Today, the Education Department’s civil rights arm released a report highlighting the racial disparities in American education.
According to the research, black students of all ages are expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white children, starting at the earliest stages of education.
The new report follows the Obama administration's release in January of new guidelines governing school discipline policies.
NPR’s education correspondent Claudio Sanchez joins Here & Now's Robin Young to discuss the government's report.
Interview Highlights: Claudio Sanchez
On the disproportionate number of minority children being suspended or expelled
"You do have an enormous percentage of black children in these preschool programs that are getting in trouble for some reason — certainly more so than white kids. I mean, the percentage was that they represent less than a fifth of all preschool enrollment, and yet black kids, 48 percent of them, are receiving or are being expelled for receiving more than one out-of-school suspension. That is compared to white kids, who are not getting nearly as many suspensions. And also, you know, the fact that black kids, once they move up in grade, they're expelled more often, three times more often than white kids. On average, five percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. And I have to say, this is data that is not necessarily new, but it's being put together in a very new way, because remember that this report also talks about the disadvantages black and Latino kids in mostly minority-majority schools that are also, you know, being cheated out of a good education, because they don't have good teachers, because they don't have good resources, or as many as white kids have in this country."
On why minority children are getting into trouble more than their white peers
"I think that raises a really uncomfortable question, and the question is: are black and Latino students in particular more likely to misbehave in school than white kids, and is that the reason for the disproportionate numbers? That debate is yet to really unfold, but here's what's worth noting: that it's the academic culture in a school — not the kids' race or ethnicity — that's usually the reason for the number of expulsions and suspensions. Poor minority students are often concentrated in big, overcrowded, dysfunctional schools, and if you're one of these kids who's sitting in a classroom where everybody's misbehaving, or where there is little or no, you know, sense of discipline or respect among staff, between teachers and kids — well, you're obviously going to have a big problem on your hands. And because of the prevalence of so-called school resource officers, which are really nothing more than school cops, in a school — you know, these are folks whose job it is to single out the kids who are misbehaving and get them out as quickly as possible, and often, that puts those kids on a really, really long track to something worse — whether it's dropping out, whether it's the juvenile justice system, or worse, ending up in prison. And that's where that term 'school-to-prison pipeline' comes from."
On what the Education Department proposes to do to work on the issue
"Secretary [of Education Arne] Duncan today said he was going to offer $300 million in competitive grants to help school districts develop new policies and programs — most of these singling out, for example, conflict-resolution programs that are well-known and very varied in many schools and states. But instead of suspending and expelling kids, for example, Duncan says schools should offer more counseling to students, teach them social and emotional skills. He's calling for more training for teachers who often don't know how to diffuse a tense situation, or who overreact to a kid mouthing off, using profanity, and things like that. And finally, Mr. Duncan says in-school suspension is far better than kicking out a student, because the data shows that once these kids are on the streets for any length of time, they're less likely to come back and more likely to get in trouble."
- Claudio Sanchez, NPR’s education correspondent.
This segment aired on March 21, 2014.