Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white students and nearly twice as likely to be expelled, according to data collected from public schools in the 2013–14 school year, released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights.
But the racial gap encompasses much more than discipline. Students of color have less access to experienced teachers and advanced math and sciences courses, for example, than their white peers do, the study said.
It’s a disturbing trend of discrimination, experts say, that is directly connected to the classroom experience: Inexperienced teachers are often less skilled in managing classrooms, and students who aren’t academically challenged can be more likely to act out.
Ten percent of teachers in schools with large black and Latino student populations are in their first year of teaching, compared with 5 percent of teachers in schools with small black and Latino student populations, according to the data.
“Putting the least experienced teachers in charge of students with greater needs is a recipe for inequality,” says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.
The Civil Rights Data Collection is a survey of public schools to gather information on race and equity issues in the country’s education system, which has long suffered from persistent disparities, according to the Department of Education. The latest survey covered 99.5 percent of K–12 public schools, with more than 50 million students in 95,000 schools. The data have been collected every other year since 1968.
While the survey results show a nearly 20 percent decrease in the number of students receiving out-of-school suspensions since 2012, the data show that in general, students of color, English learners and students with disabilities are, on average, disciplined more often than their classmates.
The disproportionate data pattern for student discipline begins with America’s youngest students. Black preschool students were 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as white preschool students. The data collection showed that of the 19 percent of black preschool students enrolled, almost half of them received one or more out-of-school suspensions. For the 41 percent of white preschool students, slightly more than a quarter received the same punishment.
Black students in grades K–12 were 2.3 times as likely to be arrested by school law enforcement officers than white students were. Concurrently, the number of school resource officers and sworn law enforcement officers in schools has increased.
The racial disparity includes black female students. Of the 6 percent of K–12 students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions, 10 percent of them were black females, compared with 2 percent of white females.
“The Civil Rights Data Collection outlined a number of deeply disturbing inequalities in American education,” Kahlenberg said.
U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. says that despite significant work from districts across the country, the persistent disproportions shown in the data highlight the need for a continued focus on educational equality.
“The CRDC data are more than numbers and charts. They illustrate in powerful and troubling ways disparities in opportunities and experiences that different groups of students have in our schools,” King said in a press release. “The stories the CRDC data tell us create the imperative for a continued call to action to do better and close achievement and opportunity gaps.”
“The CRDC data shines a spotlight on the educational opportunities proffered and denied to our nation’s sons and daughters in schools every day,” read a press release from the DOE’s assistant secretary for civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon. “We urge educators, researchers and the public to join us in using this data to its full potential to support students in realizing theirs.”
The Government Accountability Office released its own report in May examining issues of race and segregation in schools since 1954’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling by the Supreme Court, which found that racial segregation in public schools violated the Constitution. While much has changed in public education in the decades that followed, the GOA report found that some of the most vexing issues affecting children today are inextricably linked to race and poverty. Thus, the report said, children who live in neighborhoods with a large minority population and with high levels of poverty tend to go to schools mirroring these demographics.
“Inequalities of opportunity, moreover, are deeply connected to a system of public education that is increasingly segregated by race and economic status,” Kahlenberg said. “When we educate black and white — and poor and rich — students in separate schools and separate classrooms, low-income and minority students are often cut off from good teachers and a challenging curriculum,” he said.