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March 14, 2012

Inexperienced and lower-paid teachers and excessive use of suspensions create barriers to success for students. A new federal report tells us that minority children and children with disabilities are disproportionately impacted.

On March 6 at Howard University, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the release of information collected from almost 7,000 school districts across the country that educate 42 million, or 85%, of all American students.

As he introduced federal officials at the press event, Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick, Dean of Howard's School of Education, said that we must be "steadfast in our commitment to engage the two most successful strategies for attaining equal educational opportunity. First, [provide equitable] state funding formulas and second, provide children broader access to certified teachers."

Urging his listeners to act, Dean Fenwick said, "We have the power and I hope we intend to use it in deep and lasting ways so that the next generation of black, brown and poor children will not have their life chances circumscribed by lack of access to quality schooling."

From the new 2009-10 data we learn that teachers in schools with high percentages of Black and Hispanic students are twice as likely to be inexperienced---in their first or second year of teaching---as teachers in schools with low percentages of Black and Hispanic students. Additionally, teachers in schools with more minority students are typically paid thousands of dollars less each year, according to the report.

Weak and unfair state school funding systems often cause these disparities. Current federal and state policies, that send untrained individuals into urban schools to teach for only two years, worsen the situation.

The new data also reminds us that higher suspension rates hamper education for minority students and students with disabilities. As Secretary Duncan has said, these students are "often punished more severely for similar misdeeds."

The use of inexperienced and untrained teachers and administrators contributes to the suspension problem, as do overcrowded schools and classrooms and crumbling school buildings. Inequitable funding limits resources and underlies all of these issues.

Although the new data offers an updated picture, stark opportunity gaps are not new. For decades, parents, researchers, and litigators have brought these issues to light and have sought quality schooling for children who are shortchanged.

Ironically, some education "reformers" now pushing the privatization of urban schools earlier fought to prevent increased resources from reaching these schools and against school integration. This despite the fact that research clearly shows that adequate resources and integration both raise achievement.

The new federal report shines a spotlight on the deep, long-standing, and bi-partisan resistance to equity in education that holds back millions of children and the nation's overall progress. State and federal leaders urgently need to change the policies that create these obstacles.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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