This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The document and the event were separated by 100 years, but each spoke with equal clarity and urgency to the principles of liberty, equality and opportunity to which we aspire as a nation. There is perhaps no more important institution in keeping us on this path than the public education system. Yet, stark differences in the quality of education available to students of different races persist and demean us all.
The extent to which African Americans are forced out of the classroom through expulsion or suspension is one of the most vivid manifestations of these divides. The Department of Education’s most recent data sample shows that African-American students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers (PDF). And although they are only 18 percent of the student sample, African Americans are 39 percent of the students expelled from school, with nearly half of those suspended multiple times.