When racial slurs, stereotypes, discrimination and prejudice permeate a school, everyone is affected, but particularly students from historically oppressed racial groups, according to a statement on racism issued by the National Association of School Psychologists in 2012. The deleterious effects of racism include overly punitive discipline, achievement gaps, racial tensions and inequitable funding. Eradicating racism is essential to ensuring that all pupils receive a quality education that leads to graduation and lifelong success.
Disruptive Student Behavior
Students subjected to racism from peers or teachers may respond with anger. Such behavior can prompt strict discipline and further frustrate the child. The National Association of School Psychologists posits that 40 years' research demonstrates that African-American students receive harsher discipline than justified. School survey data released by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in 2014 showed that African-American males are three times more likely than Caucasian students to be suspended or expelled. Students who are always in trouble may get discouraged and drop out of school, according to the University of California, Los Angeles Law Review.
Widening Achievement Gaps
Research has identified gaps in academic performance between groups of students based on race. For example, the Education Commission on the States -- an education reform organization -- states that African-American and Hispanic students generally perform about as well as Caucasian students in the bottom 25 percent of the class. ECS suggests that the gap is related to lower teacher expectations of diverse students, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy rooted in racial stereotypes. Students who fall behind are less likely to finish high school, attend college or earn middle-class wages. Closing achievement gaps is considered the most pressing civil rights issue of the 21st century, as reported by the Association of California School Administrators.
Brewing Racial Tension
Subtle and overt forms of racism can create a hostile environment that’s characterized by racial slurs, bullying and segregation by race, as described in "Leading for Diversity: How School Leaders Promote Positive Interethnic Relations." Tension can escalate, resulting in hate crimes or physical assaults between students from different backgrounds. A stressful environment heightens anxiety and detracts from learning. Parents might consider transferring their children to a different school, especially if teachers and administrators appear complicit or incapable of resolving the underlying causes of racial discord.
Racism can result in unfair allocation of government funding that has a trickle-down effect on quality of instruction. Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that 45 percent of schools serving low-income and minority students received less local and state aid than their more affluent counterparts in the same school district. Schools with fewer resources have more difficulty updating technology, renovating facilities and attracting highly qualified teachers. Further, students attending underfunded schools are less likely to have access to Advanced Placement classes or gifted and talented programs, which makes them less competitive when applying to highly selective colleges.
- National Association of School Psychologists: Position Statement: Racism, Prejudice, and Discrimination
- U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Data Snapshot: School Discipline
- University of California, Los Angeles Law Review: Exclusion, Punishment, Racism and Our Schools: A Critical Race Theory Perspective on School Discipline
- Education Commission of the States: Closing the Achievement Gap
- Leading for Diversity: How School Leaders Promote Positive Interethnic Relations
- U.S. Department of Education: Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity: Support to Close Achievement and Opportunity Gaps
- U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Data Snapshot: College and Career Readiness
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.