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ADDRESSING DISPARITIES IN K–12 EDUCATION: Twenty Percent Drop in Out-of-School Suspensions Represents Sign of Progress, But Much More Work Is Required

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Many of the same students who are disproportionately removed from school because of discipline issues also attend schools that are less likely to provide the advanced course work necessary to prepare them for college and a career.

Data released last month from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights shows a dramatic decrease in out-of-school suspensions but continuing racial disparities in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

According to the new Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2.8 million kindergarten through grade twelve students received one or more out-of-school suspensions during School Year (SY) 2013–14—a 20 percent decrease in the last two years and a significant sign of progress for the many organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education, that have urged schools to consider school discipline policies that keep students in school and engaged.

Still, much more progress is necessary, as reflected in the large disparities in school suspensions. Black students are nearly four times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white students. Black students also are nearly two times more likely to be expelled from school without educational services as white students. Black boys, who represent 8 percent of all students, account for 19 percent of the students who are expelled without educational services. Black girls make up 8 percent of enrolled students, but they represent 14 percent of students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions. Black students also are 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as white students.

Disparities in school suspensions begin as early as preschool. According to the CRDC, black preschool children are 3.6 times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white preschool children. While black children represent only 19 percent of preschool enrollment, they account for nearly half of preschool children receiving out-of-school suspensions. Black girls, who represent 20 percent of female preschool enrollment, account for 54 percent of out-of-school suspensions.

Black and Latino Students Likely to Lack Access to Advanced Courses in High School

Many of the same students who are disproportionately removed from school because of discipline issues also attend schools that are less likely to provide the advanced course work necessary to prepare them for college and a career. According to the CRDC, only 48 percent of high schools with high black and Latino student enrollment offer physics, compared to 67 percent of high schools with low black and Latino student enrollment. Similar disparities exist for Algebra II, calculus, and chemistry. Additionally, black and Latino students are underrepresented in gifted and talented education programs and Advanced Placement courses.

“When we deny some students an access to a high-quality education, we all lose out in multiple ways,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John King in a conference call with reporters. “We lose out economically because people who are poorly educated earn less, pay less in taxes and need more services. They also are more likely to end up in prison. In fact, two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts.”

Nearly One in Five High School Students “Chronically Absent”

For the first time, the CRDC reported data on student absenteeism, finding that 6.5 million students, or 13 percent of all students, were “chronically absent,” meaning they missed fifteen or more school days during SY 2013–14. Among high school students, more than 3 million, or 18 percent of all high school students, were chronically absent—an especially troubling finding given that chronic absenteeism is one of the strongest predictors that a student will drop out of school.

“Chronic absenteeism is a national problem,” King said. “Frequent absences from school can be devastating to a child’s education. Missing school leads to low academic achievement and triggers drop outs. Millions of young people are missing opportunities in postsecondary education, good careers and a chance to experience the American dream.”

Chronic absenteeism is a serious problem among all races and all grades but especially in high school. As shown in the graph below, 27.5 percent of American Indian high school students were chronically absent during SY 2013–14, as were 25.6 percent of Pacific Islander students, 23.1 percent of black students, and 20.9 percent of Hispanic students.

Chronic Absenteeism Spikes in High School for Students of Every Race and Ethnicity

ED created a new interactive website that demonstrates the extent of chronic absenteeism problems in terms of geography, ethnicity, disability status, and school level.

Education Secretary: Civil Rights Data Justifies Aggressive Approach to ESSA Rules

King, who has faced criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill for certain proposals he made related to the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), said data from the CRDC justified his push for strong civil rights safeguards in the nation’s new education law.

“This data makes it clear that the work ahead of us with the Every Student Succeeds Act is critical,” King said. “[ESSA] is focused on addressing some of the critical inequities the CRDC shows us. … Some have suggested the Department of Education is pushing too hard or asking too much of states as they implement the law. But to be clear, we will not compromise away the civil rights of all students to an excellent education. … If there was any question about whether we have further to go to make good on the promise of a quality education for every child, these data should serve as a sobering reality check.”

The CRDC also includes data on educational equity and opportunity for students, including incidents of discipline, restraint, and seclusion; access to courses and programs that lead to college and career readiness; teacher equity; rates of retention; and access to early learning.

Additional findings from the CRDC is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/2013-14-first-look.pdf.

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