14 Disturbing Stats About Racial Inequality in American Public Schools

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Second grade student Kaign Groce, 7, reads a book Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, during a literacy class at the John Fenwick Elementary School in Salem, N.J. (AP Photo/ Jose F. Moreno)

This post first appeared in The Nation.

Comprehensive data released Friday by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights offers a striking glance at the extent of racial inequality plaguing the nation’s education system.

Analysts found that black, Latino and Native American students have less access to advanced math and science courses and are more likely to be taught by first-year instructors than white students. Black and Native American students are also suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.

For the first time in history, the Education Department also examined school discipline at the pre-K level, finding that black students as young as 4 years old are already facing unequal treatment from school administrators.

The Education Department released four papers with the data, analyzing inequality in school disciplineearly learningcollege readiness and teacher equity (PDFs). Here’s a breakdown of some of the key findings, taken straight from those papers. During the 2011–12 school year:

  1. Black students accounted for 18 percent of the country’s pre-K enrollment, but made up 48 percent of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions.
  2. Black students were expelled at three times the rate of white students.
  3. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students represented less than 1 percent of students, but 3 percent of expulsions.
  4. Black girls were suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys.
  5. American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls were suspended at higher rates than white boys or girls.
  6. Nearly one in four boys of color, excepting Latino and Asian American students, with disabilities received an out-of-school suspension.
  7. One in five girls of color with disabilities received an out-of-school suspension.
  8. A quarter of the schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students did not offer Algebra II.
  9. A third of these schools did not offer chemistry.
  10. Less than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students had access to the full range of math and science courses, which consists of Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics.
  11. Black and Latino students accounted for 40 percent of enrollment at schools with gifted programs, but only represented 26 percent of students in such programs.
  12. Black, Latino and Native American students attended schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers (3-4 percent) than white students (1 percent).
  13. Black students were more than three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60 percent of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.
  14. Latino students were twice as likely to attend such schools.
The Department of Education’s civil rights survey examined all 97,000 public schools in the US, representing 49 million students. Explore the datasets, organized by school, state and district, at Ed.gov.

Steven Hsieh is a news blogger at The Nation. He grew up in St. Louis, Miss., and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and English.
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  • Ginny

    I’m sure that teachers have known this for years. You’re just now putting percentages on it.

  • Michael Twiss

    I have a. New idea , let’s through some more money at it and see what happens , anybody want to venture a guess ?

  • Anonymous

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  • Thomas Smiley

    It seems to be a shame that the department of education didn’t bother to gather data for socioeconomic status as well as race. It could be argued that this inequity doesn’t involve pure racism, but rather a socio-economic segregation between school communities with resources and those without.

  • Melissa Petersen

    One could also argue that, most of the time, “socioeconomic” and “racial” mean the same thing. There is an unsurprisingly high overlap between the categories. Racism has economic consequences, after all.

  • Graeme Edgeler

    Some of these statistics need comparators.

    e.g. “A quarter of the schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students did not offer Algebra II.”

    What proportion of schools overall, or with the lowest proportion of black and Latino students did not offer Algebra II?

    Others are described as anecdotes:

    e.g. “Black, Latino and Native American students attended schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers (3-4 percent) than white students (1 percent).”

    Are these averages, modes, or in fact, anecdotes as they appear? What proportion of students is this true for?

    Others are no doubt bad, but need context to know they weren’t chosen simply to sound bad, given their specificity:

    e.g. “Black students were more than three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60 percent of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.”

    why 60%? How much more likely are these when the figures used are 80% or 100% of teachers? Is there a particular reason for 60% that’s not stated?

  • Anonymous

    The question that needs to be answered is: Why? We continually just throw away a significant proportion of the minds society could use to improve and perhaps thrive. Why?

  • Dude

    It seems to me the author started with the premise that the cause of the issue at hand was racism and then tried to make his “facts”fit. My child went to a very diverse grammar school. It was a true mix of cultures and “social class”. My observation was that the key determinants of academic success were 1. The degree of family support. 2. How educated the parents were. Those two variables often, but not always, seemed to correlate to family income. I think we are segregated more by “class” than race at this point.

