Black students in Los Angeles are being suspended at a proportionally higher rate than in the nation's other largest school systems, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The suspension discrepancy is included in statistics collected by the department's Office for Civil Rights and available at ocrdata.ed.gov/.
It's long been known that black students have been suspended at higher rates in Los Angeles and elsewhere, but the new figures, based on the 2009-10 academic year, allow for a direct comparison between school systems.
That year, black students made up about 9% of the enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest. But they accounted for 26% of suspensions -- a ratio of almost 3 to 1. Latinos, whites and Asians were suspended at rates lower than their percentage of district enrollment.
In New York City, by contrast, black students account for 40% of enrollment and 46% of suspensions; the numbers for Chicago are 45% and 76%. In San Diego Unified, the nation's 17th-largest school system, African Americans make up 11% of enrollment and 24% of suspensions.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, March 09, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Student suspensions: In the March 6 LATExtra section, an article that described disproportionate suspension rates of black students said that black students make up 40% of New York City enrollment and 46% of suspensions, citing data released by the U.S. Department of Education. The department has since issued a correction, noting that black students represent 30% of enrollment in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the numbers "alarming."
"The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school," said Duncan, who added that he is not alleging intentional discrimination.
A local activist went further.
"Disciplinary policies are racially profiling African American students," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of the nonprofit Community Coalition. "It is not that African American students are lazy, unmotivated or not smart. These students are being pushed out of schools."
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy agreed but said the picture has changed markedly this year, with the district tracking the numbers internally and directing principals to resist sending students home for being defiant, which tends to account for most of the suspensions.
L.A. Unified rated better nationally in some other categories.
Compared to other large school systems, low-income minority students are less likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers. Budget cuts that resulted in the layoff of less-experienced teachers in Los Angeles might be a contributing factor.