School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines



By MOTOKO RICH MARCH 21, 2014 The New York Times

Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience, according to comprehensive data released Friday by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

In the first analysis in nearly 15 years of information from all of the country’s 97,000 public schools, the Education Department found a pattern of inequality on a number of fronts, with race as the dividing factor.

Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer any Algebra II courses, while a third of those schools do not have any chemistry classes. Black students are more than four times as likely as white students — and Latino students are twice as likely — to attend schools where one out of every five teachers does not meet all state teaching requirements.

“Here we are, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the data altogether still show a picture of gross inequity in educational opportunity,” said Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Civil Rights Project.

In his budget request to Congress, President Obama has proposed a new phase of his administration’s Race to the Top competitive grant program, which would give $300 million in incentives to states and districts that put in place programs intended to close some of the educational gaps identified in the data.

“In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.

One of the striking statistics to emerge from the data, based on information collected during the 2011-12 academic year, was that even as early as preschool, black students face harsher discipline than other students.

While black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, close to half of all preschool children who are suspended more than once are African-American.

“To see that young African-American students — or babies, as I call them — are being suspended from pre-K programs at such horrendous rates is deeply troubling,” said Leticia Smith-Evans, interim director of education practice at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“It’s incredible to think about or fathom what pre-K students could be doing to get suspended from schools,” she added.

In high school, the study found that while more than 70 percent of white students attend schools that offer a full range of math and science courses — including algebra, biology, calculus, chemistry, geometry and physics — just over half of all black students have access to those courses. Just over two-thirds of Latinos attend schools with the full range of math and science courses, and less than half of American Indian and Native Alaskan students are able to enroll in as many high-level math and science courses as their white peers.

“We want to have a situation in which students of color — and every student — has the opportunity and access that will get them into any kind of STEM career that takes their fancy,” said Claus von Zastrow, director of research for Change the Equation, a nonprofit that advocates improved science, technology, engineering and math education, or STEM, in the United States. “We’re finding that in fact a huge percentage of primarily students of color, but of all students, don’t even have the opportunity to take those courses. Those are gateways that are closed to them.”


The Education Department’s report found that black, Latino, American Indian and Native Alaskan students are three times as likely as white students to attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers. And in nearly a quarter of school districts with at least two high schools, the teacher salary gap between high schools with the highest concentrations of black and Latino students and those with the lowest is more than $5,000 a year.


Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that recruits teachers, said that while the data looked at educator experience and credentials, it was also important to look at quality, as measured by test scores, principal observations and student surveys.


“Folks who cannot teach effectively should not be working with low-income or African-American kids, period,” he said, adding that the problem was difficult to resolve because individual districts are allowed to make decisions on how to assign teachers to schools.

Education in Indian Country: Obstacles and Opportunity

 On most measures of educational success, Native American students trail every other racial and ethnic subgroup of students. To explore the reasons why, Education Week sent a writer, a photographer, and a videographer to American Indian reservations in South Dakota and California earlier this fall. Their work is featured in this special package of articles, photographs, and multimedia. Commentary essays offer additional perspectives.

Education in Indian Country: Running in Place

December 4, 2013 Education Week

Article by Lesli A. Maxwell

Like many Native American students, Legend Tell Tobacco, a 10-year-old on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation, must outrun the odds against his educational success

Ten hours after leaving in the dark for the 15-mile ride to Loneman School, Legend Tell Tobacco bounds down the steps of the yellow school bus and runs back home.

He takes off in a full sprint, black hair flopping, down Tobacco Road, a half-mile-long stretch of dirt named for his family. He slows to a trudge when the rutted road rises steeply to reach his house on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a place where the promise of youth is often stifled by the probabilities of failure.

A starkly beautiful place, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota Nation where education for most remains a yet-to-be fulfilled promise for moving families out of profound poverty.

