As the school year ended, we got a peek at what is really happening to the 50 million students in 95,000 U.S. public schools. The Office of Civil Rights (U.S. Department of Education) released a first look at the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection on June 7. That’s a whole lot of data, and more will come over the next few months. Here are six take-aways from the first round:
1) School suspensions
Nationwide, 2.8 million K-12 students received one-or-more out of school suspensions. Overall, black students are almost four times as likely to be suspended as white students. Black, Native American, Latino and multi-racial boys get suspended more often than white boys, and black girls get suspended more than white girls. The disproportionate suspensions start even earlier than kindergarten: black preschoolers get suspended much more often than white preschoolers. Boys get suspended much more often than girls. In K-12 grades, students with disabilities and English learners also get suspended at higher rates.
2) Physical restraint or solitary time outs
“More than 100,000 students were placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement or were physically restrained at school to immobilize their ability to move freely,” including more than 67,000 students with some kind of disability.
3) Pre-K: Becoming a reality
“More than half of school districts provide public preschool programs beyond providing those services required by federal law for children with disabilities — but many children are still left without access to early learning,” according to the report, and most of the public preschools are free.
4) Only some schools offer high-level courses.
“High-rigor course access is not a reality across all of our nation’s schools: Nationwide, 48% of high schools offer calculus; 60% offer physics; 72% offer chemistry; and 78% offer Algebra II.”
All of these classes are important for college admissions. Every single high school should offer access to them.
As you might expect, distribution varies by race. For example, only 33 percent of high schools with high black and Latino enrollment have calculus, while 56 percent of high schools with low black and Latino enrollment offer calculus. The numbers are similar for physics, chemistry, and Algebra II.
WONK ALERT: More data later in the year, plus data will be available in August for individual schools, districts and states – online. May see some data reported earlier, as it’s possible to get the data earlier in a CSV or Microsoft Word file format – I’ll wait for the searchable data. Previous years’ data is already available at http://ocrdata.ed.gov
5) Chronic absenteeism
The numbers are huge: More than 6.5 million students, 13 percent of all K-12 students, are chronically absent, meaning that they missed 15 or more days of school. More than 3 million high school students — 18 percent — are chronically absent. The numbers are highest for black, American Indian, or Pacific Islander students and students with disabilities. English learners — students whose first language is not English — face many barriers, but their attendance is actually better than that of other students.
Unsurprisingly, the report says that, “the reasons for chronic absenteeism are as varied as the challenges our students and families face—including poor health, limited transportation, and a lack of safety—which can be particularly acute in disadvantaged communities and areas of poverty.” The report features a detailed analysis and district by distric mapping of chronic absences.
Besides consistent attendance, students need consistent teaching. Absenteeism is not limited to students. While most teachers are rarely absent, an alarming 27 percent miss more than 10 school days per year for reasons unrelated to school activities. Those absences are not evenly distributed among teachers and schools. According to the report, “About 6.5 million students attend schools where more than 50% of teachers were absent more than 10 days per year.”
6) Counselors vs. cops
Most schools have counselors, just not enough counselors to meet student needs. Minnesota is a good example, ranking among the worst states in school counselor ratios, with an average of 800 students per counselor. One to 800: that’s not enough for simple college admissions counseling, let alone counseling about family problems or bullying or even making referrals to resources for mental health crises.
Of course, it could be worse. Nationally, “21 percent of high schools and about 850,000 high school students nationwide do not have access to any school counselor.”
What do we do with people who have mental health issues in this country? Right — we use police and prisons, not counselors and therapists. And that, too, starts in school.
“A significant number of schools have sworn law enforcement officers (SLEOs), including school resource officers (SROs):
• 24% of elementary schools (grades K-6, excluding justice facilities) have SLEOs; 42% of high schools (grades 9-12, excluding justice facilities) have SLEOs.
• 51% of high schools with high black and Latino student enrollment* have SLEOs”
If you look at all schools, 1.6 million students attend schools that have cops, but not a single counselor. Here’s another sad but unsurprising fact:
“Black students are more likely to be disciplined through law enforcement: Black students are 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as white students.”
The Office of Civil Rights collects data from almost every public school in the country, and reports that data periodically. You can read the relatively short version of the 2013-14 here. The bottom line, as summarized by U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. is:
“The CRDC data are more than numbers and charts—they illustrate in powerful and troubling ways disparities in opportunities and experiences that different groups of students have in our schools.”