Monday, March 12, 2012

Unequal treatment, revealed

 We know that minority youth make up a disproportionate percentage (PDF) of the young people leaving high school early, with the graduation rate among students of color is as much as twenty-five percentage points below their white peers.

While numerous factors play into a young person's decision not to complete high school, unequal treatment of minorities in the nation's schools clearly plays a significant, in not decisive, role.  As reported by the New York Times, a new survey by the US Dept. of Education covering 85 percent of the nation’s students confirms that "Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students," tend to have less experienced and poorer paid teachers, and are much less likely to be offered advanced classes and challenging subjects.  Among the key findings:

  • Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions.
  • One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.  
  • In districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies. 
  • Over 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black. 
  • Black and Hispanic students — particularly those with disabilities — are disproportionately subject to seclusion or restraints. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student body, but 70 percent of those subject to physical restraints. Black students with disabilities constituted 21 percent of the total, but 44 percent of those with disabilities subject to mechanical restraints, like being strapped down. And while Hispanics made up 21 percent of the students without disabilities, they accounted for 42 percent of those without disabilities who were placed in seclusion. 
  • While 55 percent of the high schools with low black and Hispanic enrollment offered calculus, only 29 percent of the high-minority high schools did so — and even in schools offering calculus, Hispanics made up 20 percent of the student body but only 10 percent of those enrolled in calculus.
  • While black and Hispanic students made up 44 percent of the students in the survey, they were only 26 percent of the students in gifted and talented programs.
  • The data also showed that schools with a lot of black and Hispanic students were likely to have relatively inexperienced, and low-paid, teachers. On average, teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues elsewhere. In New York high schools, though, the discrepancy was more than $8,000, and in Philadelphia, more than $14,000.
It doesn't require much analysis to recognize that if you treat young people harshly, give them substandard resources and less talented teachers, and fail to set high expectations, they will quickly become demoralized about the high school experience.

The full results of the survey will be posted online at

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