Inequality in Schools

Black students were more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions and less likely to enroll in top-scoring elementary or middle schools than were white students in a recently released report. (AP Photo Jaime Henry-White)

New data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reveals persistent inequalities in the nation’s public schools in areas such as discipline, college preparation courses, retention, access to early learning and teacher quality.

The 2016 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), a survey of more than 95,000 public schools in the 2013-2014 school year, showed that while there was overall improvement in areas such as out-of-school suspension, which decreased by nearly 20 percent since 2011-12, gaps in equal opportunity persisted.

“The CRDC data shines a spotlight on the educational opportunities proffered, and denied, to our nation’s sons and daughters in schools every day,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon in a statement. “We urge educators, researchers and the public to join us in using this data to its full potential to support students in realizing theirs.”

Among the more alarming areas of concern is the statistics on school discipline, which shows that Black children—especially Black boys—are overwhelmingly more likely to be suspended or expelled at the preschool and K-12 levels. African-American student are 3.6 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as White students at the preschool level, and 3.8 times as likely at the K-12 level. Black students also are almost twice as likely to be expelled from school without educational services as their White peers.

Other findings show that Black and Latino students have less access to high-rigor math and science courses; are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs and in Advanced Placement courses and are enrolled in schools with higher concentrations of inexperienced teachers.

This year’s CRDC included, for the first time, data on chronic absenteeism. Thirteen percent of all public school students—6.5 million—missed 15 or more days of the school year in 2013-14, according to the survey. And among Black students, specifically, 22 percent were chronically absent.

Lawmakers and activists say the OCR’s new data mirrors findings in a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office which showed increasing segregation among U.S. public schools and concentrated educational disparities.

“The report released today from the Department of Education is a disturbing reminder of what too many families already know, and what was confirmed in the report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) we unveiled last month,” said U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement.

Our nation’s increasingly diverse student population is too often hyper-segregated in K-12 public schools and, sadly, educational opportunity is not available to all students of color on equal terms,” they continued. “This new data, and GAO’s study, are a call to action.”