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U.S. schools still biased in disciplining black students

By Karen Graham     Mar 21, 2014 in Politics
According to the 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection, released Friday by the Department of Education, black students in the U.S. are getting more punishments and less educational opportunities than their white peers.
The new survey, announced by Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, includes results from all the 16,500 American school districts, representing 49 million students. And for the very first time, preschoolers are included in the data.
The findings of the survey show clearly that there is still a great deal of disparity in the disciplinary actions taken between black and white students, reaching down to four-year-old preschool children. "This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain," said Arne Duncan in a statement. "In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed."
Preschool children being suspended
The number of preschool children being suspended was shocking, and the majority were black students. Across the country, almost 1 million children were enrolled in public preschool programs, out of the 60 districts offering the programs during the 2011-2912 period. The report showed that nearly 5,000 preschoolers were suspended at least once, and 2,500 were suspended more than once.
Officials are concerned over the number of four-to-five-year-olds being suspended because they are not likely doing anything that would present a danger, like carrying a loaded gun to school. The director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, Daniel Losen, said while it may be appropriate to discipline a four-year-old child, "Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared."
Academic research suggests that the suspension of white preschoolers is usually for an "observable offense," such as fighting or using foul language. With black preschoolers, suspensions seem to be for "less objective offenses," such as being disrespectful, or noisiness. The researchers feel that because the latter offenses are subjective in nature, and the teacher's perception is likely to be influenced by stereotyping or just plain bias.
Blacks and the "school-to-prison" pipeline
The survey also showed that black middle school and high school students are suspended and expelled at a rate that is three times more than their white peers. Only five percent of white students are suspended annually, compared to 16 percent of black students. Surprisingly, black girls were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, much higher than for white girls, and higher than most categories of boys.
Despite some school districts trying to remedy the problem of quality, experienced teachers in positions to educate minority students, it was found that minority students have less access to experienced teachers. Most English language learners and black students are being stuck in schools with the most new teachers. It was found that seven percent of black students are stuck in schools where at least 20 percent of the teachers have not met licensing and certification requirements.
The disparity in school discipline has been shown to increase the chances of black students dropping out of school and more often, getting into trouble with the law. This almost pre-destined course is now being called the "school-to-prison" pipeline. It is an outrageous assumption to think that this is the "norm" for black students. It has been found that with the same offense, a black child will be suspended, yet more often than not, the white student will receive a less severe punishment.
"Zero tolerance" policies vary
Education data has been collected by the federal government since 1969. Just last year, the Obama administration issued new guidelines to school districts on "zero tolerance" policies and discipline procedures in an attempt to reduce the disparities and bolster educational opportunities for black and minority students. And, to be fair, there have been a number of school districts working to change their zero-tolerance objectives, but the number is still small.
Even though 16 percent of the country's school students are black, a disproportionate number, 27 percent, are referred by schools to law enforcement, and 31 percent are arrested for an offense committed while in school. Students with disabilities make up 13 percent of the school population, yet they make up 25 percent of the students referred to law enforcement or arrested. With these numbers, it is obvious that the pipeline going from our schools to the steel doors of jails and prisons should be torn down.
The American Federation of Teachers union spokesman, Randi Weingarten said that the recent Education Department Equity and Excellence Commission report called for solutions to be implemented to remedy the biased disciplinary disparities in the nation's schools, but very 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."
More about US education, zerotolerance, Blacks, Preschoolers, Inequality
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