In Dallas ISD, Algebra for (Almost) Everyone on the Bridge Over the Opportunity Gap

Make no mistake: The achievement gap is still a seemingly uncrossable gorge, and minority students in Dallas and across the country are still pretty much hosed. But in a few key areas at least, black and Latino students are slightly less hosed here than they are in other large, urban school districts, according to a massive cache of federal education data released Tuesday.

The data, from the 2009-2010 school year, is courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office, which conducts a semi-annual survey of U.S. public schools. It covers everything from how minority students are disciplined to access to college-prep courses to the caliber of teachers manning the classrooms in schools attended by mostly black and Latino kids.

Nationally, the results are about what you'd expect. The key findings, according to the Education Department release:

* African-American students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers. Black students make up 18% of the students in the CRDC sample, but 35% of the students suspended once, and 39% of the students expelled.

* Students learning English (ELL) were 6% of the CRDC high school enrollment, but made up 12% of students retained.

* Only 29% of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55% of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment.

* Teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in teaching in low-minority schools in the same district.

Education reporters across the country used the data to paint another bleak picture of our public schools' various opportunity and achievement gaps. But Alan King, the interim superintendent of Dallas ISD, framed it differently in a note he sent to the district's board of trustees on Tuesday. "Compared to the largest school districts in the country, Daìlas ISD fares well in this report," he wrote.

In a snapshot of the data, which King provided to the trustees, the OCR compares equity in certain categories at the nation's largest school districts. Discipline-wise, Dallas fares about the same as most large districts: poorly. Forty-eight percent of DISD students who were suspended were black, while black students made up only 25 percent of the district's enrollment. Hispanic students made up 69 percent of the student population but only 48 percent of the suspensions. White students, who made up 4 percent of the district, accounted for only 3 percent of the suspensions.

But in other areas highlighted by the Education Department, the district stood out. Nationally, only 65 percent of high schools with the highest minority enrollment rates offered Algebra II -- not calc, not trig, but freakin' algebra. DISD was one of only three of the largest 20 districts in which 100 percent of the high schools with the highest minority populations offered the course. (All of DISD's high schools are largely populated by minority students; the data compares schools with the fewest white kids against schools with the most.)

Nationally, schools with the most minority students had twice as many first- and second-year teachers. But in Dallas ISD, the percentage of novice teachers was about the same across the board: 10 percent (and growing, no doubt, thanks to Teach for America.)

And while teachers at high schools with the most white students typically earn more than teachers at schools with the least, DISD teachers at the schools with the highest percentage of minority students make slightly more. Only two other districts, Houston and Prince George County, Maryland, can make that claim.

In a district that's only 4 percent white, questions of racial disparity, especially between white students and non-, are naturally less pressing than in more diverse districts. But whatever. A little good news never killed anyone. That we know of.

OCR snapshot and King's note are below.

Civil Rights Data Collection 3-6-12

Crdc Data Doc Pdf2