Black and Hispanic Students Face Harsher Discipline, Lower Grade Education In School

Not that we actually needed a study to tell us this, but the confirmation is certainly both jarring and sobering: a report released today by the Education Department found that black students are three-and-a-half times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled in America’s schools. The same report also found that more than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or cases referred to the police were African-American or Hispanic, that teachers in high-minority schools are less experienced and are paid thousands of dollars less than teachers in other schools, and advanced courses are offered far less at schools with high concentrations of students of color.

“The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters as he prepared to release the findings at a Howard University press conference. “It is our collective duty to change that.”

Duncan stresses that while the data, collected from more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of students in the 2009/2010 school year, gives schools, parents and others ammunition to fight inequities in education, it does not translate into “overt discrimination” against our children. But really, when considering the numbers, what are black and Hispanic parents supposed to take away from this?  Just last week, contributor Nick Chiles sounded the alarm on two disturbing school trends—one that revealed the academic levels of black and Latino students have not improved in the last 30 years and another that revealed students in the Chicago school system are being arrested at alarmingly high rates for disciplinary infractions that, in an earlier era, would have merited detention. Now comes the “official” news that our kids are being disciplined more harshly, tossed in the pokey more often, and being taught by lesser paid, less experienced teachers in schools where they can’t even be bothered to extend advanced placement courses to smart kids who need and deserve them.

I promise you, Nick and I are huge advocates of the public education system—think that when parents and principals and teachers work together to make the school great for our babies, they thrive. We brought one child—our son—through public school and sent him off to study engineering at one of the top colleges in our nation. We have another in the fourth grade at our local public school. We work hard to make sure that our kids are doing their part in the classroom and make clear that we expect nothing less from those who are charged with teaching our children. But when faced with these kinds of statistics released by the Education Department—these odds—getting your child a solid education in an environment where they are safe, respected and treated fairly seems… impossible. Is this really where we stand 54 years after Brown vs. the Board of Education?


1. A Black Mom’s Lament: How Can We Parents Stop Schools From Failing Our Kids?
2. Police Officers in School? A Recipe for Student Failure
3. Homeless Connecticut Mom Pleads Guilty to Stealing an Education for Her Son
4. Ruby Bridges Integrated the Schools, But Her Parents Were the Brave Ones

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Denene, I’m so glad to see you brought this up. I didn’t think this story got the attention it deserved. I would also like to point out the terrible discrepancy when it comes to special-needs students, as reported in The New York Times:

    Black and Hispanic students — particularly those with disabilities — are also disproportionately subject to seclusion or restraints. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student body, but 70 percent of those subject to physical restraints. Black students with disabilities constituted 21 percent of the total, but 44 percent of those with disabilities subject to mechanical restraints, like being strapped down. And while Hispanics made up 21 percent of the students without disabilities, they accounted for 42 percent of those without disabilities who were placed in seclusion.

    “Those are extremely dramatic numbers, and show the importance of reinstating the civil rights data collection and expanding the categories of information collected,” said Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office. “The harsh punishments, especially expulsion under zero tolerance and referrals to law enforcement, show that students of color and students with disabilities are increasingly being pushed out of schools, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.”

    Some have said the disability rights movement has become the new civil rights movement. Studies like this one make that clear.

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