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Differential Equation? Civil Rights Data Highlight Contemporary Inequalities
May 29, 2012
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has been charged with protecting students of different genders, races, abilities, and English language speaking capabilities from discrimination since 1968. This office collects data from more than 42 million public school students that examine enrollment patterns, incidents of harassment, retention figures, suspension rates, etc. The most recent Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) released this spring shows minority students are more likely to face disciplinary action, less likely to have experienced educators, and are exposed to fewer rigorous courses than White students.
African American students, predominately boys, are more likely to be expelled or suspended from school. English Language Learners (ELLs) represent 12 percent of the students retained while representing only six percent of the sample surveyed. Schools serving mostly minority students are almost twice as likely to employ the newest teachers. The data also show that teachers in minority serving institutions are paid on average $2,250 less per year than teachers in other schools in the same district serving fewer Latino and African American students.
While many of the results are not terribly surprising, a few patterns are particularly troubling in terms of equality of life chances. Several of the key findings suggest in the U.S. we have an opportunity gap where your zip code largely determines not only what school you will attend but also what types of curriculum may be accessed. For example, the CRDC data reveal disparities in access to high-level math and science coursework. The figure below shows the variation in course offerings between high schools serving high- and low- minority enrollments.
Source: Civil Rights Data Collection, 2012
In terms of college and career readiness, Advanced Placement (AP) courses have gained importance as requisites for admittance to universities (Geiser & Santilices, 2004; National Research Council, 2002). According to the College Board, this type of college-preparatory coursework enables students to move into classes that match their level of academic preparation (College Board, 2008). Research finds that minority students are less likely to be placed in high-level courses where the opportunity to learn challenging material is higher (Mickelson, 2001). Thus, many scholars argue that the racial gap in achievement is partly due to disparities in tracking and advanced course access. As Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali stated in an Education Week piece, "Despite the best efforts of America's educators to bring greater equity to our schools, too many children—especially low-income and minority children—are still denied the educational opportunities they need to succeed.”
But the CRDC data also highlight some schools and districts that are defying the statistics. For instance, in Elizabeth, New Jersey where 89% of the students in the district are African American or Latino, all students take Algebra I by the 8th grade putting them on track for higher-level math and science coursework when they enter high school. At De La Salle High School, a low-cost Catholic school enrolling promising students from low-income backgrounds here in Portland, two-thirds of students taking AP calculus this spring are African American. A recent Oregonian article chronicled how the camaraderie in the class fostered a culture promoting academic success. This sense of community is particularly powerful and runs counter to the experiences of students of color who are often tokenized in traditional academic settings (Delpit, 2012).
Stay tuned for the Kingsbury Center’s forthcoming data gallery on college readiness. This interactive tool will allow you to manipulate real student information to create visualizations.
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