Disparities Persist In School Discipline, Says Government Watchdog : NPR Ed Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in K-12 schools across the country, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Disparities Persist In School Discipline, Says Government Watchdog

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Black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in America's public schools. That is the conclusion of a sweeping new review by an important government watchdog. And NPR's Cory Turner has more.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: The review was done by the Government Accountability Office. GAO researchers found that in the 2013-'14 school year, black children accounted for nearly 40 percent of students suspended from school even though they make up just 15 percent of public school students. Jackie Nowicki led the team of GAO researchers and says these disparities in how children are disciplined were consistent.

JACQUELINE NOWICKI: Regardless of the type of disciplinary action and regardless of the type of public school attended.

TURNER: But this is perhaps the biggest headline from Nowicki's team. For years, some experts have argued that poverty, not race or racial bias, is the main driver of school discipline disparities. But GAO found black students are disproportionately punished in rich schools and poor schools alike.

NOWICKI: We found that these disparities existed across all school poverty levels. And that is something that I think hasn't really quite been presented in that way before.

TURNER: And this disparity they found starts in preschool. While Nowicki says her team did not explore the role of unconscious bias, she says other research shows it's clearly a factor. GAO's report arrives in the middle of a fiery debate about discipline in schools. In 2014, the Obama administration issued guidance to schools with a clear message. Big disparities like these violate civil rights law and will not be tolerated, guidance the current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is now considering pulling back. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.


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