As part of the Schott Foundation’s Grassroots Education Series, we moderated a webinar on July 7, featuring our grantee partner Dignity in Schools Campaign, a national network that challenges the systemic problem of pushout in our nation’s schools and works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
During the webinar, “Beyond the First Look: Turning Local Data Into Action”, approximately 200 participants joined a discussion of the results of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights 2013-2014 “A First Look” data, which surveyed all public schools and school districts in the United States. Webinar participants included Citizens for a Better Greenville (MS) Director Joyce Parker, Racial Justice NOW! (OH) Co-founder and Director Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, and Gwinnett SToPP (GA) Founder Marlyn Tillman. The briefing allowed time to explore the data and to discuss how the advocates involved in the webinar can use this data to drive organizing work grounded in racial justice.
Sankara-Jabar began the discussion by pointing out that “overall, school discipline and suspensions have decreased but racial disparity has increased, even with an overall reduction.” She listed examples of the data that proves the discipline disparity – 2.8 million students are suspended each year, 1.1 million of which are black; black boys represent 8% of all students, but 19% of students expelled. Encouraging further research into advocates’ specific school district of interest, Sankara-Jabar relayed the information that starting in August, the U.S. Department of Education will launch an updated online portal that will allow searches within the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) for 2013-14 data on a specific school or district.
Tillman echoed Sankara-Jabar’s concern, stating, “the good news is that suspensions overall are down, however racial disparities in suspensions still persist.” She explained that the presence of law enforcement in school restricts black students from getting the same academic experience as whites. Tillman also brought to the discussion the concern of teacher demographic compared to that of students nationwide, saying “our students are diverse, but educator workforce is overwhelmingly white.”
Parker provided maps of Mississippi to portray the correlation between school districts with low grades and high critical teacher shortages. She emphasized that the data provided by the U.S. Department of Education only represents the symptoms of the problem within the education system. Parker identified the value in using the data as self-assessment tools for school districts to examine their compliance, and urged that “this is going to be a local fight.”
The bottom line is that students cannot learn if they are not in school. With factors such as racial disparities in suspension and expulsion, and a disconnect between national demographics and teacher demographics, we have a lot of work to do in order to provide black students with a safe school environment. Thankfully, advocates like Joyce Parker, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, and Marlyn Tillman, and all others involved in the Dignity in Schools Campaign, continue to keep the discussion alive and fight for a better public education system.