Disparities remain in America's schools

Studies show minority students have less access to advanced classes, preschool and are more likely to be suspended or restrained
Associated Press
Mar 22, 2014

Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that black children have the right to the same education as their white peers.

But civil rights data released Friday by the Education Department reflect an education system rife with inequities for blacks and other minority students and those with disabilities.

Minority students are less likely to have access to advanced math and science classes and veteran teachers. Black students of any age, even the youngest preschoolers, are more likely to be suspended. And students with disabilities are more likely than other students to be tied down or placed alone in a room as a form of discipline.

"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," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

But the department offered no explanation of why these disparities exist.

Here are five things to know about the department's findings:


STEM is the buzzword in education these days. Education in the fields of science, technology and engineering and math is considered critical for students to succeed in the global marketplace. Yet the department found that there was a "significant lack of access" to core classes like algebra, geometry, biology, and chemistry for many students. That lack of access was particularly striking when it came to minorities.

"A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II; a third of these schools do not offer chemistry," the department said.

And it's not just lack of access to core curriculum subjects.

Only a quarter of black and Latino students were enrolled in an Advanced Placement class, which allows high school students to earn college credit, and fewer than one in five got a high enough score generally necessary to get college credit.

Even as black and Latino students represent 40 percent of the enrollment in schools offering gifted and talented programs, they represent only a quarter of the students in their schools enrolled in them.

Christopher Emdin, a professor of science education at Teachers College, Columbia University, said if a school doesn't offer advanced math and science classes, students are told they are not expected to take those classes.

"There is nothing more severe in contemporary America, particularly as it relates to youth of color, than the soft bigotry of low expectations," Emdin said. "These inequities in the availability of science and math classes show young people that not much is expected of them. It highlights a subtle and severe bias that we will collectively suffer from as our STEM jobs continue to go unfilled, and our young people refuse to be scientists and engineers."


Quality teachers can play a key role in student performance.

Minority students are more likely to attend schools with a higher concentration of first-year teachers than white students. And while most teachers are certified, nearly half a million students nationally attend schools where nearly two-thirds or fewer of teachers meet all state certification and licensing requirements. Black and Latino students are more likely than white students to attend these schools.

There's also a teacher salary gap of more than $5,000 between high schools with the highest and lowest black and Latino students enrollments, according to the data.

Maddie Fennell, a literacy coach at Miller Park Elementary, an urban school in Omaha, Neb., said that too often in teaching, the mindset is that the more experienced a teacher is, the more deserving the teacher is of a less-challenging school environment. She said this doesn't make sense because, in comparison, an experienced surgeon wouldn't be given the healthiest patients. Ultimately, she said, the most qualified teachers will request to follow strong principals.

"A lot of it has to do with the leadership of a (school) building," Fennell said.


The Obama administration issued guidance earlier this year encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal's office, the so-called "schools-to-prisons pipeline." But even before the announcement, school districts had been adjusting policies that disproportionately affected minority students. The civil rights data released Friday from the 2011-2012 school year show the disparities begin among even the youngest of school kids. Black children represent about 18 percent of children in preschool programs in schools, but they make up almost half of the preschoolers who are suspended more than once. Six percent of the nation's districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that's three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys. More than half of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.


"Seclusion and restraint" is a term used to describe when students are strapped down or physically restrained in schools. The data show students with disabilities represent about 12 percent of the student population, but about 60 percent of students placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement and three quarters of students restrained at school. While black students make up about one in five of students with disabilities, more than one-third of the students who are restrained at school are black. Overall, the data show that more than 37,000 students were placed in seclusion, and 4,000 students with disabilities were held in place by a mechanical restraint.

Democrats Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., have unsuccessfully fought for a federal law for years to end the practice. National associations representing school boards and superintendents have said such legislation would reduce the authority of states and districts, but that seclusion and restraint should only be used as a last resort to protect school staff and students.


The Obama administration views access to preschool as a civil rights issue. It says 40 percent of school districts do not offer preschool programs. Their numbers don't include private programs or some other types of publicly funded early childhood programs outside of school systems. Obama has sought a "preschool for all" program with the goal of providing universal preschool to America's 4-year-old that would use funding from a hike in tobacco taxes.


There you go again

So we are blaming schools (and teachers) because more minorities are brought up on discipline charges in schools? Hmmm, should teachers just ignore bad behavior by minorities so that we are politically correct??? Or do schools make sure thay have the "correct" percent of minority student in AP and gifted classes just to look good? Sounds like reverse discrimination to me. This article has spinned the statistics to make it look like schools are deliberately excluding minorities.


