Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What federal civil rights data says about Philadelphia schools

The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) recently released comprehensive data about the educational opportunity offered to the nation’s public school students. Known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, this dataset draws from a national survey of 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation’s public school students during the 2009-2010 school year. The data includes a profile of the School District of Philadelphia, which paints a disturbing picture, especially in the areas of discipline and the equitable assignment of experienced teachers.

Perhaps the most significant national finding is that black students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers. In addition, black and Latino students are more likely to be concentrated in schools where there is a concentration of teachers with little experience and a rigorous curriculum is not offered.

The Philadelphia Story

What does this data say about the equality of opportunity provided to Philadelphia's public schools students?

Discipline and Punishment
  • Black students make up about 63 percent of the District, but receive 77 percent of out-of-school suspensions.
  • A black student is 2.4 times as likely as a white student to receive an out of school suspension, 3.71 times as likely to be arrested, and 3.95 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement.
  • Expulsions, the removal of students for more than 10 consecutive days, are almost exclusively a black affair. Black students receive 86 percent of expulsions under zero-tolerance policies.
  • Latino students do not fare much better. They are 1.63 times as likely as whites to receive out of school suspensions, 2.55 times as likely to be arrested, and 2.59 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement.
  • Some 13 out of every 100 black students, 9 out of every 100 Latino students, 5 out every white students, and 2 out of every Asian and Pacific Island students receive an out-of-school suspension.
  • Discipline of students with disabilities: While black males make up 32% of the district’s students, they make up 58% of the students with disabilities receiving out of school suspensions.
Teacher Equity

Who teaches the children who go to these schools and what are their levels of teaching experience?

  • In schools with the highest black and Latino enrollment, 25% are novice teachers while only 13% are novice teachers in schools with the lowest black/Latino enrollment.
  • Teachers in schools with the highest black and Latino enrollment were paid an average of $14,699 less than teachers in schools with the lowest black and Latino enrollment. This gap is the greatest of the top 20 largest school district in the country. By comparison, the gap is $8,222 in New York City and $950 in Los Angeles, the nation’s two largest districts. The average gap nationally is $2,251.
Local community campaigns have taken on these issues during the past decade. Last week Philadelphia City Council held public hearings on the impact of the District’s “zero-tolerance” practices. In 2010, ACTION United released a report detailing disparities in the assignment of experienced teachers to schools serving low income communities.

In releasing the data, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan stated: "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.”

We should heed his words.

- Harold Jordan, Community Organizer 


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