CAMBRIDGE, MA - Recent statements from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education acknowledge that students of color often receive different and harsher disciplinary punishments than their White counterparts for the same or similar infractions. Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the DOJ, said addressing racial disparities in school discipline has become a high priority; and Richard Soto, deputy assistant secretary for the Education Department's office for Civil Rights says his department will be issuing new guidelines to districts on school discipline.
"It is significant and welcome news that the civil rights divisions of both the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have made it a priority to address the growing problem of inequitable treatment of students of color," said Dr. John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. "Our research has found that Black males students are disproportionately impacted by school disciplinary policies compared to their White counterparts and that this has become a major contributor to increased failure at grade level and 'push out' or dropout rates among Black males."
According to Yes We Can: the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, nationally more than twice as many Black male students as White males students receive out of school suspensions and three times as many Black male students as White male students are expelled. These school discipline disparities may account for a significant portion of the Black males who are held back or do not graduate on time.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's office recently announced his administration has launched compliance reviews on discipline policies in 54 districts and institutions of higher education nationwide, including cases involving disparate discipline rates and treatment of students with disabilities, to better assess the degree of negative impact on children of color.
Federal authorities are recognizing that students of color are being disproportionately affected by "zero-tolerance" policies such as being suspended from school for relatively minor infractions like talking in class or chewing gum, while a White child received detention for the same actions. Very often undesirable behavior can be corrected with less severe methods, methods more likely to be utilized in suburban schools than those in urban centers. Unbalanced and draconian disciplinary policies represent the smoke rising from the flames of a much bigger fire that will require a systemic approach to bring under control.
A report released in 2009 entitled, Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn In America concluded it is imperative that the federal government ensure that every student receives the opportunity to learn by addressing issues of equity and quality at all levels of our educational system. The OTL report concludes that in order to close the achievement gap between White children and children of color, federal government and state officials must close the opportunity gap that exist between high achieving school districts and those in poorer urban and rural areas. Lost Opportunity identifies four core resources all students must have access to in order to have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn:
· High-quality early childhood education;
· Highly effective teachers;
· College preparatory curricula; and
· Equitable instructional resources.
"We are facing an education crisis in America indicated by a national graduation rate for Black males of only 47 percent," said Dr. Jackson. "The fixes for our education system are not simple but are multi-layered; they involve correcting inequitable funding, access to experienced and highly-effective teachers, pre-education and health care programs, and disciplinary programs that address behavior issues without driving the student out of the school system."
About The Schott Foundation for Public Education
Founded in 1991, The Schott Foundation for Public Education seeks to develop and strengthen a broad-based and representative movement to achieve fully resourced high quality preK-12 public education.