Washington, D.C. — In a groundbreaking survey that shines additional light on disparities in public education, federal officials released new data on Tuesday that shows minority students are more likely to face discipline and less likely to have experienced teachers or access to rigorous courses than non-minority students.
At the same time, Department of Education officials stopped short of blaming the disparities on racism or poverty, pointing instead to schools and districts that had bucked the trend as evidence that elimination of the disparities is not an insurmountable task.
“The answer is out there,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a news conference on Tuesday at Howard University to announce the new data. “We just have to take to scale what’s working.”
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali said the data — officially known as Part II of the 2009-10 Civil Rights Data Collection, or CRDC — highlights the need for further study in order to formulate good policy and successful interventions. But the data alone do not prove anything systemic or necessarily warrant civil rights investigations such as others her office has done in recent years.
“It really is about self-analysis, asking why these patterns exist in your school, in your district, in your state and what can be done collectively to change them,” Ali said.
Among other things, the new federal data released Tuesday shows that:
n African-American students, especially boys, were more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers, making up 18 percent of the students in the survey sample but 35 percent of the students suspended once and 39 percent of those expelled.
n More than 70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or African-American.
n Students with disabilities as defined by IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, are more than twice as likely to get one or more out-of-school suspensions.
n Teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less annually than colleagues who taught at low-minority schools in the same district.
n English language learners, or ELL students, represented 6 percent of the survey students but 12 percent of those retained.
n Only 29 percent of high-minority schools offered calculus, as opposed to 55 percent of schools with the lowest Black and Hispanic enrollment.
Several Democratic lawmakers who were on hand Tuesday at the news conference at Howard University said the federal data should spur action.
“The research released today clearly demonstrates that several inequities in education remain,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill. “The dramatic numbers confirm that the opportunity gap and the school-to-prison pipeline are very real for students of color, students who are low-income, students with disabilities and students who are learning English.”
Davis said the Congressional Black Caucus planned to host a congressional summit and hearing on school discipline in April to further examine the disparities revealed in the data released Tuesday and to discuss federal policy reforms.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., said the new data shows that “we still have work to do to create a more perfect union.”
“When we look at everything that’s important for children learning, children from very challenged circumstances get the least of everything we know they need in terms of teachers with content knowledge, rigorous curriculum and gateway to college, that is high-level math given in the sequence in which it is needed,” Fattah said. “This report should deeply disturb the conscience of the nation, but moreover it should cause us to act.”
While much of the CRDC data highlights problems, the data also highlight schools and districts that are defying the odds.
For instance, at the school level, the report notes that Albert Einstein High School in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland enrolls a greater percentage of African-American and Hispanic students (68 percent) in physics than either the overall CRDC sample population (40 percent) or Montgomery County (46 percent).
At the district level, the report notes that Elizabeth, N.J., has succeeded in getting all of its students — 89 percent of whom are African-American and Hispanic — to take Algebra I by eighth grade.
Early access to such math is critical, Duncan said, because it lays the groundwork for success in higher math courses, such as calculus.
Asked if it would make a difference if calculus were immediately offered in all schools, Duncan and Ali said it would with the right preparation at earlier grade levels.
“If they get it early, they will be ready,” Ali said.
“When folks have access, they do pretty darn well,” Duncan said. “Where they have access, they’re passing at comparable rates. We just don’t have enough access.”