© Applied Research Center, March 2000
Principal Researchers: Rebecca Gordon, Libero Della Piana, & Terry Keleher
"It’s amazing that we have had so little revolt among students of color. But in spite of all the inequality, the daily stresses of living with the racism of the schools, the young people still have this abiding hope that things will get better."
--Henry Der, California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction
If racial equity were a required course, most U.S. public school systems would receive a failing grade. Data collected in a dozen school districts around the country confirms what residents of communities of color already know: the public schools consistently fail to provide the same quality of education for students of color as for white students.
These gross and obvious inequalities are not confined to any single size of city or region of the country. The research discussed in this report reveals similar results for small towns and big cities, for the North and the South, for schools where students of color are the minority and where they predominate.
Throughout the nation, public schools subject African American, Latino, and Native American students to a special kind of "racial profiling": on the road to a decent education, students who are brown or Black can expect to be pulled over frequently, while their white counterparts whiz on by. We must face the consequences of racial discrimination in public education in order to ensure educational equity, opportunity, and excellence for all students.
In 1999, community organizations in several U.S. cities undertook a study of their local school districts, to determine how they measured up in terms of racial justice. Using a computerized survey instrument called the "Racial Justice Report Card," the organizations gathered data from school district offices in 12 cities. The results were devastating. Only one school district--Boston, Massachusetts--received a passing grade, a not very impressive "D." The rest failed Racial Justice outright.
Key findings include:
• A preponderance of statistical evidence points to glaring racial inequalities and discrimination in U.S. public schools. On every key indicator, from dropout rates and discipline rates to access to advanced placement courses and entrance into college, students of color are at a serious disadvantage compared to their white counterparts.
• African American students especially, along with Latinos and Native American students, are suspended or expelled in numbers vastly disproportionate to those of their white peers. This was true in every school district surveyed.
• Students of color are more likely to drop out--or be pushed out--of school and less likely to graduate than are white students. This finding is directly related to the finding on discipline. Numerous studies have demonstrated that students who are suspended from school are at greater risk of dropping out altogether.
• Students of color have less access to advanced classes or programs for gifted students. Not surprisingly, they are also less likely to enter college after high school graduation.
• The racial makeup of the teaching corps rarely matches that of the student body. Nor do most school districts require anti-racist or multicultural education training for teachers and administrators.
Outcomes and Intentions
It is a common conservative argument that even grossly unequal outcomes such as those detailed in this study are unimportant in and of themselves. Rather, what matters is whether it was anyone’s intention to discriminate. This is not the point. What concerns the nation’s almost 17 million students of color and their communities is that, regardless of anyone’s intent, they receive an inferior education. Public policy must address these systematic inequalities in the application of discipline, in dropout, graduation, and college acceptance rates, in access to advanced classes and to contemporary textbooks and other educational materials.
The following recommendations suggested policy measures in several areas where the data show racial inequalities:
• This report’s first recommendation is that all school districts be required to keep and publish annually key statistics, disaggregated by age, sex, and race--to issue, in effect, an annual Racial Equity Report. Federal regulations already require certain kinds of demographic reporting, but those guidelines do not extend to such important indicators as suspension and expulsion.
• Design Racial Equity Plans at the school, district, state, and national levels, to be assessed annually against quantifiable goals. Where data reveal racial divides, the responsible agencies should create, implement, and evaluate annually a comprehensive plan to solve the problem, including numerical goals and timetables.
• Schools must act immediately to correct the uneven application of the most severe disciplinary actions, including suspension and expulsion.
• End academic tracking and open the way for all students to participate in a challenging curriculum, including advanced classes. Because the effects of tracking are cumulative, any successful intervention must begin at the earliest grade levels to ensure that every student has equal access to these "gatekeeper" classes.
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