(CNSNews.com) - The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights says data from the 2013-2014 school year shows that out-of-school suspensions decreased by nearly 20 percent from the 2011-12 school year, as more schools found alternative ways to deal with "non-violent student behavior."
Nationwide, 2.8 million K-12 students received one-or-more out of school suspensions in 2013-14, something the Obama administration hailed as good news.
But the administration also found major areas of concern.
For the first time, the report (called the Civil Rights Data Collection) examined absenteeism, finding that 6.5 million students, or 13 percent of all students, were chronically absent from schools in 2013-14, meaning they missed at least 15 days.
More than 3 million high school students, or 18 percent, were chronically absent in 2013-2014.
The Civil Rights Data Collection also noted that "high-rigor" courses are not available at many public schools. Nationwide, only 48 percent of public high schools offer calculus; 60 percent offer physics; 72 percent offer chemistry; and 78 percent offer Algebra II.
Schools with high black and Latino enrollment were less likely to offer rigorous courses than predominantly white schools.
The 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) is a survey of all public schools and school districts in the United States, which enroll 50,035,744 students. The survey is conducted every two years.
Demographically, the 2013-14 report says 51.4 percent of the nation's public school students are boys and 48.6 percent are girls. "English learners" comprise 9.9 percent of the student body; and 14 percent are categorized as students with disabilities.
By race, 50.3 percent are white; 24.7 percent are Hispanic or Latino of any race; 15.5 percent are black or African American; 4.8 percent are Asian; 1.1 percent are American Indian or Alaska Native; 3.1 percent are two or more races; and 0.4 percent are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
"These data tell us important information about our students' experiences in schools and raise critical questions about what more we can do as a nation to make the promise of educational opportunities a reality for all of our students," said Catherine Lhamon, the Education Department's Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.
She told a conference call on Tuesday that the data is used by her office in its enforcement work.
"The data are data, so it's a starting point for us in our analysis of whether there's intentional discrimination or not. So we take a look at the disparities and then we look underneath the data to find out why the disparities exist," Lhamon said. "Data by itself are not a reason to think that there is intentional discrimination, but they are a reason to ask further questions."
Education Secretary John King told the same conference call, "In general, the data show that students of color, students whose first language is not English and students with disabilities are -- according to a number of indicators -- not getting the same opportunities to learn as are classmates who are white, whose first language is English or who do not have disabilities."
Nationwide, 2.8 million K-12 students received one-or-more out of school suspensions in 2013-14, a 20 percent decrease from 2011-12.
"Fewer suspensions is an important sign of progress," King told reporters on Tuesday. "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."
Lhamon called the 20 percent reduction "breathtaking."
The report notes racial disparities in suspensions:
-- While 6% of all K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions, the percentage is 18% for black boys; 10% for black girls; 5% for white boys; and 2% for white girls.
-- Black K-12 students are 3.8 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white students.
-- Black girls are 8% of enrolled students, but 14% of students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions. (Girls of other races did not disproportionately receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.)
-- American Indian or Alaska Native, Latino, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and multiracial boys are also disproportionately suspended from school, representing 15% of K-12 students but 19% of K-12 students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions.
-- 11% of American Indian or Alaska Native boys received one or more out-of-school suspensions, as did 10% of multiracial boys, 8% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander boys, and 7% of Latino boys.
-- Asian and white students did not disproportionately receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.
--Students with disabilities in grades K-12 are disproportionately suspended from school.
-- English learners are NOT disproportionately suspended from school.
Nationwide, as noted above, more than 6.5 million students, or 13% of all students, are chronically absent (absent 15 or more school days during the school year).
Education secretary King called that number "very worrisome."
"This is one of the reasons the administration launched that Every Student, Every Day initiative," he said. "We're working with 30 communities around the country to match kids who are chronically absent with mentors to help improve their attendance."
King said the data on absenteeism is "a call for action."
"When you think about the impact of more than one in five...African-American students in high school, for example, being chronically absent. That's just -- we have a lot of work to do.
"And there's no question -- even the best teachers can't be successful with students who aren't in class, and so we've got work to do as a country on this issue."
Looking at the more than 3 million high school students (18%) who were chronically absent in 2013-14:
-- 20% or more of American Indian or Alaska Native (26%), Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (25%), black (22%), multiracial (21%), and Latino (20%) high school students are chronically absent.
-- High school students with disabilities are 1.3 times as likely to be chronically absent as high school students without disabilities.
-- 20% of all English learner high school students are chronically absent.
More than 3.5 million elementary school students (11%) were chronically absent.
-- American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander elementary school students are twice as likely to be chronically absent as white elementary school students.
-- Black elementary school students are 1.4 times as likely to be chronically absent as white elementary school students.
-- Elementary school students with disabilities served by IDEA are 1.5 times as likely to be chronically absent as elementary school students without disabilities.
The report also found that chronic student abseteeism tended to be higher in schools where the majority of teachers were also frequently absent.
The data released on Tuesday is the first in a series of data analyses from the 2013-14 CRDC that the Department will issue over the course of the summer and fall.