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Federal civil rights data: how Rhode Island schools stack up

March 12, 2012

New data from the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights shows that African-American students are more likely to face harsh discipline than their peers. Does Rhode Island follow the trend? Well, the answer depends on the school district.

In Cranston, for example, school officials are much more likely to expel African-American students than white or Hispanic students. African-Americans accounted for half of all expulsions in Cranston in 2009, a year when they represented just 4 percent of students enrolled in the district’s public schools.

Pawtucket school officials appear to slap a disproportionate number of Hispanic students with in-school suspensions. Hispanic students made up 2/3 of all in-school suspensions in Pawtucket, but they represented only ¼ of the district’s student population. African-Americans accounted for 33% of in-school suspensions and 29% of the student body. White students, the single largest group in Pawtucket Public Schools, had no in-school suspensions at all.

In Woonsocket, African-American and Hispanic students were both slightly over-represented in the in-school suspension category. However, the more glaring problem echoes a trend seen in many parts of the state. Namely, that black and Hispanic students are severely underrepresented in gifted programs. According to the federal data, there were no non-white students in Woonsocket’s gifted programs in 2009. There were also no Hispanic students taking calculus even though Hispanics represent roughly ¼ of Woonsocket’s enrolled school population.

Providence fared somewhat better than its urban peers in the survey. The district was slightly more likely to give both in-school and out-of-school suspensions to African-American students. Hispanic students were also under-represented in the district’s gifted programs and calculus classes, and Hispanic students were less likely to take the SAT or the ACT than their peers in other racial and ethnic groups.

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