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What federal civil rights data says about Philadelphia

By Guest blogger on Apr 3, 2012 04:42 PM

This guest blog post comes from Harold Jordan, Notebook board chair and staff member at ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently released comprehensive data about the educational opportunity offered to the nation’s public school students. Known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, this dataset draws from a national survey of 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation’s public school students during the 2009-2010 school year. The data include a profile of the School District of Philadelphia, which paints a disturbing picture, especially in the areas of discipline and the equitable assignment of experienced teachers.

Notably, the CRDC provides a new way of looking at student success that does not reduce evaluations of how schools are performing to test scores or Adequate Yearly Progress. It offers a snapshot of what DOE calls "the opportunity gap," a measure of whether schools are preparing students for success.

Although DOE has collected civil rights data on public schools off and on since 1968, this latest survey includes information never collected before on college and career readiness (participation in Algebra and college-preparatory offerings), discipline (expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, the use of restraints and seclusion), and resource equity.

Perhaps the most significant national finding is that Black students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than peers of other races. In addition, Black and Latino students are more likely to be concentrated in schools with a high proportion of teachers with little experience and where a rigorous curriculum is not offered.

The Philadelphia story

What does this data say about the equality of opportunity provided to Philadelphia's public school students?

Discipline and Punishment

  • Black students make up about 63 percent of the District, but receive 77 percent of out-of-school suspensions.

  • A Black student is 2.4 times as likely as a White student to receive an out-of- school suspension; 3.71 times as likely to be arrested, and 3.95 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement.

  • Expulsions, the removal of students for more than 10 consecutive days by order of the School Reform Commission, are almost exclusively a Black affair. Black students receive 86 percent of expulsions under zero-tolerance policies.

  • Latino students do not fare much better. They are 1.63 times as likely as Whites to receive out of school suspensions, 2.55 times as likely to be arrested, and 2.59 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement.

  • About 13 out of every 100 Black students, 9 out of every 100 Latino students, 5 out every 100 White students, and 2 out of every 100 Asian and Pacific Island students receive an out-of-school suspension.

  • Discipline of students with disabilities: Although Black males make up 32 percent of the District’s students, they make up 58 percent of the students with disabilities receiving out-of-school suspensions.

Teacher Equity

Who teaches the children who go to these schools, and what are their levels of teaching experience? Philadelphia also stands out here compared to other large school districts. The DOE measures teacher equity by examining the proportion of teachers with no more than two years of experience and the average pay of teachers in schools with high and low minority enrollment.

  • In the average Philadelphia public school, 20 percent of teachers are in their first or second year of teaching.

  • In schools with the highest Black and Latino enrollment, 25 percent are novice teachers, while only 13 percent are novice teachers in schools with the lowest Black/Latino enrollment.

  • Teachers in schools with the highest Black and Latino enrollment were paid an average of $14,699 less than teachers in schools with the lowest Black and Latino enrollment. This gap is the greatest of the top 20 largest school districts in the country. By comparison, the gap is $8,222 in New York City and $950 in Los Angeles, the nation’s two largest districts. The average gap nationally is $2,251.

Local community campaigns have taken on these issues during the past decade. Last week Philadelphia City Council held public hearings on the impact of the District’s “zero-tolerance” practices. In 2010, ACTION United released a report detailing disparities in the assignment of experienced teachers to schools serving low-income communities.

In releasing the data, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated: "The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that.”

We should heed his words.

Author's note: The DOE uses a broader definition of "expulsion" than is employed in Pennsylvania law. In this article, I count expulsions that meet the Pennsylvania standard. In addition to students formally expelled by the SRC, many more were transferred to disciplinary schools for periods greater than 10 days.

This post was also published on Speaking Freely, the blog for ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Harold Jordan is on the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA), where he edited the ACLU-PA’s Know Your Rights, A Handbook for Public School Students in Pennsylvania.

