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Federal Civil Rights Data Shines Light on Education Inequality

By Katherine Leal Unmuth
Latino Ed Beat

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a treasure trove of data that is worth a look.

It includes easily searchable school and school district reports and summaries for 2011-12 and 2009-10 on a wide variety of topics. In particular, it examples any racial and ethnic disparities.

The data answers questions that ask when compared against overall district enrollment, what is the percentage by race and ethnicity of students participating in certain programs. The information is displayed in pie charts, making it easier to digest.

These questions are posed about participation in early childhood education and gifted and talented programs. The data also examines participation in STEM courses. It measures participation by background in seventh and eighth grade algebra, calculus, chemistry and physics courses – each separately by subject area.

The data also looks at the ratio of students taking the SAT and ACT college entrance examinations. Racial disparities are looked at based on in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

The information collected spans 15 years of self-reported data from the country’s public schools. The New York Times reported that it “found a pattern of inequality on a number of fronts.”

The ability to search by schools revealed that many schools serving predominantly black and Latino students do not offer courses such as Algebra II and chemistry. Latino students fair somewhat better than black students in some areas. The Times pointed out that a little more than two-thirds of Latino students attend schools with a full range of math and science classes, compared with a little more than half of black students and more than 70 percent of white students.

Hispanic students are also more likely to attend schools where there are first-year teachers, and with lower-paid teachers.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement.

Daria Hall, the director of K-12 policy development for the Education Trust in Washington, D.C., told Education Week that the data shines a light on problems that need to be fixed.

“The report shines a new light on something that research and experience have long told us—that students of color get less than their fair share of access to the in-school factors that matter for achievement. Students of color get less access to high-level courses,” she said.

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