The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released the results of the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. This report features information about how students are treated at school and highlights several key issues that affect a child’s ability to learn, such as chronic absenteeism, restraint and seclusion disciplinary actions and lack of access to college resources. These three topics are important when advocating to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education.
Here are some key findings from the CRDC survey report and what National PTA is currently doing to tackle these issues:
Chronic Absenteeism Plagues Our Children’s Academic Participation
The CRDC survey reports that 18% of students are chronically absent—missing at least 10% of school days in a school year—which is likely to hurt their academic success and social development. National PTA recognizes that millions of students are missing too many school days and so signed on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of their Every Student, Every Day initiative, which addresses this issue that is threatening our children’s learning opportunities. National PTA continues to work with communities across the country to make sure our children attend school regularly.
Disproportional Instances of Restraint and Seclusion
Restraint and seclusion is a school discipline strategy involving the involuntary confinement or physical restraint of students. The 2013-2014 CRDC data shows that this disciplinary policy disproportionally impacts students with disabilities. Students with disabilities make up 12% of all public school students but account for 67% of students subjected to restraint or seclusion. The use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion methods by untrained school personnel has resulted in the assault, injury, trauma and in some cases death, of students.
At the 2015 National PTA Annual Convention & Expo, PTA members passed a resolution to limit restraint and seclusion policies in schools. In the resolution, the National PTA calls for restraint and seclusion to only be used as a last resort in emergency situations, ensuring the safety and protection of all children.
Minority Groups Are Offered Fewer College Preparation Programs
According to the CRDC report, African American and Latino students have less access to high-level math and science courses in their schools. In schools with high enrollment of African American and Latino children, only 33% offer Calculus, compared to 56% of high schools with mainly white student populations.
National PTA recognizes the importance of offering advanced courses at schools in preparation for college and the skilled labor force. Our association continues to advocate for increasing the federal investment in education to ensure a well-rounded education for all our nation’s children. National PTA launched its STEM education and family engagement initiative in fall 2015 in collaboration with founding and presenting sponsor Bayer USA Foundation with additional support from Mathnasium to magnify the importance that a well-rounded education has on our children’s educational opportunities and future success.
So, what can you do to address these issues as a PTA advocate? The first way you can help is to identify specific issues that your school faces. School data on these issues from previous years can be found at this webpage, with updated info from the current CRDC report available in August. Once identified, you and your PTA can work with the school administration to ensure all students are treated fairly and receive a high-quality education.
You can also make a difference if you:
- Ask your school’s principal if they have a school counselor and work with him or her to ensure all students have access to counseling. Chronic absenteeism can be addressed by giving students access to a school counselor or a mentor to confide in to get to the root of the issue. Lack of access is a serious issue—over 1.6 million students attend a school where a sworn law enforcement officer is present but not a school counselor. On top of this, about 21% of schools nationwide don’t have access to any school counselors.
- Work with the local school board to create policies and programs that emphasize the use of positive or non-aversive student behavior interventions, thereby limiting the use of restraint and seclusion on students. In addition, you can advocate for your school district to provide adequate training for all teachers, principals and school personnel on preventative interventions and alternatives to exclusionary discipline.
- Get involved with the local or state PTA and help districts and states draft their new education plans. College and career preparation is a focus for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Learn more about the law and how to get involved at PTA.org/ESSA.
Blake Altman is the government affairs intern at National PTA.