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Comments (31)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2012 10:25 pm

After reading this article, one is led to believe that if a black student, latio student, and white student commit the same offense, the black and latino student are disiplined and the white student is not. Fact is, black and latino students are misbehaving at greater rates then their white and asian counterparts.If we are going to have an honest converstaion about closing the achievement gap in this nation we are going to have to be honest about the issues that plague black and latino students. Public schools reflect the community. The majority of violent crimes in this city are committed by blacks and latinos. That is a data fact, not a racist white rant. The sooner we confront that the better off we will be.

Submitted by Wake up (not verified) on April 4, 2012 10:21 am

You're actually completely wrong. In one of the largest studies on Zero Tolerance "Breaking School Rules" which was also ground breaking because it did not use a sample set but actual records of students in Texas. It found that for discretionary offenses black, latino, and male students were much more likely to be expelled than their white and female counterparts AND more importantly for the non discretionary offenses such as possessing a weapon whites, blacks, and Latinos were dead even. Do some research and don't believe the media hype

Submitted by Stop Hating (not verified) on April 4, 2012 1:24 pm

Seems like you're the believing the media hype.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2012 12:30 pm

I agree with you that the article might lead people to believe, erroneously, that if students of different ethnicities committed the same infraction in the same school, the African American and Latino students would be suspended while the white or Asian students would not. But I disagree with your assertion that the greater rates of punishment are solely due to greater rates of misbehavior.

In order to understand the discipline statistics, it helps to understand Philadelphia -- the city of brotherly love and segregated neighborhoods. In 10 years of teaching in this city, I have yet to teach a "white" student. I'm sure there are some somewhere in the city -- perhaps in center city, Society Hill, near the universities or wherever else the yuppies congregate. Chances are, they're mostlly concentrated in schools with large populations of other white students. Whether or not the same percentage of white students commit suspendable offenses is unknown, but considering the fact that principals are under pressure NOT to suspend students (and undoubtedly under MORE pressure when the parents are in positions of power), it's highly likely that alternative disciplinary measures will be taken whenever possible, in order to keep the "white" school from looking bad for suspending too many students.

In schools with mixed populations, it's all too easy to say that this group or that group is misbehaving at greater rates than others, but it's important to look beyond skin color or ethnic origin. In my experience, students will misbehave if (A) they're angry or frustrated, (B) they think they won't get caught, (C) they can talk their way out of punishment, or (D) the consequences they receive for getting caught are meaningless. Factors A, C and D are largely related to the students' home environments. Many students come in angry and stay that way all day. They argue about every little thing, from opening a book to where their position is in line. They get into fights at recess, and end up with long disciplinary records.

When you look into these students' home lives, there are common threads: divorced, deceased or incarcerated parents, unhealthy diets, history of drug use/abuse in the home, untreated ADHD, overwhelmed caregivers, etc., etc., etc. This is not to say that all children with difficult home lives act out in school, or that all children with behavior problems break rules because of their families. It certainly isn't making excuses for the children's behavior choices. But it's a lot more complicated than just looking at skin color or national origin.

If we're going to talk about facts, let's look at the incarceration rates, which have less to do with "violent" crime and more to do with the so-called "war on drugs". (Read Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" for statistics and detailed analysis.) Every time a parent is incarcerated, it breaks up a family, weakens the parent-child bond, and creates a culture of despair for our children. The fact that we're building more and more prisons to house more and more African American and Latino men, while decimating the budgets of schools that teach African American and Latino youth, is the real issue here.

Yes, what's going on in the schools is a reflection of what is going on in society, but it's unfair to put the blame on the children who are misbehaving in school, or on the schools that HAVE to do something to create safe learning environments.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 4, 2012 11:00 pm

Well said!! I have complained quite a bit about how harshly the students in Philadelphia are treated, in ways I never ever thought I would see little kids talked to, and it's really hard for me to understand it. I went to an almost all white school as a kid (I am black) and a teacher would have been fired for things that I have watched teachers in Philly say to kids as young a 5.

