A new data analysis focuses on racial disparities in the Ferguson, Mo., schools at a time when that community has attracted national attention for public protests over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
Shaun R. Harper and Charles H.F. Davis III, directors of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, found that 68 percent of white school-age children who live in Ferguson or the neighboring town of Florissant do not attend public schools in the 11,200-student Ferguson-Florissant school district, which is 78 percent black and 75 percent poor. The public schools did not open as planned for the first day of school on Aug. 14 and remained closed through Friday of last week out of safety concerns over protests of the death of Michael Brown, 18. But other area public and private schools—many of which are predominantly white—did open.
“School closure is disproportionately affecting African-American children,” Mr. Davis said about the analysis. “Their white peers have been in school somewhere for a week, presumably learning and likely getting even further ahead of their African-American neighbors.”
Moreover, separate data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection show that in 2011-12, black students made up 77.1 percent of total enrollment in the Ferguson-Florissant school district, but that 87.1 percent of students without disabilities who received an out-of-school suspension were black. The discipline gap is even more dramatic when examining the proportion of black students who were suspended more than once: 7.2 percent of black students, versus 1.6 percent of white students. (There are other districts that serve students in the Ferguson area, but their enrollments are so small and so predominantly black that the disciplinary data draw from a very small number of white students, making it difficult to reliably analyze.)
A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2014 edition of Education Week as Studies Analyze Disparities in Ferguson District