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U.S. Schools Plagued By Inequality Along Racial Lines, Study Finds

McClatchy Tribune News Service National News

U.S. Schools Plagued By Inequality Along Racial Lines, Study Finds


By Lalita Clozel, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Two-fifths of the nation’s public school districts offer no preschool programs, and most of those that do offer only part-day programs. Black students account for less than a fifth of those in preschool across the nation but make up almost half of the students who are suspended from preschool multiple times.

Those results from the first comprehensive survey in nearly 15 years of civil rights data from the 97,000 U.S. public schools show they remain marked by inequities. The report released Friday by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which includes data from the 2011-12 school year, offers no explanation for the stark differences.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who unveiled the report at J.O. Wilson Elementary School here, urged states and school districts to take steps to eliminate the disparities.

Duncan denounced the inequities as “socially divisive, educationally unsound, morally bankrupt and economically self-destructive.” He said the report “paints a stark portrait of inequity,” adding that “this must compel us to act.”

The report found that black students were three times more likely to be suspended and expelled than white students.

Holder said these results confirmed that the “school-to-prison pipeline” is a reality for boys of color. “A routine school discipline infraction should land a student in the principal’s office,” Holder said, “not in a police precinct.”

But he also said there were no plans to modify security measures in schools. “We want to support schools and make sure that we keep these schools safe,” while being mindful not to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, he said.

In January, the Education and Justice departments unveiled new guidelines urging schools to implement alternative discipline solutions and avoid discriminatory practices.

Friday’s report also highlighted racial inequities in access to education. For example, a quarter of the high schools with high percentages of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II.

Minority students were more likely to be taught by first-year teachers, and in many districts schools with high proportions of black and Latino students paid their teachers less than schools with lower minority populations.

Blacks, who compose 16 percent of the total school population, represent 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest, according to the report.

Pacific Islander, Native American and Native Alaskan children were also two times as likely as their white peers to be held back.

The report found that more than 8,000 toddlers out of more than 1 million had been suspended from preschool.

Walter Gilliam, an associate professor at Yale University who has conducted research on expulsion rates among black preschoolers, said the report did not provide enough context for a deep analysis but confirmed previous findings on early childhood school discipline.

There is a “grave overreaction to discipline” in early education, he said, citing a 2012 incident in which a Georgia kindergartner was arrested and handcuffed for throwing a tantrum in the classroom.

Preschool programs play a major role in reducing educational inequities, Gilliam said. Disadvantaged students profit most from these programs, which correlate with higher high school graduation rates, higher future incomes and a lower likelihood of committing crimes.

“The reason that we have preschool programs in the first place is to help give children an opportunity to be successful,” he said. Expelling kindergartners makes as much sense as “taking sick people out of hospitals.”

Another finding revealed that 1 in 5 high schools lacked even a single counselor.

Secretary Duncan chided school districts for failing to adopt local measures to end these systemic inequities.

He noted that President Barack Obama had proposed a $300-million program in his budget to encourage “state and district efforts to aggressively tackle achievement and opportunity gaps.”

“We just need Congress to catch up with what’s going on in the real world,” Duncan said.

But, Holder acknowledged, “achieving these goals will not be easy, and progress will not take hold overnight.”

Photo: Greg953 via Wikimedia Commons



  1. disqus_ivSI3ByGmh March 24, 2014

    Before my daughter started 1st Grade, our town had the following system: Pre-School – Full Day
    Pre-K – Half Day. Yes, there is a difference between the two. Pre-School was geared for 3 year-old kids, while Pre-K was for kids the year before Kindergarten.
    Kindergarten – Half Day. The year she started 1st grade, we went town-wide to a full-day Kindergarten program.
    Our town also offers before and after school programs that provide homework assistance, physical fitness activities, a snack and free-play time for grades K-5. Depending on the family’s economic situation, all or a portion of the fee for this program is waived.
    There is also another program for kids K-5 in the subsidized meal program that provides additional study help and a dinner Monday through Friday. Our school district believes these programs will help kids succeed. It also helps that school administrators try to work very closely with parents. This is because we still have “neighborhood” schools where a significant portion of kids are “walkers” instead of having to ride a bus across town.

