Minority Students Face More Discipline, Fewer Options, 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.

More than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or cases referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or African-American, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Education Department that raises questions about whether students of all races are disciplined evenhandedly in America's schools. Photo: hackNY/Flickr

Minority students have less access to advanced courses, more inexperienced teachers and face tougher disciplinary consequences than their counterparts, a new trove of federal data shows, affirming long-held beliefs about disparities in the classroom.

Black students are more than three times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled, according to an early snapshot of the report released to reporters. The findings come from a national collection of civil rights data from 2009-2010 of more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation, reports Yahoo!.

More than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or cases referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or African-American, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Education Department that raises questions about whether students of all races are disciplined evenhandedly in America’s schools.

“The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on an embargoed phone call Monday afternoon.

“It is our collective duty to change that.” Duncan is expected to make similar remarks Tuesday at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University.

According to the report, 42 percent of the referrals to law enforcement involve black students and 29 percent involved Hispanics, while 35 percent of students involved in school-related arrests were black and 37 percent were Hispanic.

Black students made up 18 percent of the students in the sample, but they were 35 percent of students suspended once and 39 percent of students expelled, the report said.

“The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters.

The disparities are also inherent in access: Twenty-nine percent of high-minority schools offered calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with smaller black and Hispanic populations.

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.

Teachers in high-minority schools made $2,251 less per year than teachers in other schools, but these disparities varied by district. For example, while Houston pays teachers in its high-minority schools an average of $2,549 per year more than their peers, Philadelphia pays them $14,699 less. A deficit in teacher pay generally represents less-experienced teachers.

According to The New York Times, 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.

“We are issuing a challenge to educators and community leaders across America to work together to address these inequities,” Duncan said, referencing President Barack Obama’s goal to “lead the world in college graduates by 2020.”

“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.”

“Part of the problem is that folks feel like they’re being called racist if they see data like this,” said Russell Skiba, an Indiana University, Bloomington education professor.

Districts, Skiba said, tend to look at this data and assume that students from minority backgrounds simply act up more — but according to his research, that’s not the case.

“If you look at kids in the same district in the same school, there is no data that African American kids are actually engaging in more severe behaviors that lead to a higher percentage of expulsions and suspensions.”

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