discussion among educators and leaders around the range of issues discussed in the book that might create a level of synergy which has the potential to promote significant positive change for Black children in the U.S. educational system ensuring far better academic achievement for them in the future.


Like many African-American writers, Barbara Fleming is a product of the Deep South. She grew up in before graduating from college with a degree in psychology. Barbara also studied psychology at the graduate level with a concentration in the intellectual development of children. She received both the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Developmental Psychology. Barbara is married to John E. Fleming, the founding director of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio; and most recently the Director-in-Residence of the recently opened Nashville African American Music Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

During her career, Barbara has worked in the areas of vocational and technical education, health care delivery, mental health care delivery, social science research, and higher education administration. She has also taught psychology at the university level.

Barbara’s primary career has been as a social science researcher and writer; and she has written extensively in the fields of health, mental health and higher education. She authored a major study on Minority Utilization of Public Mental Health Services when she was employed by the State of Ohio. She also worked as Director of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research at a four-year liberal arts college in Ohio where she researched and wrote a 5-year strategic plan for the institution entitled Academic Excellence in the Twenty-First Century.

Barbara currently writes books on higher education in addition novels of mystery fiction visit her publishing company website.

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