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Disparities in Pupils' Treatment Persist, Rights Study Finds

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Black and Hispanic students continue to be far more likely than whites to be targeted for disciplinary action or placed in special-education programs, according to an analysis of 1986 civil-rights data collected from public schools across the country.

The analysis, which was to be released this week by the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, found that black students were involved in more than twice as many incidents of corporal punishment and school suspension as white students.

In addition, the analysis found that black students--who make up about 16 percent of the total public-school population--constituted 35 percent of those categorized as "educable mentally retarded." But they represented only 8 percent of those enrolled in programs for gifted and talented students--a disproportionately low level, the report concludes.

The figures, which are derived from the biennial survey by the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights, represent little change from the coalition's analysis of 1984 survey data, according to Joan First, executive director of the ncas

Ms. First said she had expected to see some improvement stemming from the reform movement. "But it seems that, for black and Hispanic students at least, things aren't getting any better," she said.

Disturbing Findings

The findings, according to Ms. First, support the views of the school critics who charge that black and Hispanic students are unfairly "labeled" and shunted out of mainstream classes.

They end up in "homogeneous, low-expectation groups," where they tend to perceive that they are not valued by schools, and often end up dropping out, she said.

One of the most disturbing findings of the report, according to Ms. First, is the high rate at which black students in particular are placed in special-education programs.

"A malevolent view of such findings," she said, "would be to say that people are anxious to drive up test scores, and one way to do that is to change the composition of the test-taking pool."

A more benign view, she added, is that "whatever is being done in the name of reform in these schools is not helping these children."

Ms. First also suggested that the growing interest of states in identifying and targeting for special support students "at risk" of failure may turn out to be "one more way to label students" that pulls minority children out of classes with their white counterparts.

"It is sudden death for minority children if they get pulled out of the mainstream," she argued.

Comparing Statistics

The coalition's analysis utilized the data obtained by ocr from its survey sample of about 20 percent of all school districts nationwide. Among other findings of the ncas:

Black students were involved in 31 percent of the 1.1 million instances of corporal punishment in public schools in 1986. White students, who constituted 70 percent of the total school population, were involved in 60 percent of such cases.

Black students were involved in more than 25 percent of the 1.9 million school suspensions in 1986; 59 percent of those suspended were white.

White students accounted for 58 percent of the 434,200 emr students, compared with blacks' 35 percent. But whites constituted 81 percent of the 1.9 million students placed in gifted and talented programs, which included only 161,352 blacks.

Hispanic students, who represented about 10 percent of the student population in 1986, were involved in 9 percent of the suspensions and 8 percent of corporal-punishment cases.

Hispanic students constituted 5 percent of the emr and 5 percent of the gifted-program enrollments.

States Ranked

In addition to ocr's sample districts in each state, the coalition examined the data from the 100 largest districts nationally. The report ranked the states that showed the largest discrepancies between white and minority students.

It found the largest corporal-punishment discrepancies in Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, and New Mexico.

In Arkansas, for example, black students made up 24 percent of the total enrollment but were involved in 40 percent of the corporal-punishment incidents. White students, who represented 75 percent of total enrollment, accounted for 60 percent of the incidents.

For suspensions, Ohio showed the largest discrepancy, followed by Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

In Ohio, 37 percent of suspensions involved black students, even though they accounted for 15 percent of the student population. White students, 83 percent of the population, were suspended in 61 percent of the cases.

The largest discrepancy in emr referrals was found in Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Iowa.

In Alabama, an estimated 37 per4cent of the students were black, but they made up 65 percent of those in emr programs. Sixty-two percent of all students were white, but they accounted for only 35 percent of those in emr programs.

South Carolina, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware showed the largest discrepancy in placing students in programs for the gifted and talented.

In South Carolina, black students made up nearly half--or 44 percent--of the school population, but only 15 percent of the students deemed gifted were black. White students, 55 percent of the total, made up 84 percent of those in gifted-student programs.

Sanctions Supported

The report also recommends several procedures that it says would help states and districts more accurately monitor potential discrimination in these areas.

Ms. First said that ncas supports the concept of imposing sanctions against districts that continue to show large discrepancies in the placement and treatment of student populations.

But sanctions are not the best solution, she contended, saying, "We need to find ways to help the kids without labeling them ... or generating the racial segregation that these numbers reflect."

Copies of the report are available from the ncas, 100 Boylston St., Suite 737, Boston, Mass. 02116.

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