WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- Wide racial gaps remain in U.S. public schools, including in discipline and course access, according to new data released Tuesday by the Education Department.
"Our systemic failure to educate some groups of children as well as others tears at the moral fabric of the nation," U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a call with reporters. after the release of the Civil Rights Data Collection on the 2013-14 school year
Because data show differences for students of color, disabilities and English-language learners, King said "we still fall far short" of educational equity.
Differences, according to the department, include "discipline, restraint and seclusion, access to courses and programs that lead to college and career readiness, teacher equity, rates of retention, and access to early learning."
Despite some gains, black and Latino students are still more likely to be suspended, attend schools with inexperienced teachers, and less access to accelerated and advanced coursework than their white peers.
The number of students suspended -- 2.8 million -- dropped 20 percent during the 2013-14 school year compared with 2011-12. But more black students, by a four-to-one margin, were suspended than whites and twice as many were expelled.
"Fewer suspensions is an important sign of progress," King said. "But I don't think there's any way you can look at this data and not come away with a tremendous sense of urgency about continuing to close our equity gaps."
Also, twice as many black students were referred to law enforcement or arrested at school than white students.
The report showed schools with higher levels of black and Latino students don't offer calculus, physics, chemistry and Algebra II. Specifically, 48 percent of all high schools offer calculus but it's only 33 percent among schools with predominantly black and Latino populations.
Black and Latinos also are likely to miss more classes. More than 13 percent of all students missed 15 days or more of school in 2013-14. But among black, Latino, American Indian and multiracial high school students, it was about 20 percent.
King said the nation's new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, can lessen disparities. The law replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and creates accountability beyond test scores and graduation rates.
"Some have suggested the Department of Education is pushing too hard or asking too much of states as they implement the law," King said. "But, to be clear, we will not compromise away the civil right of all students to an excellent education."
The data looked at 50 million students among 95,000 public schools. It found whites make up 50.3 percent of the enrollment compared with 24.7 Latino and 15.5 percent black. In other data, 51.4 percent were boys and 48.6 percent girls. Students with disabilities were 14.0 percent and English learners 9.9 percent.
The Education Department has gathered and published civil rights data every two years since 1968.