You are so ignorant to take a very little part and show how racist you are. Its amazing you ignored the rest of what is a pretty long article.

There you go again

I find your accusations offensive as I am directly involved in the schools. Are you? I have oversight as to the vast amount of money spent in my Title 1 school. The financial and educational assistance given to the students seems well spent but gets "lost" when students do not have parental guidance and assistance at home. How dare you call a person ignorant and, yes, I have read this and many more articles, summaries, and books on this topic. Ignorant, I am not.


It sounds like santown419 is right.


Re;"So we are blaming schools (and teachers)"

I do think that to a degree the schools and teachers are lacking. In one of my past issues of the Mensa Research Journal there was an article about "No child left behind" and the government did take a hit as many persons did not feel it was funded properly however the whole concept of no child left behind was for the teachers to offer more assistance to the slower learners to motivate and bring them up to speed hoping they would graduate better equipped to enter the job market. It should have closed the gap between the faster and slower learning students.

However in lieu of offering additional assistance to the slower learners thus elevating them up to narrow the gap they found it easier to just offer less attention to the faster learners ergo bringing them down closer to the slower learning students closing the gap with less effort.


A family's socio-economic status is the single largest factor to predict student success at all levels.


"soft bigotry of low expectations"

Is this comment directed at the parents who don't care or the educators who push students to achieve more and are labeled "insensitive to our struggles" ?


When I was in college in the early 1970's the government tried to resolve some disparity in minority enrollment by offering kids of color the ability to attend college without cost. This offer also included a lower GPA to remain in school.

Was that "soft bigotry of low expectations" ? Forty years later and it's the same thing. Lack of personal responsibility for your life.


The article is true. Major inequities exist in our school system. Let's not forget about the Little Rock 9! Things are much better but still need attention.
Sprinkles, a small child or even a teenager should be afforded the chance to learn without all the negativity. The assumptions that minorities are less educated and tend to be under achievers are nothing more than false stereotypes.



First you say the article is true. Then you say the assumptions made are false stereotypes. I don't understand how you can have both views?

Do you believe that minority students don't have the same options in our community? I won't disagree there are issues in large urban areas but I don't believe this is going on in our little city.

I believe their are still some minorities using this as an excuse. But, let me tell you I have friends, that are a minority, that blow this concept totally out of the water.

They didn't use excuses. They in fact used the resources, only available to them, to rise above the fray. The took personal responsibility for their life and grew. They have instilled this mindset with their children.


Inequities exist in our school system. True! Assumptions made are false stereotypes. True. Where's the issue? Of course there are bottom feeders in all situations and it is not color specific. When you go on your rant about personal responsibility you make it seem that anyone less fortunate is so because of personal responsibility. You can instill all you want but that still does not guarantee the preferred outcome.



We are making progress. You acknowledged that their are bottom feeders and it's not color specific. Amen.

I'm sorry if you feel my continued promotion of personal responsibly as a rant. I personally believe that people should not rely on the government or someone else to improve their lives. I believe we all have it within ourselves to improve ourselves to what ever level we wish to obtain with our God given abilities .

No guarantees and no excuses.

It's a personal philosophy. Sorry if that bothers you. Have a great life waiting for someone else to solve your problems.


Re: "personal responsibly,"

Always enjoyed the anecdotal stories of two brothers growing up in the same ghetto household; one becomes a doctor (successful) and the other becomes a prison lifer (loser).

What prompted the difference?

Also, some unfortunately attach a stigma to being successful in school as being white.

Peer pressure does the rest.


I agree. Sometimes people are just wired differently. I also agree with the stigma of being successful in school. White kids used to cheat off my papers. My entire family was ridiculed because of the way we spoke. Too white for them. Never bothered any of us.

Peer pressure is rough!

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

It is for reasons like this and others that are similar that I am proud to run the store/community I do. I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that there is a local place like this for "kids" (not all are children by age) that break the molds in which others wish to confine them. It's educational on both sides of the counter and reinforces in them that "they aren't the only ones".

I certainly echo your sentiments on peer pressure.

The Big Dog's back

I'm so glad to see the right wingnuts are all in for personal responsibility, again. Obamacare = Personal Responsibility!

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I'm sorry, did you need something?


Re: "Obamacare,"

Off-topic, lil' piddles. Try again.