  • http://negropeanwatchlist.com/ Malik Heru El-Shabbazz

    seems to me you are interested in comparing what YOUR child did to a larger demographics. (in grammar school no less)… Your child does not statistically compare to the rest of the students. (in public school) so, please sit down – but i will clap that YOUR child went to grammar school.

  • Dude

    1.) You are incorrect that I am interested in comparing my child to anyone 2.) You have virtually no knowledge as to whether or not my child “statistically compares”, whatever that means. I can only infer from your acerbic remarks that you are not interested in an intellectual discussion.

  • moderator

    Dude and Malik

    I think you’ll have to agree to disagree. Let’s move on before the comment policy is broken.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator

    Malik and Dude

    I think you’ll have to agree to disagree. Let’s move on before the comment policy is broken.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • Anonymous

    That sounds rational, that we are segregated ‘more by class than race’ (but why did you put class in quotes as if it were somehow a phantom term?). Yet, by your own analysis, saying this in the face of the raw, racial data presented in this article is like saying a boat floats more because of the water than because the boat is free of holes.

    Yes, the water is the ultimate determiner of liquid suspension of a craft, but those whose boats have holes in them will sink and drown, and those sinking and drowning are as the data shows, disproportionately Black and Latino.

    You seem to be parsing that reality. You are ignoring the implication of your own analysis–which is that Blacks and Latinos, due to racial inequality (literal defacto segregation and economic segregation suffered traditionally by their parents) are not benefiting from what your child did, which was in your words, “The degree of family support [and] How educated the parents were”.

    Are you somehow blind to what you yourself are seeing? That racism in America works in cycles and is inter-generational? The children this study identify will someday be parents themselves, right? And because they were discriminated against, according your own analysis, THEIR children will be discriminated against. Once these young victims of racial inequality become parents they are then to be held accountable for the cycle continuing with their own children?

    The cycle was ended for me by the intervention of President Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ programs and the ‘War on Poverty’, which rescued me from the Detroit urban ghettos of my youth and eventually set me on a course to ivy league degrees. My daughter has been admitted to the same ivy league school I went to. You’re right–parents’ opportunities influence opportunities their children are exposed to. But going all the way back to Martin King and Caesar Chavez, racial inequality must be first, admitted to, second, confronted honestly, and third, eliminated by intervention and the ending of patterns of mistreatment of Black and Latino students who are deliberately locked out of the education they need and deserve and that their own parents paid for. That is in fact what ‘public’ education is, or should be, intended for.

  • Anonymous

    Yes! Thank you, Melissa.

  • Anonymous

    And the cause is….?

  • Anonymous

    You are correct–MY teachers knew this (they were predominantly White European-Americans who ventured into the urban centers to teach in order to rescue the poor–God bless them!); they knew it and told me so when I was a boy and deliberately protected and mentored me and then stuffed me into a bottle and tossed me onto the sea in order to save me. If I had no boat, well then they were determined to get me off the island (“La Isla Ghetto”) and on a journey to rescue. The Federal gov’t did the rest with Pell grants, scholarships, and the funding of public libraries.

    Because public education saved me from illiteracy and poverty, my daughter went to only the best public schools with only the best teachers in a middle class environment and now is on her own journey, but she has a boat, not a bottle. I am a teacher now myself–a professor at a state university, and I do the same thing my teachers did–I try to rescue traditionally excluded and under-educated students. You are right on–teachers have always known. The percentages correlated in this article are a relatively new interpolation among a 35 year history of data sets analyzing lack of opportunities for Black and Latino children and high school students, but the reality of the return of of poverty swelling, overt, Hoover era inequality, what educator Jonathan Kozol calls ‘savage inequality’ in education, goes right back to the end of the Johnson era.

  • Anonymous

    Your question betrays Americans’ need to educate themselves about the reality in this country of the targeting, demonizing of, and dis empowering of teachers. Teachers are over burdened, harassed, too often even physically endangered, underpaid, and are pauperized by administration-heavy controllers, who are a vampire class that run the public schools and mismanage both funds and curricula.

