More than 8,000 toddlers in the U.S. were suspended from preschool at least once during the 2011 school year, new data from the U.S. Department of Education show — a small but significant number, experts say, because preschool students shouldn’t be sent home from school at all.
The stat is part of a flood of information from the Obama administration that examines race and equity issues in schools through dozens of data points, from pay for teachers in low-income schools to the percentage of black students taking AP calculus.
The department has so far released only its own analysis of the data, which includes information for nearly all of the 16,500 school districts nationwide. But even that preliminary analysis indicates the administration has a long way to go in moving the needle on some of its top education priorities, even on niche issues like expanding preschool and getting students to rise to the challenge of the Common Core academic standards.
The data “shines a clear, unbiased light” on which areas are and aren’t delivering on equity in education, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
Some analysts weren’t so confident that the data were illuminating. It “is cut in a way that hides as much as it reveals,” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development at The Education Trust. Districts of different sizes and demographics are lumped together and all the many statistics are rounded.
The expanded Office for Civil Rights data collection is part of a broader civil rights push from the Obama administration that began in 2010, when Duncan announced he would ramp up its investigations of civil rights complaints in the states and take steps such as issuing guidance letters to schools on how to handle civil rights issues. Earlier this year, one of those letters focused on preventing racially discriminatory suspensions and expulsions.
“The hard truth is that, in the last decade, the Office for Civil Rights has not been as vigilant as it should have been in combating gender and racial discrimination and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities,” Duncan said during a 2010 speech in Selma, Ala., at the site of “Bloody Sunday,” where civil rights marchers were beaten by state and local police in the ’60s. “We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement.”
Gaping disparities in how school discipline has been meted out has long been a department focus, but the new data show that those racial gaps start early: Black children constitute 18 percent of all kids attending preschool but account for 48 percent of all students suspended more than once, the new data show.
Across K-12 schools, black students represented 16 percent of the student population but 42 percent suspended more than once in the 2011-12 school year.