U.S. Department of Education: Big Racial Disparities in Schools

Black Students Face More Discipline, Data Suggests


Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students, according to new data from the Department of Education.

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”

The department began gathering data on civil rights and education in 1968, but the project was suspended by the Bush administration in 2006. It has been reinstated and expanded to examine a broader range of information, including, for the first time, referrals to law enforcement, an area of increasing concern to civil rights advocates who see the emergence of a school-to-prison pipeline for a growing number of students of color.

According to the schools’ reports, over 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.

Black and Hispanic students — particularly those with disabilities — are also disproportionately subject to seclusion or restraints. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student body, but 70 percent of those subject to physical restraints. Black students with disabilities constituted 21 percent of the total, but 44 percent of those with disabilities subject to mechanical restraints, like being strapped down. And while Hispanics made up 21 percent of the students without disabilities, they accounted for 42 percent of those without disabilities who were placed in seclusion.

“Those are extremely dramatic numbers, and show the importance of reinstating the civil rights data collection and expanding the categories of information collected,” said Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office. “The harsh punishments, especially expulsion under zero tolerance and referrals to law enforcement, show that students of color and students with disabilities are increasingly being pushed out of schools, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.”

While the disciplinary data was probably the most startling, the data showed a wide range of other racial and ethnic disparities. For while 55 percent of the high schools with low black and Hispanic enrollment offered calculus, only 29 percent of the high-minority high schools did so — and even in schools offering calculus, Hispanics made up 20 percent of the student body but only 10 percent of those enrolled in calculus.

And while black and Hispanic students made up 44 percent of the students in the survey, they were only 26 percent of the students in gifted and talented programs.

The data also showed that schools with a lot of black and Hispanic students were likely to have relatively inexperienced, and low-paid, teachers. On average, teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues elsewhere. In New York high schools, though, the discrepancy was more than $8,000, and in Philadelphia, more than $14,000.

Many of the nation’s largest districts had very different disciplinary rates for students of different races. In Los Angeles, for example, black students made up 9 percent of those enrolled, but 26 percent of those suspended; in Chicago, they made up 45 percent of the students, but 76 percent of the suspensions.

In recent decades, as more districts and states have adopted zero-tolerance policies, imposing mandatory suspension for a wide range of behavioral misdeeds, more and more students have been sent away from school for at least a few days, an approach that is often questioned as paving the way for students to fall behind and drop out.

A previous study of the federal data from the years before 2006, published in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, found that suspension rates in the nation’s public schools, kindergarten through high school, had nearly doubled from the early 1970s through 2006 — from 3.7 percent of public school students in 1973 to 6.9 percent in 2006 — in part because of the rise of zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

But because the Department of Education has not yet posted most of the data from the most recent collection, it is not yet possible to extend those findings. On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Duncan will announce the results at Howard Univerity, and from then on the data will become publicly available, at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Another version of the story:

Black and Latino students across the United States are far more likely to be suspended than white students – and far less likely to have access to rigorous college-prep courses, according to a sweeping study released on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
The trove of data, collected from 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation’s students, revealed tremendous disparities in the public school experiences of minority and white students.
Some of the most striking findings involved discipline: one in five African-American boys – and one in 10 African-American girls – was suspended from school during the study period, the 2009-10 school year.
Overall, African-American students are 3-1/2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. And 70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement for disciplinary infractions are black or Latino, the study found. Other researchers have found that students who are repeatedly punished by being barred from campus are far more likely to drop out.
Academic opportunities also vary widely by race. Among high schools that serve predominately Latino and African-American students, just 29 percent offer a calculus class and only 40 percent offer physics. In some school districts, those numbers are even more glaring. In New York City, for instance, just 10 percent of the high schools with the highest black and Latino enrollment offer Algebra II.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was careful to say that his department is “not alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases.”
But he said he hoped the data would prompt soul-searching as educators across the nation confront inequities.
“In the big picture, this is really about self-analysis,” Duncan said. He urged teachers and administrators to “look in the mirror, at the good, the bad and the ugly, and figure out what’s going on.”
That may be easier said than done, said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The data hint uncomfortably at crude assumptions and enduring stereotypes about “who should be in school, who should be preparing to go to college, who can learn” – and “many of those beliefs stem back from before you or I were born,” Welner said. “That’s hard to change.”
Other studies over the decades have found similar racial disparities in student discipline and academic opportunity. But the new report, which Duncan is scheduled to release today in an event at Howard University, is more detailed and comprehensive than most.
It breaks down the national data district by district and school by school. And it looks at racial disparities in realms as varied as access to pre-kindergarten programs; success in Advanced Placement courses; and the use of physical restraints on students with disabilities.
The release of such wide-ranging data “is very important for is if we’re to gain the national will to overcome our aversion to looking at race,” said Russell Skiba, who directs the Equity Project at Indiana University’s School of Education. “It’s tough to talk about race. It’s awkward. But this data gives us a bit of a road map.”
The report, known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, seeks to prod change by calling attention to districts that have used what Duncan called “best practices” to reduce inequities.
It points, for instance, to a high school in Montgomery County, Maryland, that serves a largely black and Hispanic population – and enrolls those students in physics at an impressive rate. The report also highlights an elementary school in an impoverished neighborhood of Dade County, Florida that enrolls nearly 17 percent of its black and Hispanic students in a program for gifted students, more than triple the national rate.
Duncan said he hoped administrators in other districts would ask how those schools had achieved their success, then follow suit. “There are some encouraging things in this data,” he said. “Frankly, there are some very troubling things as well. But the only way forward is to know the truth.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Simon in Denver; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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