Original data analysis was conducted by Michele McNeil and Ms. Shah.
New nationwide data collected by the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office reveal stark racial and ethnic disparities in student retentions, with black and Hispanic students far more likely than white students to repeat a grade, especially in elementary and middle school.
The contrast is especially strong for African-Americans. In the most extreme case, more than half of all 4th graders retained at the end of the 2009-10 academic year--56 percent--were black, according to the data, which account for about 85 percent of the nation's public school population. In 3rd grade, 49 percent of those held back were black.
Those findings come even though African-American students represented less than one-fifth of the entire universe of students in the K-12 data set collected from districts.
In all, nearly 1 million students, or 2.3 percent of those enrolled, were retained across K-12, the data show. Black students were nearly three times as likely as white students to be retained, when combining all grade levels. Hispanic students were twice as likely to be held back.
The new Civil Rights Data Collection, a portion of which was provided to Education Week last week, was scheduled for public release on March 6. Collected from nearly 7,000 school districts, the data are part of an ongoing information-collection effort by the agency's office for civil rights. In this latest round, the agency significantly expanded the type of information gathered, for the first time collecting school-by-school retention data. Several experts said they were not aware of any such national data previously being made available.
Such racial disparities are prevalent in other parts of the K-12 system as well. According to Education Department analysis of other civil rights data it also unveiled today, black and Hispanic students face disproportionate levels of discipline--more than 70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black, as one example. Black students were 3 1/2 times more likely to be expelled than their white peers. And while black students represented 21 percent of students with disabilities in the data analyzed, they represented 44 percent of students who were subjected to mechanical restraint.
Federal analysis of the OCR data also reveals that minority students have less access to experienced teachers. Schools in the survey serving the highest proportion of these students were nearly twice as likely to employ teachers with only one or two years experience as schools serving mostly white students.
""We are not alleging overt discrimination. These are long held patterns of behavior. Many educators may not even be aware of these discrepancies," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a call with reporters on Monday. He acknowledged that even the school district he led from 2001 to 2008 -- Chicago Public Schools -- had some troubling inequities around student discipline uncovered by the new data. He said, in general, "For far too many students in too many schools ... inequity remains the reality."
Experts were quick to note that although the racial and ethnic disparities in retention are alarming, they are generally consistent with an abundance of prior research at the state and local levels, and have a strong correlation to achievement gaps in the United States.
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