All men are created equal, says the Declaration of Independence, but it doesn’t mean all kids are treated equal. In fact, our schools treat them very differently based on race and income.
New data from the federal government shows that kids of color are more likely to be suspended, more likely to be taught by rookie teachers and less likely to have rigorous classes. Maybe these factors contribute to inequitable outcomes.
Let’s look at access to advanced courses
More than half of high schools do not offer calculus, 4 in 10 do not offer physics, more than 1 in 4 do not offer chemistry, and more than 1 in 5 do not offer algebra II, which is considered a gateway class for success in college.
Only a third of high schools with high Black and Latino enrollments offer calculus, compared to 56 percent of those that serve low numbers of Black and Latino students. Less than half the high schools with high Black and Latino enrollments offer physics, while two in three high schools that have low numbers of Black and Latino student offer physics.
English learners have disproportionately low participation rates in gifted and talented education (GATE) programs: while English learners are 11 percent of all students in schools offering GATE programs, fewer than 3 percent of GATE students nationwide are English learners.
Black and Latino students also participate at lower rates in GATE programs. Although Black and Latino students make up 42 percent of students enrolled in schools that offer GATE programs, they are only 28 percent of the students who participate in those programs.
Girls are underrepresented in some advanced coursework such as physics, but not in others such as calculus.
Let’s look at suspensions
Among pre-schoolers, Black students are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as White preschool students. Now, according to some estimates, fewer than 1 percent of pre-schoolers get suspended. Still strikes me as too many.
Of course, in K-12, suspensions are in the millions—2.8 million according to the data—and here the disparities are even starker. Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as White students.
Black students also are nearly twice as likely to be expelled—removed from school with no services—as are White students.
And students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as students without disabilities to be suspended in K-12 settings.
They also represent two-thirds of students who are secluded from their classmates or restrained to prevent them from moving—even though they are only 12 percent of the overall student population.
Finally, let's look at teaching and staffing equity
10 percent of the teachers in schools with high numbers of Black and Latino students are in their first year of teaching, compared to only 5 percent in schools with fewer Black and Latino students.
More than 20 percent of high schools lack any school counselor.
Overall, 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor.
With school budgets under siege all across America, and schools serving poor children getting the
least amount of funding, these numbers won’t get much better until elected officials and school boards put a real premium on equity. Funding battles in places like
Washington state are not encouraging.
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with