The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) released the new set of data for the 2015-2016 school year on this past Tuesday. The data, referred to as the Civil Rights Data Collection (“CRDC”), covers a swath of variables that impact education equity in all public schools and school districts in the United States. For those interested, it can be accessed for free on the U.S. Department of Education website, here. The data reveal an ongoing race problem in the American educational system.
Included in the report were two topic-specific data briefs: one titled “STEM Course Taking,” and the other “School Climate and Safety.” Both shed important light on continuing racial inequity in the American public education system. The School Climate and Safety report highlights longstanding discrepancies in treatment between students of color and their white counterparts. As this and prior CRDCs have revealed, Black students are more likely to be disciplined, and to be disciplined more severely, than white students. For instance, Black students make up 15% of the total enrollment of public schools, but account for 31% of students referred to law enforcement or arrested at school. The disparity has actually increased by five percent since 2013-14 school year, when the last CRDC was released. During that same period, referrals of white students to law enforcement have decreased. There are similar patterns in internal school discipline: Black boys represent eight percent of total school enrollment, yet account for 25% of all suspensions and 23% of all expulsions.
Schools are hostile environments for Black students in other ways as well. They are disproportionately harassed and bullied in every major category discussed in the report. Though Black students constitute only 15% of the total student population, they represented 35% of all race-based bullying, 19% of all sex-based bullying, and 17% of disability-based bullying. For race and sex-based bullying and harassment in particular, which together constitute 64% of all allegations, the point disparity is significantly larger for Black students than any other race.
The numbers are particularly worrying in light of contemporaneous political developments. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has indicated she may rescind joint guidance from the Departments of Education and Justice put in place simply to remind federally-funded schools of their legal obligations not to discriminate in their disciplinary processes.
It is unclear what drives the possible rescission. Guidance documents are not binding, but merely recommendations. Removing this guidance is unnecessary and largely symbolic; doing so would serve only to send a message of tacit hostility toward civil rights progress. Even so, taking this step is unsurprising given DeVos’ track record as Secretary of Education in rolling back other important civil rights guidance documents addressing proper handling of sexual assault and federal protections of transgender students against discrimination.
The data speaks for itself, but this administration’s actions speak even greater volumes.
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