It seems so out of proportion to the behavior of the kids. I periodically go back to my own elementary school just to see the difference in how the kids are treated. The kids have the same behavior issues and personality issues that you see in the urban school except for the poverty, but parental neglect, drugs, alcohol, divorce, working parents, is the same, except for the class differences that come from having more or less money. But the kids are treated so much better by the staff and teachers. And I am just talking about kids who aren't emotionally disturbed or have been abused and not received counseling or haven't had their abusers reported (another one of my pet peeves, not reporting child abuse)

I really think the harsh discipline that the Philadelphia kids face as early as kindergarten with teachers and lunch ladies yelling, complaining about them, and only allowing kids to go to the bathroom once a day and making them march around, missing recess, having to be absolutely silent at lunch etc (my soap box I know...) really stresses the kids and makes them hate school and the teachers. I know I struggle to not dislike the teachers and staff. But to see how ugly and mean their (teachers) faces are when they yell at a little kid, makes me think of how angry I would be to witness my child being treated that way.

I can't explain why the same kid behavior in the suburbs is treating so so differently, but I see it all the time. A kid who is bored and goofing off in my old elementary school is given additional work, but in my childs school, the kid would be screamed at for goofing off, and expected to just sit at his desk quietely, not moving, and not given extra work, etc. It's like the teachers in the city are ignorant of appropriate child expectations.

Something makes Philly kids disengage from school, drop out, hate education etc..and it's not because little kids are born hating school and not valuing education. Look at little kids in preschool and headstart, they can't wait to go to elementary school, and pretend they have homework, etc. But when they get to school, something changes and they begin to hate school. If I had to go through what I see my child go through, I would have hated school as much as he use to.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2012 8:21 am

"It's like the teachers in the city are ignorant of appropriate child expectations."

Once again, basing an opinion of the entire staff in all 200+ schools on your experiences in one school is going to have the opposite effect than the one you intend.

When you continue to post inflammatory accusations against the exact audience you are attempting to reach, you are wasting your breath.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:40 am

Please shatre with me of situations where I won't see what I see daily. For me, even one experience is one too many. Every kid counts.

Tell me of good experiences so what I see daily is isolated to the few schools I visit. Tell me how to change what I see in the school my child goes to so his educational experience will be better?

What do you think of this article? What causes these findings? What can be done to make things more equitable among different ethnic groups in the city??

: )

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 5, 2012 8:40 am

I, too, would like to know how many schools in Philadelphia you have been in and observed. While the behavior you describe is not appropriate, It has not been my experience in the schools I have been in. I certainly have not been in all Philly schools, but I wonder how many you have been in? Lunch can be a particular problem, I believe we need more and better trained staff at lunch and recess--not less. Parents do need to be engaged with both their children and the school to make sure that children are treated well, and that they know how to behave appropriately.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:28 am

One school is one too many, don't you agree??

What's your opinion on the differences in discipline between different ethnic groups? Why do you think I notice differences in discipline with kids exhibiting the exact same behavior? Has the district gone overboard in discipline and zero tolerance?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:17 am

One is one too many, agreed. In many ways, we have gone overboard with zero-tolerance. Principals are given little discretion because everyone is afraid of the downtown people coming down on them. Our school is still made up of mostly one ethnic group, so it is hard to compare discipline responses in that manner. What all of the teachers do notice, however, are more and more (not all) kids coming in to school (and this I notice in all ethnic groups) with a VERY under-developed sense of sharing, fair-play, and cooperation. Too many children have been allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want for the first four years of their lives--and the transition into a cooperative learning environment where the child is not the only 'star' in the room is a difficult one. Trouble we used to see starting in middle school ages (when hormone influenced behaviors are normal) are now starting as young as third grade. Of course, this does not excuse treating children badly, but schools need the cooperation and support of parents just like parents need the cooperation and support of schools. Social skills that used to be expected coming into school now must be taught in the younger grades (and up). While this has always been true--we are starting from almost scratch with some children. Again, this does not excuse poor treatment, but it does point to the fact that everyone needs to partner to raise healthy and productive kids--it cannot all fall to teachers and school staff.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:13 am

Yes!! I noticed that on the playground!! I found myself saying things like 'keep your hands to yourself" like I used to say when my child was a toddler in play groups. Fortunately, even the older kids responds and by being consistent with the rules, clear about the expectations, and explaining that I want them to be safe and not hurt, seems to be's taking a bit of time, and can be exhausting to keep repeating, but it seems to work, and I haven't made a kid cry or had to scream at a kid : ).

