Inequities Abound for Black Students in Public Schools

Dorothy Rowley | 3/14/2012, 1:56 p.m.

Study: Blacks, Hispanics Suspended at Higher Rates

It's often a given that black students at public schools take center stage when it comes to corporal punishment, suspension and other acts of discipline. But a new study confirms that they've been unfairly targeted compared to white and other non-minority students.

The study, titled "Part II of the 2009-10 Civil Rights Data Collection" which was released by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, Tuesday, March 6 at Howard University, also focused on career readiness, discipline, school finance, and student retention.

"The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He expressed hopes that the report would be an eye-opener to educators at all levels in an effort to address educational inequities across the board.

"The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change," Duncan said. "The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that," he said.

The study involved 72,000 schools that serve 85 percent of the nation's students. It revealed that black and Hispanic students comprised more than 70 percent of those involved in school arrests or cases referred to law enforcement.

Also, while black students made up 18 percent of students in the survey, 46 percent of them had multiple out-of-school suspensions and 39 percent had been expelled. According to the study, while black students are likely to be expelled or suspended three times more than their white counterparts, African-American male and female students are suspended at higher rates than almost any other group.

Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza, said in a statement that "zero tolerance" policies in both schools and the court system disproportionately affect black and Hispanic kids. He said the policies have created a system that takes kids out of school and ultimately leads them into prison where they become hardened criminals. He said more moderate responses are needed in schools, and he hopes that the report will lead to a change in policies in schools and in state laws.

"We've lost control of all judgment here, and it's almost always a black kid or a Hispanic kid affected," Gonzalez said.

Russlynn Ali, assistant education secretary for civil rights, said during a teleconference with reporters, that the study also looked at disparities among underserved populations, such as the disabled and English as a Second Language (ESL) students who continue to reap less than their fair share of resources.

She said the study - the first of its kind and which included 10,000 school districts - presents a "very disturbing" picture and that if its findings fail to change, it will be difficult to keep pace with President Barack Obama's vision to lead the world in the number of college graduates by 2020.

"What we released was a series of data points, a national data tool that talks about access and opportunity," said Ali. "For many years, you have probably heard Secretary Duncan refer to education as the civil rights issue of our time . . . [and] we are working hard here at the Department of Education to close the achievement gap to help schools transform."