According to a recently released study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black students face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers.
“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that.”
The study looked at college and career readiness, discipline, school finance and student retention. Among the data’s key findings was the discovery that African-American students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers, and the same was true for African-American students in the Pittsburgh Public School District.
“Where I look at that is, where I’m at with school choice is there’s certain systemic things that put Black kids behind the eight ball so to speak in the district,” said Randall Taylor, a school choice advocate and former PPS school board member.
While Black students make up 63 percent of the district, they represented 82 percent of the students who received out of school suspension, nearly 80 percent of expulsions and 80 percent of in school suspensions.
In terms of enrollment in advanced classes, including Chemistry and Physics, Black students were equally represented, making up 60 percent and 51 percent respectively. However, in Calculus, African-Americans made up only 10 percent of the students enrolled.
The disparities persist in the study’s section on gifted and talented students. In the PPS, only 25 percent of gifted or talented students are Black, compared to 69 percent for Whites.
“If all men are created equal, why do you have only 20 percent of Black students in the gifted program and 80 percent of White kids?” said Taylor referring to the national numbers. “When you see the other things like out of school suspension, it just goes on to show that Black communities should be looking at school choice and more options. I think the gifted one is the best example, if we really had people who were around our kids on a daily basis and really cared, that wouldn’t be the case.”
At the national level, the study found that teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in teaching in low-minority schools in the same district. It also showed that only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest Black and Hispanic enrollment.
“I would like to see what the experience level is at certain schools. In some of the predominantly White schools they have no teachers there in their first years, but if you go to a school like Faison that’s not the case,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t matter if you went to Harvard, just because you’re in your first year, you’re not an effective teacher. Then you have people who don’t really want to be in those communities.”
According to the report, the three K-8 schools with the highest percentage of teachers in their first or second year, Rooney, 40.1 percent; Weil, 40 percent; and Manchester, 30.8 percent, had predominantly Black student populations of more than 87 percent. The five schools with African-American student populations at or below 25 percent had new teacher rates below 5 percent. However, at Miller, which has a Black student population of 100 percent, there were no teachers in their first or second year.
The data was collected through a national survey of approximately 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation’s students, as part of the 2009-10 Civil Rights Data Collection.