Maybe you could find a few parents who would be willing to help out at your school?? You might have to train the parents on the ways to communicate with the kids, but if you let them know it will help their kids stay safe on the school yard and have more fun, I know as a parent I would do it. Anything good for my kid, that my kid will like, I support!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2012 11:39 am

I agree with you, but I think that we are starting from LESS than scratch when students are taught at home to physically fight with anyone who 'messes' with them. This year I had a second-grade girl tell a female classmate that she was "gonna f*** her up." I asked her where she got that phrase from, and she said, "My dad."

We are not just working hard to promote socially acceptable behaviors- We're working to 'de-program' students who exhibit socially unacceptable behaviors at school. It's often an uphill battle. I appreciate that some/many of our students need to survive in environments that are full of stress and violence, and it's hard to fault them when they bring those survival skills to the classroom, but it can make classroom management a nightmare.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 6, 2012 11:17 pm

A professor I admire a lot suggested to make sure I make my classroom a 'safe place' for my students where the rules of the classroom are known by all my students and I faithfully model and expect my students to exhibit the behavior I expect. My child had a preschool teacher who when little kids would complain to her about one kid stealing a toy etc, she would make the kids discuss the problem and guide them to work out a solution based on her mantra of respect. It was kind of strange watching her make little kids work it out, but it really helped them (including my child) develop their communication and problem solving skills....again I do the same thing with students when they argue, and even though they are older, they still need support in communication in a manner that is respectful to each other (keep your hands to yourself and talk out the issue mantra) that if seems to work. Kids often now come up to me to tell me how they solved their problems with their friends (they are so adorable).

I really really think that how you perceive these kids really determines their success. If you believe in them, and keep trying and thinking of stuff and trying again when stuff doesn't work, you will start to see kids be successful in your classroom or school.

Hang in there and don't give up. These kids deserve your A game. : )

Submitted by Greg N. (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:06 pm

Yes and Corbett is a stone cold racist. Look at his budget and tell me where I'm wrong. He's strangling the inner city schools especially in black and brown areas while supporting his charter buddies whose ONLY goal, is to make money. By the way, in addition to building 3 new prisons, 2 of which are for profit, the SD is also building new schools in the far Northeast. Big surprise !!

Submitted by tom-104 on April 5, 2012 11:38 pm

The incredible thing is that Corbett cut funding in low income districts by almost $350 more per student than in high income districts. ($581 per student in low income districts vs. $214 per student in high income districts).

Corbett cut education by $900 million and increased spending for prisons, including the three prisons you mention, by a similar amount as the cuts in education. His program is straight out of the ALEC playbook.

ALEC Exposed: Starving Public Schools

The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor

Submitted by MacMaven (not verified) on April 6, 2012 12:12 pm

Greg N.: While I agree with you about Corbett's "strangling the inner city schools especially in black and brown areas...", I do take offense to your pot shot at building new schools in the Far Northeast. If you look at the data, the schools in the Northeast are overcrowded, many beyond capacity. The Northeast has largely been ignored by the district for years under the assumption that it's nearly all white and thus, not in need. This is blatantly wrong.

Take Northeast High School, with over 3000 students it's the 3rd largest high school in the state. The majority of the students in this school (nearly 52%) are black and brown. Yet, built in the late '50s it has yet to be upgraded: it has the same drafty windows, same outdated science labs, and same asbestos tile floors it was built with over 50 years ago. The school is above capacity with no teacher able to have a classroom to call their own, to decorate completely to represent their content area, or to safely secure their classroom resources or personal items. Some teachers need to float to every one of their classrooms. And despite the fact that some people, like yourself, that think the floors of Northeast schools are paved with gold, here's an example of a school that has no choice but to turn lemons into lemonade for students of all color.

I'll give you that new schools were built in the NE to replace Lincoln HS (nearly 60% black and brown) and Fels HS (nearly 86% black and brown), but what does the district do? They replaced old with new that are much smaller. So what happens? Here again, we're back to overcrowding which ultimately relates to safety. The NE needs new school buildings, not just smaller replacements, and it has nothing to do with skin color. It's about capacity and the safety of children - all children.

