In our January issue of Education Matters, we covered a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Justice aimed at assisting school districts to create a safe and positive school climate and ensure fair and non-discriminatory responses to student misbehavior.  In January, the departments issued a guidance package, which included a "Dear Colleague Letter" on student civil rights and discipline and a "Guiding Principles" document outlining three key principles for schools. 

In late March, the DOE's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) updated the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) with data from the 2011-12 school year, collected from every public school and school district in the country.  This is the first time since 2000 that the DOE compiled data from every public school and school district, and the first time ever that state-, district-, and school-level information is accessible to the public in a searchable online database.

The purpose of the CRDC is to obtain data on public schools related to providing equal educational opportunity.  To do this, the CRDC collects information on students, programs, and services that are disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, disability, and limited English proficiency status.  The CRDC factors into the OCR's administration and enforcement of civil rights statutes, but also informs policymakers and researchers both inside and outside of the DOE.  The guidance package released in January used 2011-12 data from the CRDC.

The CRDC has been collecting data since 1968, but the Obama administration revamped the CRDC to include key information on preschool students and school discipline tactics.  The 2011-12 data shows that public preschool access is not a reality for much of the nation.  In addition, students of color face disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates, including in preschool.  Black and Latino students are significantly more likely to have teachers with less experience who are not paid as much as their colleagues in other schools.

In addition to making the searchable data available online, the OCR issued four documents analyzing key aspects of the 2011-12 data covering the topics of discipline, early learning, college and career readiness, and teacher equity.  Among the key findings:

Discipline disparities begin in preschool.  Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.  In comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment, but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.

Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students.  American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1% of the student population but 2% of out-of-school suspensions and 3% of expulsions.

About 40% of school districts do not offer preschool programs.  Of those school districts that operate preschool programs, just over half make such programs available to all students within the district and 57% offer only part-day preschool.

Native-Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander, American Indian, and Native-Alaskan kindergarten students are held back a year at nearly twice the rate of white kindergarten students.  Boys represent 61% of kindergarteners retained.

Access to high-level math and science courses is limited, in general, and even worse for students of color.  Only 50% of all high schools nationwide offer calculus, and only 63% offer physics.  A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II; a third of these schools do not offer chemistry.  Fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high school.

Black, Latino, American Indian and Native-Alaskan students attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers at a higher rate (3% to 4%) than white students (1%).  English learners also attend these schools at slightly higher rates (3%) than non-English learners (2%).

Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

The OCR has announced the 2013-14 CRDC will also be collected from every public school and school district in the country.  It will also include new items aimed at more opportunity gaps, including whether preschool programs serve non-IDEA students and whether a school has an assigned sworn law enforcement officer.  More information and continuing updates on the CRDC is available at http://www.crdc.ed.gov/.  The searchable 2011-12 CRDC is accessible at http://ocrdata.ed.gov/.