  2. paulyz March 24, 2014

    Millions of dollars have been spend in every city across the U.S. to try & bring about “equal results.” It hasn’t happened, even with head-start, more pre-school, etc. The problem isn’t racial inequality per se, it has to do with life choices, broken families, attitudes, and more. These conditions have to change before results change.

  3. pisces63 March 24, 2014

    As a Cleveland, Public School graduate of 1967, I know, even then, the schools were not equal. The white schools on the west side of the Cuyahoga River, the west side of Cleveland, were giving elementary children lunch in school. We on the east side went home for lunch and then back to school. When over crowding occurred at my elementary school, Wade Park, there were portable built to catch the over flow of children. I went to school only half a day in the fourth grade due to this over crowding. Instead of integrating schhols close to us that were predominantly white, they built new schools because white parents protested. These schools were not needed because there were 4 elementary schools in walking, not busing, distance were all white and less than half full. just about every school bogusly built are now gone. One, a church stands on the land. When my children attended Cleveland Public schools in the late 70’s through 1998, they did not have the books. Our kids on the East side STILL do not have the books. My kids had to share with their classmates. Not enough science books, english books, etc. My children did not have a trig , physics teachers. The white schools did. They were part of the system, too, not separate. I took math to Trig and science through Physics. I needed no remdeial testing of anything for college. Now, elemntary kids have 8 page pamphlets instead of hard cover books. My grandson read Harry Potter before kindergarten. which was a total waste of time for him. His sis, now 8, was published at 6 and was tested in kindergarten to read ona 6th/7th grade level. Another thing about my time in elemenatry school, they were going to bus the black children to the west side with the proviso, they could not use the toilets and could not eat in the cafeteria. Don’t you dare just us life styles. My parents were upper middle class, with a business. My 4 sisters and I are the same and raised our children upper middle class and they are raising theirs upper middle class and there still bigotry, intolerance in the treatment of black males, two come to mind who are no longer with us. My nephew was an honors student, graduated from Akron with honors, yet this one white teacher at his school continously and steadily tried to get him suspended for no reason. He had never been in trouble and this was his senior year in high school. It took the other teachers insulate him from this bigot. They finally fired his ass, too.

  4. pisces63 March 24, 2014

    Oh, of the 12 of us, my sister, children and i. Only 4 attended any type of pre-school. We did it at home and still do.

  5. charles king March 24, 2014

    Today I recommend (home training) for children because Plutocracy has taken over the Public school system. I taught school in the Philadelphia school system and over four generation the schools has been turn into a big bust. The system had a budget of (2,4bils) and privatization moved in on the Public school system and destroyed it and along with a Do Nothing Black Community the system is in the dumps. MONIES has destroyed and MONIES can not fix the problem. The Black male has no faith in the system at all. The Black female, she tries to maintain some self reliance by graduating at a high rate but the education they recieve is Not of a high standard but it shows that she did try by staying and trying to get that diploma because it is at least a door opener, if that make any sense. From a black perspective Plutocracy is hard to reconize in Philadelphia because of the sixty-eight percent Black population but The Plutocracts are there and they come in all shades. Black America better wake up and find their Democracy and do some (Critical Thinking) and use their VOTE wisely because MONIES are taking over your Democracy and your VOTE is the only thing defense against Plutocracy. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

  6. Susan March 24, 2014

    As a retired special ed teacher I know our district was strapped for funding. The comments by Duncan and Holder that our states and local districts need to do something about equality needs to be supported by funds. These funds need to start flowing at the prenatal stage of life and continued on for those underprivileged children throughout our country be it inner city or elsewhere. The poverty level of some of our children needs to be addressed by our entire country! Our poverty level is despicable. What do you expect from a child that may have been exposed to violence, lack of food, lack of a home, absent parents, all before they even enter preschool. Their lack of appropriate behavior falls in line with the only things they have been exposed to. It’s not the schools that are failing it’s our society’s desire to point a finger at someone else besides themselves as funding is cut from vital programs that are there to help the less privileged and yet provided for our most endowed wealthy.


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