You're calling Corbett a racist, and I don't disagree, but your last statement about schools in the NE... "big surprise", isn't that like the pot calling the kettle black?

Submitted by Greg N. (not verified) on April 6, 2012 4:23 pm


Submitted by Christopher Paslay (not verified) on April 5, 2012 8:40 am

Minority students are disproportionately suspended and expelled from America’s public schools. But there is a lurking variable in the equation that the Department of Education refuses to address. Unfortunately, minority students are three times as poor as their white counterparts, and research continues to show that poverty has a devastating effect on student behavior. Read about it here:

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:25 am

Thanks for the link and interesting point. : )

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on April 5, 2012 10:49 am

Read your link and nothing makes me happier than finding another person who cares about educating our kids!!

I do think racisim does play a part, but I do agree that poverty and class play a bigger part. I see some black and hispanic teachers sharing the same beliefs about our kids being 'bad' which leads me to believe it's more about class than race.

But whatever the reason, what are we as a community, going to do about it?

Thanks again, I really love learning about education and appreciate resources.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2012 10:16 pm

OK the data proves good teachers do not want to work in schools with lots of students who lack parents and thus misbehave more than student who have parents.

This is a Federal Civil Rights case??

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on April 3, 2012 10:43 pm

The real achievement gap is between rich and poor. The real difference in a student's ability to access quality education is the economic class of their parents. However, many people find it easier to blame teachers or the school system for racism than too look wide-eyed at the real problem, which is unchecked poverty that continues generation after generation.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2012 5:36 am


Submitted by Teacher (not verified) on April 3, 2012 10:03 pm

All disciplinary disparities can be explained either by racial disparities in punishment by teachers or by disparities in violations by black and latino students. I think it behooves The Notebook to try to address both reasons instead of assuming the former.

Submitted by bleat_on (not verified) on April 4, 2012 12:34 am

And yet, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the NAACP, the New Black Panthers the Congressional Black Caucus, etc. are no where to be found. Interesting...I wonder if it has anything to do with the teachers' union? Nah. That couldn't be. That would mean the minorities trapped in those communities are nothing more than political chess pieces, whose plights are explored for labor negotiations or personal profit. Impossible! Are we to believe minority leaders and the teachers unions actually want poor minorities to fail? It couldn't be....

Then again, it certainly would explain the union's war on accountability/school choice and the inexplicable silence from minority leaders who claim to champion equality.

On a related note, why do these overtly racist outcomes always seem to involve a Democrat (union teachers, union police officers, George Zimmerman, etc.)? I thought Republicans were supposed to be the racists/bigots?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2012 5:52 am

You are buy are too blind to see it. Let's get a drink.

Submitted by bleat_on (not verified) on April 4, 2012 10:21 am

What's with you and this drink? Why don't you just say what you really mean? It's not like you're union is going to discipline you for beating up one of its a critic. If anything, it would probably be good for your career. So do us all a favor, and just reply "You can make a coherent argument; I can't. I want to beat you up."

Submitted by bleat_on (not verified) on April 4, 2012 4:12 pm

I stand corrected, Rev. Jackson has criticized inequitable suspension rates...bravo, sir.

Submitted by Lois (not verified) on April 4, 2012 1:51 pm

????Judging from your post, drink much???

Submitted by W.B. Saul Parent (not verified) on May 11, 2012 3:59 pm

And then there are the schools where the white kids are the minority... the administration is black, and the white kids are disproportionately "made an example of" for any and all offenses. This would include: being forbidden to go to prom due to tardiness, when a child with a darker skin tone can get away with being caught under the influence on school grounds - and that's all good.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2014 5:06 am
Achievement gap, the gap between rich and poor, which resulted in access to educational resources between different student real difference is their parents, but a lot of people think we should blame the teacher or school, or even racism. 
But this is not the real issue, the real question is why the poor poorer and the generation to continue. GERRYS IDEA LINE

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