Report Reinforces Concerns About Racial Equality in Public Education

By Julissa Catalan


Photo by Shutterstock

According to a report released on Friday by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE)which includes data from every school district in the U.S.underrepresented students are more likely to get punished and have less access to veteran teachers than their white classmates.

The most recent findings indicate that Black students are suspended or expelled three times as much as their white peers: 16 percent of Black students were suspended annually, while only 5 percent of white students were suspended. Black girls were suspended at a rate far greater than all other ethnicities12 percentwhich is also higher than most boys, regardless of their race.

The report also found that most children from underrepresented groups, including English language learners (ESL), are typically paired with rookie teachers and therefore have little access to more experienced, veteran teachers. Furthermore, 20 percent of those new teachers fail to even meet standard requirements of certification.

School districts even provide incentive for teachers to stay away from primarily Black and Latino schools. One of every four school districts actually pays teachers who work in less diverse schools more than teachers who work in schools with higher Black and Latino student enrollmentby an average of $5,000 per year.

For the first time since 2000, the new version of the survey includes results from all 16,500 American school districts, representing 49 million students.

According to the survey, while Black students make up 16 percent of public-school students, they also represent 27 percent of students who are referred to law enforcement by schools and 31 percent of students who are arrested for an offense committed at school.

Additionally, students with disabilities represent 13 percent of the student population, yet make up one-fourth of students who are arrested on school grounds.

Overall, students with disabilities are suspended from school at double the rate of the rest of their peers. One-quarter of boys who are both underrepresented and disabled and one in five girls who are underrepresented and disabled were suspended from school.

The findings determine that inequalities begin as early as preschool. While Black students make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, they comprise 48 percent of preschool students who are suspended more than once. White students, on the other hand, represent 43 percent of preschool students, yet only receive 26 percent of repeated out-of-school suspensions.

A study by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative reported earlier this month also mirrored the same findings. This survey was conducted by experts in fields like advocacy, policy, social science and law, and it concluded that Black, Latino and disabled students were suspended at disproportionate rates and that the school-to-prison pipeline is very much in existence.

“It is shameful that not a single recommendation has been implemented,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten notes that despite a recent DOE Equity and Excellence Commission report aiming to resolve discrimination in schools, little has actually been put in place. “We don’t need more data to tell us we need action,” she said.

Daria Hall, K-12 Policy Director at the Education Trust, an advocacy group, echoed these thoughts. “The report shines a new light on something that research and experience have long told usthat students of color get less than their fair share of access to the in-school factors that matter for achievement,” she said. “Students of color get less access to high-level courses. Black students in particular get less instructional time because they’re far more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions or expulsions. And students of color get less access to teachers who’ve had at least a year on the job and who have at least basic certification.Of course, it’s not enough to just shine a light on the problem.We have to fix it.”

The survey was administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s 20112012 Civil Rights Data Collection, which is conducted every two years. Per the report’s framework, underrepresented students are considered to be all nonwhite ethnic groups other than Latino and Asian.

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