How is having everyone else pay for your insurance personal responsibility? Look the word up and learn something.


Re: "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,"

IOW: Let's throw a few more trillions of taxpayer dollars at it and hope for the best.

Typical of govt. bureaucrats to work feverishly on the wrong end of the problem.

ALL motivation is self-motivation.

Old quote:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

The balance and usually omitted piece of the above saying is:

But, you can make him thirsty.

Therein lies the answer: How do you make 'em 'thirsty'?


Re: "Education Secretary Arne Duncan,"

Former CEO of the essentially bankrupt Chicago public school system and Pres. Obama handpicked crony.

Best to use him as a prime example regarding on how NOT to do things.


Two big factors not mentioned: Parents and their involvement and the students themselves. Doesn't matter how good the teacher, if the student doesn't want to learn, he/she won't.


If there is a teacher student disconnect then the student won't learn regardless. Even to the point that the student will refuse to learn on purpose.



There is only so much a teacher can do. At some point in time the student must step forward to facilitate education. Sorry, but we alway come back to personal responsibility.



Kids are complex creatures. But they are not without having feelings or a longing for self worth just like everybody else. A teacher is in a position to literally destroy a kid's ambition to succeed. It's up to the teacher to maintain the connect (relationship) not the kid's.




Historically, true college level courses require an intellect in the top 20% of the population. So allowing 25% of a group to attempt college level work at an early age is IMO a recipe for disaster.

However, a high school that doesn't provide access to core education courses like Algebra II or basic Chemistry in high school is not meeting minimal education standards IMO. Maybe it's due to a lack of qualified science and math teachers, who are in great demand and probably can choose their education system.


It's worse than that. A major complaint by college professors is that students aren't ready for college material because they don't have the basics they should have learned in HS.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

"But the department offered no explanation of why these disparities exist."

That is perhaps the most disappointing part of the article, and when we're talking about the education of kids and how important that is it's no laughing matter. Education is the greatest force for "equality" and something about which I am very passionate. His department with all it's presumed access to money, staff with alphabet soup designations, and direct access to any other source of information can't see a reason?

Or is it they "won't". It's pretty disingenuous to just lob out a statistic and leave it with a wink and a nod as the article suggests.

Here, I'll play at being Education Secretary and see if my background as a mere commoner can provide some insight into this. To do so I will reference this article: http://www.mauinews.com/page/con...

So it would seem that because there is a culture within the culture that can be difficult to break into as a teacher, break out of as a kid, or some other barrier such as a language issue it causes educational problems. There. It's pretty simple. Various minorities (or portions of) have their own culture that can seem exclusive to what many consider "normal". Those cultures don't express the same language, values, morals, nor expectations.

A teacher can only do so much, but when all the work at school is lost at home due to cultural clash or disappointing life standards/circumstances what can be done?

Until the walls of fear and exclusivity are torn down, this will be a repeating trend. This was perhaps the most uplifting part of the report:

"'There is nothing more severe in contemporary America, particularly as it relates to youth of color, than the soft bigotry of low expectations,' Emdin said."

Aside from that I have general grumblings about vague percentages listed in the story. It doesn't make the mood of the article any better but when we talk about percentages with no base numbers you may as well be bladder-voiding in the wind.

Case in point: "'A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II; a third of these schools do not offer chemistry,' the department said."

This could very well equal six. Ten? Let's say it is 200. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/dis...) there are around 120,000 schools in the U.S. So with all of these specific, cherry-picked (though no less unfortunate) statistics what are we talking about? Even if the actual numbers these unattached percentages were attached to were 10,000 that's less than 1% of school that suffer such poor conditions.

With as few of these schools that actually exist, what is keeping a targeted approach to treating them as they are so few in number? The same when it comes to the issue of "restraining/isolating" students. Depending on the school and disability, this is a known and accepted practice by people who are trained to employ it. I'm sure you can talk to the Erie County Board of MR/DD for more info from a local source.

Otherwise according to the same site as above but a different page (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/dis...) there are about 53,000,000 students in public and private schools who attended in fall of last year. So that means if 37,000 students were restrained for reasons that I doubt verge on a North Korean gulag, that means a very, very, very small percentage of the overall whole were treated this way.

I could go on and on about how foolish it is to declare preschool a civil right and especially on how dumb it is to fund it on a voluntary product that is declining in use thereby providing less money from the get-go. But perhaps I have blathered enough for now.