CRDC Data Show Persistent Inequities

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The Civil Rights data released last week by the U. S. Department of Education are still preliminary, but the overarching story they tell is one of deep and pervasive inequities in America’s schools. Time and again, and on a variety of fronts, students of color are getting less than a fair chance to succeed in school. These patterns and trends not only undercut the most deeply held of our values, but they also portend a dimmer future for this nation than any of us would hope.

Research and common sense tell us that top-notch instruction — rigorous course work taught by effective teachers — can make all the difference for students. The data from the education department’s Civil Rights Data Collection confirm that African-American and Latino students get less of these key elements of academic success than do other students. They have less access to rigorous high school courses (only 40 percent of high schools with the highest black and Latino enrollment offer physics, for example, compared with 66 percent of the schools with the lowest enrollment of such students; for calculus, the rates are 29 percent and 55 percent respectively). And Latino and black students also are more likely than other students to be taught by novice teachers who are still learning their craft (15 percent of the teachers in schools where students of color form the majority are in their first or second year of teaching, compared with 8 percent of those in low-minority schools).

Further, these same students are subject to harsher discipline than are their white peers. Black students, for example, comprise 18 percent of our students, but 35 percent of in-school suspensions, 46 percent of out-of- school suspensions, and 35 percent of school-related arrests. Latinos comprise 24 percent of our students, but 37 percent of school-related arrests.

The combination of weaker academics and harsher discipline, which means less time in the classroom, is academically fatal to too many young African-American and Latino students, especially boys.

The good news is that none of these patterns is immutable. The data make it clear that some schools and districts have already made inequities in instruction by novice teachers or access to advanced courses things of the past. Others have worked hard on improving the classroom management skills of their staff, reducing or even eliminating suspensions. If we mustered the will, we could do that at scale, enabling all our students to achieve, and assuring a much better future for our country.