DENVER (Reuters) – Public schools in Colorado are among the most unequal places in the United States, according to a report released on Tuesday, with students of color and low-income students disproportionately attending the public school system in places where schools are overcrowded and poor students are most likely to be suspended or expelled.
The report, commissioned by the National Education Association and released by the Center for Education Equity at the University of Denver, found that students of Color are more than three times more likely to receive a suspension than students of other racial and ethnic groups, with Hispanic students and students with disabilities faring worse.
It found that in some public schools in Denver, African Americans, Native Americans and students of low- and moderate-income families were far more likely than their white counterparts to be dismissed from a grade level, even when there were no clear disciplinary or criminal consequences for the actions.
In the same school district, the white students with special needs were more likely as a group to be in a disciplinary hearing that resulted in a dismissal.
The most common disciplinary sanctions were suspensions or expulsions for serious offenses, such as disrupting class or being disruptive to class, the report said.
The students’ racial and/or ethnic background also affects the school climate.
African Americans and Native Americans are three times as likely as other students to be expelled, while low- to moderate- income students are four times as similar to white students, the study found.
The findings are among more than 70 recommendations to improve schools in the Colorado metro area.
They are also part of a broader push to improve school climate, including hiring teachers from diverse backgrounds and developing more diversity in the workforce.
The study said a lack of racial diversity in schools is especially concerning for low-performing students, who have the highest rates of low academic achievement.
The Denver school system is the largest in the state with more than 14,000 students, but the students are overwhelmingly black, Latino and Native American.
The city also has a high concentration of high-poverty schools, the highest concentration of students with low- or moderate-to-high test scores and the most concentrated concentration of low test scores in the nation, according a Reuters analysis of data from the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Schools in the metro area are also one of the most segregated in the country.
Students of color are more likely in public schools than white students in every city except San Francisco, where the racial composition is almost equal.
The data suggest that schools in poorer districts are particularly prone to racial disparities, as they have more students with learning disabilities and low test score.
Denver Public Schools is the second largest district in the city, but students of all races make up a large portion of its student body, said Michelle Bailes, the school district’s education director.
She said she’s committed to improving the racial and socioeconomically diverse nature of the district.
The district’s enrollment is about 4,000 and its student achievement is about 65% of the national average.
In general, she said, schools with a high level of diversity are doing better than schools with low or moderate levels of diversity.
She hopes to see more of a focus on racial diversity within the district and the community, she added.
Bailes said the district is also planning for the future.
She said the school board is looking at a strategy to bring in additional staff to the district to help it meet the state’s minimum-needs criteria.(Reporting by Julie Tate in Denver; Editing by Andrew Hay)