Racism & Education: 50 Years After Little Rock

Most of the major news outlets today are running stories about the fiftieth anniversary of the date when Minnijean Brown Trickey and eight other black teenagers, escorted by 1,200 soldiers through spitting and jeering white crowds, desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The integration of Central High School stands in stark contrast to the recent events at the high school in Jena, and to the racial pattern of school discipline throughout the nation. Howard Witt writing in an article in the Chicago Tribune (and republished at Common Dreams), notes that nationwide:

“African-American students are almost 60 times as likely as white students to be expelled for serious disciplinary infractions. “

Yet, it’s not that black students are no more likely to misbehave than other students. The social science data suggest that’s not what is happening. Quoting Russell Skiba, a professor of educational psychology at Indiana University whose research focuses on race and discipline issues in public schools, Witt’s article continues:

“There simply isn’t any support for the notion that, given the same set of circumstances, African-American kids act out to a greater degree than other kids. In fact, the data indicate that African-American students are punished more severely for the same offense, so clearly something else is going on. We can call it structural inequity or we can call it institutional racism.”

Of course, it’s not just about sitting in detention either. As Witt notes, tudies show that a history of school suspensions or expulsions is a strong predictor of future trouble with the law-and the first step on what civil rights leaders have described as a “school-to-prison pipeline” for black youths, who represent 16 percent of U.S. adolescents but 38 percent of those incarcerated in youth prisons.

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