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Racial disparities still plague public schools

4/3/2014, 10:23 a.m.
Brighton High School

Aside from the fact that schools in New York City are highly segregated, there are also disappointing results from a study from the U.S. Department of Education when it comes to racial disparities.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released the first comprehensive look at civil rights data from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years. The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from the 2011-12 school year was announced by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Disparities include poor access to preschool, with about 40 percent of public school districts not offering preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.

Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, 42 percent of students who have been suspended once and 48 percent of the students suspended more than once.

Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are available. Only 57 percent of Black students and 67 percent of Latino students have less access to the full range of courses.

When it comes to access to college counselors, nationwide, one in five high schools lack a school counselor. In Florida and Minnesota, more than two in five students lack access to a school counselor.

This is the first time since 2000 that the Department of Education has compiled data from all 97,000 of the nation’s public schools and its 16,500 school districts, representing 49 million students.

“This data collection shines an unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” said Duncan.

The federal government has collected civil rights data about schools since 1968, but the Obama administration revamped the CRDC to include key information on preschool students and school discipline tactics. The data measures whether all students have equal educational opportunity and provides critical information to the Department of Education on enforcing federal civil rights laws.

CRDC data helps inform policy and regulatory work by the federal government. For example, the Departments of Education and Justice recently released guidelines to school districts on zero tolerance policies and discipline tactics, a powerful example of the federal government using data to take action to bolster outcomes and reduce disparities for students of color.

“This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool,” said Holder. “Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”