    Teachers, if WE ran the educational system in America, could and would heal the system and make it just and pedagogically functional within a generation; but sadly, we not only don’t run the system, but the best and most qualified of us are being economically purged from the system. The purge is rendering public education more and more mediocre, more unjust, more malfeasant and insolvent, and more and more racially unequal as well as increasingly more marred by stark 1920’s style class inequality.

  • Christian

    Liberals said we need free abortion so women can have a fair life and the poor are saved from being saddled with a child (liberal pelosi words not mine.) Over 50 million black babies have been murdered by these “equality” seeking liberals, good job on the equality part!

    Abortion is now used as method of flippant birth control like a condom by blacks. Murdering your baby is now but a office visit away and if you are black, mexican or poor it is a free office visit away.

    Liberals have setup the lack of respect for human life and now wonder why it is all falling apart. The very same liberals who were against desegregation and the right to vote for women are the ones legislating handouts to keep the poor poor.

    Now liberals want us to dumb down our kids to the level of those they have control over through government handouts. Liberals are looking for lock-step, one size fits all answers that remove the learning from school, remove the independent thinking from kids. Yes liberals treat blacks, mexicans and the poor like subjects or slaves and are keeping them on the plantation.

    The lack of self-respect the majority of blacks and mexicans maintain is no ones problem but theirs. The lack of home support, motivation and self-responsibility are all things that are internal. No one can legislate, lower/change standards or otherwise make those with these traits change. Just like AA says, “You can not make someone change…”

    To assume that only blacks and mexicans are on the receiving end of this is racists. Blacks and mexicans have now become the majority while whites, asians and pacific islanders etc are the minority.

    To be blunt, as a white, asian or other minority poor child you have absolutely no one to hep you in grade school. While blacks and mexicans get free rides due to skin color (even at college), whites, asians etc have to work their way through school. The very liberals that removed any and all assistance to these non-black, non-mexican kids due to perceived racism will only assist blacks and meixicans.

    Even with no assistance and the “system” being stacked against these kids they seems to climb out of the ghetto and on to bigger and better things. This has never been about race or skin color, this has been about control.

    The only way to combat this and succeed is by using intestinal fortitude and not wanting to be a slave or dependent on the government for your survival. These are internal drivers and no amount of legislation will change help these kids, they have to do it themselves.

  • Avi Marranazo

    Steven, if evil White “racism” is at the root of “…black, Latino and Native American students hav[ing] less access to advanced math and science courses and are more likely to be taught by first-year instructors than white students”, please do include Asian Americans in your analysis. It would be helpful in making it meaningful. Otherwise, it comes off sounding as though there is some conspiracy to keep other races down and that “the extent of racial inequality plaguing the nation’s education system” is due to something besides, say, inequality.

  • NClaw441

    What is the precise claim for why these differences in discipline exist? Are black children being targeted and disciplined for acts they didn’t do? Are white discipline problems being overlooked? Are punishments different for some races than others? Are the rules devised so as to target some minority children?
    Or could it be that punishments are being handed down fairly, but that some minorities have a larger proportion (for reasons that need explaining) of children who behave badly (or in violation of school rules)?
    Shouldn’t these questions be answered before looking for a solution?

  • Anonymous

    Oh. So you have no intention of putting your arms and legs and work and passion where your mouth is? You can interrogate teachers and call on us to be responsible for public policy, but when it becomes clear that we ALL must take responsibility for democracy by acting as a nation to seek social justice just as our grandparents all did once upon a time, you bow out with a feeble ‘keep up the good work’? It’s all just up to us? You apparently paid no attention at all to anything I have said. So Giveupalready?

  • Southern Logic

    This is not a civil rights issue it is a family parenting issue. How come they do not post the number of expulsions from 2 parent families? This is the result of the war on the family started in the 60’s, and Black families have born the brunt of the evil misguided social engineering of the democrat party. If this continues the Black family will be put on the endangered species list.