Racial Profiling and Punishment in U.S. Public Schools

On November 6, 2013 Applied Research Center (ARC) was rebranded as Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. The content on this page was published on the ARC website prior to the rebrand.
April 13, 2006

Executive Summary

The concept of racial profiling in education policy is not new. The very premise of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was based on the realization that race is a determining factor in who receives quality education in the United States. Nearly 50 years later, education policy and practice continue to single out students of color for disparate treatment. Racial Profiling and Punishment in U.S. Public Schools analyzes critical flaws in current education policy trends that affect students of color:

Blaming Individuals for Systemic Inequalities: Many policies, such as those fueling the proliferation of standardized tests, assume that all students are on a level playing field. Thus, low-test scores are often attributed to individual student shortcomings, rather than systemic inequalities.

Diverting Attention and Resources away from Real Solutions: Sadly, high-stakes testing and excessive school security measures are big-ticket items in terms of expenditures. These expenditures directly compete with the kinds of programs and policies that would actually improve academic performance and school safety for all students.

Racial Profiling and Punishment in U.S. Public Schools recommends the following first steps toward achieving racial justice and academic excellence in schools:

    •    Eliminate Exit Exams: The vastly unequal educational experiences and opportunities afforded to students of different racial and economic backgrounds are reflected in standardized test scores. Like the poll tests of yesteryear, today’s high-stakes tests in effect deny learning and life opportunities to students of color.

    •    Repeal Zero Tolerance Policies: With the increased presence of police in schools, mandatory punishments, and the expanded use of suspensions and expulsions, students of color are getting pushed out or thrown out of school at alarming rates. Zero tolerance policies are being implemented in unfair and unreasonable ways. If educating children is a priority, then local school districts and states must revise their zero tolerance policies to comply with the original federal guidelines.

    •    Refocus Our Priorities: There is no excuse for continuing to perpetuate racially discriminatory policies and funding priorities when proven solutions are readily available. Schools and districts that serve high-need populations should be prioritized to receive equitable resources for fully certified teachers and smaller schools and classes.

It’s easier to blame individuals than to change the system. However, if we are to confront the fundamental problems of public education, we must be willing to acknowledge and eliminate widespread institutionalized racial inequality. Simply put, we must take up the challenge to provide every child with a quality public education. Not one is expendable.

Related Documents:

News Release:  A National Day of Action for Racial Justice Sets Stage for Report on Policies that Discriminate Against Students of Color

Racial Profiling and Punishment in U.S. Public Schools:  Full Report (208a)