Gaps of Equity and Opportunity in U.S. Public Schools

Print Share on LinkedIn More
School-buses-equity-gap

Washingtonville CSD #352 / ThoseGuys119

July 29, 2016, US News & World Report

Ana Aparicio, associate professor of anthropology and Latino studies at Northwestern University and an NU Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project, analyzed the recent U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights report on equity and opportunity gaps in the nation’s public schools. The report, “A First Look,” drawing from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from 2013-2014, finds that bias persists.

Since 1968, the CRDC is a mandatory data collection authorized under a number of statutes and regulations. This most recent CRDC survey includes 16,758 (99.2%) school districts, 95,507 (99.5%) public schools, and 50,035,744 students. “The CRDC measures student access to courses, programs, instructional and other staff, and resources—as well as school climate factors, such as student discipline and bullying and harassment—that impact education equity and opportunity for students.” Later in 2016, more data and analysis will be released addressing topics such as “student discipline, early learning access, teacher and staffing equity, access to courses and programs that foster college and career readiness, and chronic student absenteeism.”

In her analysis of the report for U.S. News & World Report, Aparico highlights the following data:

Among the findings is that black and Latino children are disproportionately issued school suspensions as early as pre-kindergarten. Black preschoolers are 3½ times more likely than their white peers to be suspended—despite an overall decline in overall suspensions nationwide.

Black students are also disproportionately expelled from schools and, along with Latino students, are more than twice as likely as their white peers to be arrested or deal with law enforcement throughout the K–12 years. The targeting of students of color for disciplinary actions is all the more troubling because, as the report points out, it is coupled with the reality that these same students are more likely to have underprepared teachers and lack advanced courses in their high schools.

In her analysis, Aparico references other studies and initiatives throughout the country that reinforce the findings in this new report issued by the U.S. Department of Education. As many organizations, advocates, and policymakers have found through the decades, racism and other forms of inequality persist in the nation’s public school system.

Aparico contends that as the nation prepares for the Every Student Succeeds Act to replace the No Child Left Behind Act in the 2017–18 academic year, “It’s imperative that states collect and disaggregate data on disciplinary actions taken by schools along race, ethnicity, gender and grade.”

Aparico offers recommendations.

There are also alternatives to school suspensions and expulsions that more schools should consider. Initiatives like the National School Climate Coalition have been making great strides in bringing to the fore issues of bias. Schools like the Luis Valdez Leadership Academy in San Jose, Calif. have created successful restorative justice programs.

The challenges this report exposes are formidable. Achievement gaps remain stubbornly wide in the United States. Other countries remain ahead of the U.S. in offering quality education for all its children. The debate around student achievement is further constrained by the narrow parameters of No Child Left Behind. Deep economic inequalities in America are causing lawmakers and presidential candidates to address educational “opportunity gaps” as well. “A First Look” and other initiatives and research thankfully keep the spotlight on these urgent issues and on identifying solutions.

Aparico concludes her analysis with this prescription:

Given the racial disparities and inequalities that the most recent national and global studies point to, elected officials—at the national and local levels—as well as school and community leaders, must receive more support and resources to better counteract these realities. Their decisions will have long-term consequences for communities of color and our nation overall. Our children deserve better.

—James Schaffer