Legend just turned 10 and is in the 4th grade, and yet, he must constantly confront obstacles that could cause him to stumble into one of the grim statistical categories for which Pine Ridge—like much of the nation’s Indian Country—is well known:
High school dropout.
Dead before 50.

Legend grins widely when announcing that he reads the same “chapter books” as 7th and 8th graders. He likes math, too, especially multiplication.

“Most of all,” he says, “I love to run.”

After a long day at Isna Wica Owayawa, the Lakota name for Loneman School, the laughing shrieks of his cousins beckon. But his aunt, Mary Tobacco, asks about homework. “I don’t have any,” he says quietly, stubbing his silver sneakers into the dirt. She raises an eyebrow and asks again. “No, really,” he says.

“Be back at six for dinner,” she tells him firmly, as he darts off to play in the horse corral.

Ms. Tobacco, a college graduate, prays this nagging and nurturing will keep her nephew on a course to high school graduation, a college degree, and a decent job. More urgently, she prays she’ll get a call from Red Cloud, the private Jesuit school where she believes Legend would get the best shot at succeeding. He’s on the waiting list.

“The two most important things I want for Legend,” she says, “are for him to get his education and for him not to drink. But I don’t know if I can completely protect him from ending up on a path that so many other youth on this reservation take.”

On the 2.8 million-acre Pine Ridge Indian Reservation—home to nearly 40,000 members of the Oglala Lakota Sioux nation—alcoholism and suicide, especially among young people, occur at alarmingly high rates. Families that have been poor since the U.S. government forced tribes onto reservations more than 120 years ago see few prospects for breaking out of seven or eight generations of profound poverty.

Outrunning those odds for Legend and other American Indian youths living on and off reservations is perpetually challenging. Over the past decade, as the high-stakes school accountability era saw every other racial and ethnic subgroup of students make steady, if small, improvements in education outcomes, Native American youths, on the whole, stalled or lost ground.

“The state of American Indian education is a disaster,” says David Beaulieu, a professor of educational policy and community studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe-White Earth.


Read more here.


New interior secretary lays out agenda for Native-American issues

By Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a Senate panel Wednesday that “Indian education is embarrassing” as she laid out her priorities on issues affecting Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Jewell made her first appearance as Interior secretary before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. The Interior Department includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees a school system for Native Americans.

Jewell said some $2 billion has been spent on American Indian schools over the past decade and that dozens of schools remain in poor condition. She also said across-the-board federal budget cuts have forced a $40 million reduction to Indian education spending.

“Indian education is embarrassing to you and to us,” Jewell said.

After the hearing, Jewell said she has not yet been on a tour of schools — she was sworn in April 12 — but has been told of the serious condition of some of them.

“When we have a number of schools identified as in poor condition, that’s not what we aspire to,” she said.

In written testimony, Jewell said the $2 billion in spending had reduced the number of schools from more than 120 to 63, but she stated that the “physical state of our schools remains a significant challenge.”

Jewell testified that 68 schools were in poor condition but later said the number in written testimony, 63, was accurate.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked about the state of school repairs in his opening remarks before Jewell testified. He said a school on a reservation in his state is “desperate, desperate” for replacement and deals regularly with leaky roofs, mold, rodent infestations and sewer problems.

“When the wind starts blowing at a certain rate, they have to leave the school because it doesn’t meet the safety standards. This can be when it’s 20 below zero in northern Minnesota. It puts the Indian education system to shame,” Franken said.

There is a $1.3 billion backlog on Indian school-construction projects, Franken said.

Even so, the president did not request new funding for rebuilding schools, “leaving thousands of Indian children to study in crumbling and even dangerous buildings. This is unacceptable,” Franken said.

Further pressed on the issue by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Jewell said her department cannot repair and replace schools without money. She said her agency has made what happens in the classroom and repairs, rather than new school construction, the spending priorities for 2014.

She said she raised the issue of seeking help from philanthropic organizations while in the car on the way to the hearing, but federal law may limit that idea.