Even in Preschool, Black Students Are Much More Likely to Be Suspended Than White Students

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March 21 2014 2:59 PM

Even in Preschool, Black Students Are Disciplined More Harshly Than White Students

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A new report also shows that racial minorities are more likely to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A new report by the Department of Education, released this week, confirms that young people of color are dramatically underserved by the public school system compared to their white counterparts. "Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience," reports the New York Times. Sadly, the problem looks like it may be even worse than expected, with the differences starting all the way back in preschool. From the New York Times:

One of the striking statistics to emerge from the data, based on information collected during the 2011-12 academic year, was that even as early as preschool, black students face harsher discipline than other students.
While black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, close to half of all preschool children who are suspended more than once are African-American.
“To see that young African-American students — or babies, as I call them — are being suspended from pre-K programs at such horrendous rates is deeply troubling,” said Leticia Smith-Evans, interim director of education practice at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
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Social-justice activists have been raising the alarm for years now about the "school-to-prison pipeline," which the ACLU describes "as a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems." It works like this: Students, especially students of color, are hit with outrageous and disproportionate disciplinary measures in the school system. At best, that causes them to fall behind in their classes, but it can also result in students being suspended or shuffled off to separate classes for troublemakers, causing higher dropout rates and the subsequent higher unemployment and imprisonment rates. Sometimes schools turn to the police, who then arresting kids for minor infractions, treating them as criminals instead of young students who need support.

That this is happening in junior high and high schools is well-known, but the new report suggests that black students are being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline as young as 4 and 5 years old. "It’s incredible to think about or fathom what pre-K students could be doing to get suspended from schools," Smith-Evans told the New York Times. It's hard to see any other explanation for this than that even the youngest children of color are subject to widespread racial discrimination and abuse. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.