‘Stark Racial Disparities’ Persist in Classrooms

Data collected by the department’s Office for Civil Rights for the 2013-2014 school year show “stark racial disparities” in how kids are dealt with.
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Our systemic failure to educate some groups of children as well as others tears at the moral fabric of the nation – U.S. Education Sec. John King

U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. says data collected by the department’s Office for Civil Rights for the 2013-2014 school year show “stark racial disparities” in how kids are dealt with in areas such as school suspensions, course offerings and graduation rates, as well as in the treatment of kids with disabilities when compared with other kids.

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The office released its “First Look” at the data on June 7; it represents the experience of more than 50 million students in more than 95,000 schools—virtually every public school in the country.

“In general the data show that students of color, students whose first language is not English and students with disabilities are—according to a number of indicators—not getting the same opportunities to learn as are classmates who are white, whose first language is English or who do not have disabilities,” King said during a press call.

The one bit of good news in the report is that the federal #RethinkDiscipline campaign to increase awareness about the detrimental impacts of exclusionary discipline seems to have had an effect­. Out-of-school suspensions have decreased by nearly 20 percent since the 2011-2012 school year.

The bad news is that this reduction has not affected non-white children or children with disabilities, who are still suspended more frequently than their white, non-disabled peers. American Indian or Alaska Native, Latino, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and multiracial boys represent 15 percent of K-12 students but 19 percent of K-12 students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions, according to the report.

In general, boys are expelled from school more often than girls, and for AIAN kids, this disparity is amplified. “White boys represent 26 percent of all students, but 35 percent of students expelled without educational services. American Indian or Alaska Native boys represent 0.6 percent of all students, but 2 percent of students expelled without educational services,” the report states. AIAN and multiracial boys are also disproportionately subject to restraint and seclusion.

The 2013-2014 data collection included areas that have not been investigated in prior years, such as chronic student absenteeism. More than 3 million high school students were chronically absent, missing 15 or more days of school.

Based on this data and other information, the department issued a report, “Chronic Absenteeism in the Nation’s Schools: An unprecedented look at a hidden educational crisis” on June 10. Overall, 13.1 percent of students were chronically absent in 2013-2014, but 22.2 percent of American Indian students were chronically absent. The number is even higher looking at just American Indian high schoolers: 27.5 percent were chronically absent, compared with 17 percent of white students. American Indian students overall have the highest rate of chronic absenteeism of any racial/ethnic group.

Chronic absenteeism is a better indicator of whether students will drop out than are test scores. The Education Department has launched Every Student, Every Day: A national Initiative to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism.

The information presented in “First Look” and anticipated in more detailed reports over the next few months reinforce the importance of the new federal education law and how schools will be held accountable for the performance of minority, poor and disabled students.

King said in the press call that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “is focused on addressing some of the critical inequities the [civil rights data collection] shows us. The law requires and we expect states and local districts to set college and career-ready standards for all students regardless of their background…. And to identify schools or schools with groups of students that are not performing well and to provide those schools and their educators with support in helping students reach those high standards.”

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GreatSchools is expected to begin publishing the information from the data collection for individual schools, which will make it easier for parents to see what’s going on in their child’s school. School-level data will include “access to rigorous coursework including enrollment in gifted and talented programs and advanced math and science courses—as well as college-readiness milestones like passing algebra 1 by eighth grade—and discipline rates and student absenteeism,” according to Matthew Nelson, COO of GreatSchool.

And beginning in August 2016, the data—including downloadable school and district-level reports—will be available on the Education Department’s website.