ORLANDO, Fla. – Many Central Florida students returning to the classroom this semester will have to come to grips with the fact that their learning experience may not be the same as some of their peers.
Racial disparities show up in several ways in the academic setting, whether it be Black students receiving harsher punishments than that white counterparts, being less likely to be recommended for gifted programs or in some cases, they can be the victims of microaggressions that put a spotlight on their educator’s implicit bias.
Rewatch the town hall using the video player at the top of this story
While scholars have known about these racial disparities and achievement gaps in the classroom setting for some time now, only recently has research been conducted to find out how exactly they affect Black students in their scholastic careers.
According to a Stanford University study published last year, when Black students are disproportionately disciplined, they tend to perform worse on standardized tests and other academic benchmarks.
Francis Pearman, an assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education who was the lead author of the study, said the discipline gap and the achievement gap are “two sides of the same coin,” meaning when one gets worse, so does the other.
This pattern, according to Pearman, holds on both the local and national level.
But these stories aren’t just case studies. It’s happening in our schools to our children.
To not only highlight the problem but come up with solutions, News 6 hosted the Real Talk: A Candid Conversation on Equality in Schools town hall from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sept. 9. We brought in a panel of experts and invited members of the public to ask questions about how we can make the classroom setting more equal for all its participants.
For a real life example, take Kaia Rolle, who was just 6 years old when she was handcuffed at an Orlando school after having a temper tantrum in class, which her grandmother said was caused by a lack of sleep due to a medical condition.
The charges were dropped after both the state attorney and the Orlando police chief spoke out against the arrest, saying that the officer who took the child into custody violated protocol, but at that point, that damage from being escorted to a detention facility and having to pose for a mugshot had already been done.
While the arrest sparked outrage and even made national headlines along with calls for reform, it was only a few months later that a school resource deputy was caught on camera yanking the back of a 13-year-old Black girl’s head.
In that instance, the girl was with a group of teens involved in a fight at an apartment complex. She was handcuffed and briefly detained but not arrested.
Both these incidents happened in Orange County, where federally reported civil rights data from 2015, the most recent year available, shows that 53% of students who were expelled were Black, even though Black students only make up 26.5% of the district’s population.
Other statistics from that report include: Black students received 48.7% of in-school suspensions, 52.9% of out-of-school suspensions and 44% of referrals to law enforcement; Black students missed 39,819 days of school due to being suspended compared to the 6,731 days white students missed and 53% of students who were expelled were Black.
Keep in mind that the numbers provided by the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection do not provide explanations as to why students were disciplined.
News 6 also looked at graduation data from the Florida Department of Education that provides a breakdown of graduates by race for each school across the state.
Those numbers show that on average across Orange County for the 2018-2019 academic year, the graduation rate for Black students was 71%, 81.5% for white students, 78.7% for Hispanic or Latino students, 97.9% for Asian students and 97.7% for biracial students.
While there are facts and figures to support disciplinary disparities, other forms of discrimination are harder to calculate.
In a recent Instagram post, Educators for Justice described some of the ways anti-Blackness shows up in the classroom. That includes educators acting more patient with white students, telling Black students they aren’t going to succeed in life and ignoring students of color when they say they’re being discriminated against.
That same post, embedded above, also provided solutions to make classrooms more equal. Some of those remedies are as simple as providing black and brown shades in art supplies so students feel their skin tones are being represented, teaching students about Black authors and scientists who they can look up to and setting high expectations for Black students and encouraging them to meet those expectations.
While some of those solutions may seem simple, change won’t happen overnight.