Public school students of color get more punishment and less access to veteran teachers than their white peers, according to surveys released Friday by the U.S. Education Department that include data from every U.S. school district.
Black students are suspended or expelled at triple the rate of their white peers, according to the U.S. Education Department’s 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection, a survey conducted every two years. Five percent of white students were suspended annually, compared with 16 percent of black students, according to the report. Black girls were suspended at a rate of 12 percent — far greater than girls of other ethnicities and most categories of boys.
Though 16 percent of America’s public school students are black, they represent 27 percent of students referred by schools to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students arrested for an offense committed in school, according to the survey.
Students with disabilities make up one-fourth of students referred to law enforcement or arrested, although they represent 13 percent of the student population. Students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended out of school than peers, with 13 percent of such students being sent home for misbehaving. One of four boy students of color who have disabilities and one in five girl students of color who have disabilities were suspended. Students of color include all non-white ethnic groups except Latino and Asian-American.
These numbers will likely add pressure to dismantle the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, which feeds troubled students into the justice system. The push to ease discipline sometimes causes tension with schools’ efforts to beef up security after school mass shootings, like the one in Newtown, Conn. Last week, a set of reports 26 academics pointed to a few local studies that found that disparate discipline outcomes did not happen as a result of certain ethnic groups acting out more than others.
According to the new data, disparities begin as early as preschool. Black students make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but they comprise 48 percent of preschool students receiving more than one suspension out of school. White students, representing 43 percent of preschool students, only receive 26 percent of out-of-school suspensions more than once.
Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers union, noted that despite a recent Education Department Equity and Excellence Commission report calling for measures to remedy discrimination, little has been done. “It is shameful that not a single recommendation has been implemented,” Weingarten said. “We don’t need more data to tell us we need action.”