Eye on Education

Why the Feds are Investigating the Toledo Public Schools

Jimmy Emerson / Flickr

As the Toledo Blade has reported, federal investigators want to know whether the Toledo school district treats all students fairly.

The U.S. Department of Education is looking at whether the school district is discriminating by race in how it distributes resources, including staff, programs, and facilities.

And the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is looking at whether Toledo students of different races and ethnicities are disciplined at similar rates and whether the district is providing required services to students who are learning English.

Are All Toledo Students Treated Fairly?

The Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education declined to discuss their ongoing investigations. So we examined the issues they’re looking into.

How Toledo Gets All the Feds to the City

  • In 2010, the U.S. Education Department selected Toledo as one of several school districts across the country to undergo similar reviews of how they’re providing services to different student groups, district lawyer Keith Wilkowski said. The department says it picks the districts based on several factors, including complaints, news reports and statistical data.
  • The Department of Justice’s investigation grew out of complaints from Toledo residents, a department spokesperson said.
  • Neither department has reached any conclusions about whether the Toledo school district is doing anything wrong.
  • It does not appear to be common for the Department of Justice to undertake this kind of investigation of an Ohio school district: While the department’s Cleveland office was unable to provide exact figures, no Ohio districts are cited in its posted list of education-related cases and there are few media reports of similar investigations in the past five years.
  • The school district is not aware of any connection between the Department of Justice and Department of Education investigations, Wilkowski said.

(Of course, a StateImpact story is no federal investigation: The feds will examine a variety of information and may reach different conclusions.)

More AP Classes in Some Schools than Others

In Toledo, the number of advanced classes your high school offers is closely related to how many of your classmates are poor.

Toledo high schools with fewer low-income students, as measured by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, offer more Advanced Placement classes than high schools with more low-income students, according to U.S. Department of Education data for the 2009-10 school year analyzed by ProPublica, a Pulitzer-Prize winning non-profit media organization based in New York City.

% of students receiving free/reduced-price lunch
Number of AP courses offered
Bowsher High School31%6
Start High School32%5
Rogers High School47%2
Woodward High School63%1
Waite High School79%n/a
Scott High Schooln/an/a
Toledo Early College High Schooln/a3
Toledo Technology Academyn/an/a

Source: ProPublica

Student Discipline Rates Vary by Race

In schools across the country, African-American students are often disciplined at rates far out of proportion with their population within a school district, national studies have found.

Toledo is no exception.

In Toledo, African-American students made up 45 percent of the district’s enrollment, but accounted for 71 percent of all disciplinary actions for the 2010-11 school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Of Ohio’s eight largest urban school districts, only one — Akron — has a greater disparity between the percentage of African-American students enrolled and the percentage of disciplinary actions taken against African-American students.

Student Race/Ethnicity
Number of Disciplinary Actions
Percent of Disciplinary Actions
Percent of Total District Enrollment
Black Non-Hispanic16,70271%45%
White Non-Hispanic4,35618%40%

Source: Ohio Department of Education

English Language Learners Outperform African-American Students

About two percent of Toledo students are still learning to use English in school. That’s about 330 of the district’s 22,000-plus students.

This small group of students, most of whom are Hispanic, does about as well on state standardized tests as Hispanic students who do in fact speak English. And they actually do better as a group than African-American students.

% English Language Learner Students On-Grade Level
% African-American Students On-Grade Level
% Hispanic Students On-Grade Level
% White Students On-Grade Level

Source: Ohio Department of Education ((The Toledo school district's enrollment breaks down as follows: 45% African-American, 40% White, 9% Hispanic and 6% Multi-racial.)

Toledo Superintendent James Pecko says the he believes that Toledo English language learners are “receiving quality care relative to the potential barriers that they face.”

But he said the district is trying to do a better job of reaching out to Spanish-speaking parents. For the first time, schools will sent out Spanish-language flyers announcing open houses, for example. A “community liaison” position charged with communicating with parents of Hispanic students was retained this spring amid budget cuts in other areas. And the district is also considering providing interpreters at public meetings, he said.

Next Steps

These federal inquiries are unlikely to lead to criminal charges or indictments. If either inquiry does find problems in Toledo, it’s more likely that they’d be resolved with legal agreements that set out the steps the district needs to take to improve.

“In a general sense, the focus is trying to find a solution to problems identified, assuming the investigation bears out that there are problems. Agreements and consent decrees are generally the tools of the trade in this stuff, not indictments,” Department of Justice spokesperson Michael Tobin said.

Pecko, the Toledo superintendent, says the federal inquiries could be helpful in that they’re leading the district to look at student data in new ways.

“Quite frankly when I go out to buildings, I see kids. I don’t see color.”

–Toledo superintendent James Pecko

“We will cooperate with them in any way possible, though [they are] requesting an awful lot of information. Some of that will be interesting for us to look at once it has been compiled. It’s not a distraction; it’s part of the nature of public education that we get scrutinized from time to time,” he said.

The district is engaging in a major transformation this year with a focus on both saving money and doing a better job of educating students. As part of that effort, new distance learning labs in all high schools are giving more students access to advanced classes and foreign language classes, Pecko said.  Eighth graders are now able to attend their future high schools for the last period of the day to take freshman-level classes. And plans for after-school and evening community activities at schools—such as GED classes, job training or other services—are in the works, Pecko said.

“I would advise anyone in the community to go out to our buildings and spend some time in them,” he said. “Quite frankly when I go out to buildings, I see kids. I don’t see color. “


  • Anonymous

    This type of racial inquisition is so pathetic — it would be laughable if it weren’t ubiquitous.

    In Toledo, as in every single other school district in the United States, black students misbehave at greater rates, and achieve academically at a lower level, than white students.

    That is the simple, obvious, eternal explanation for the “disparities” that the racial inquisitors at the DOJ seem so shocked, shocked, to discover.

    Maybe you’ve heard of a little thing called the “achievement gap”? In the United States, black students aren’t as academically successful as white students. Disciplining Toledo for this universal feature of American life makes no sense.

    Here’s a Swiftian modest proposal: If black students are getting disciplined at higher rates, and not doing as well in school, as white students, maybe they should behave better and study harder. WOW – WHAT A CONCEPT! CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT? Somebody telephone Eric Holder — I’ve come up with a genuine breakthrough solution for our country’s besetting sin of racial inequality.

    • Molly Bloom

      Just wanted to point out that it’s not clear that Black students misbehave more often than students of other races and ethnicities. The discipline data only shows that, in many districts, Black students are disciplined at rates out of proportion with their enrollment.

      • Anonymous

        You get a similar pattern in the UK, also with Chinese tending to be more well behaved. It’s a result of human genetic and cultural diversity not discrimination.


        • Shad Williams

          Wow. Data! Reason! What a concept.

      • Vladdy

        1. It also is not clear that it is “racism,: but the gov. will call it that. Ever hear of how blacks supposedly ge4 harsher penalties? Yeah, ‘cos they are likely to create more serious criimes.

        Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.

      • Geoyce Chatman

        I have taught in suburban schools where children behave badly and get a slap on the rest and in urban schools where students can get detiention for being a minute late coming from the lunchroom. There are disparities. In Toledo, I taught ia pilot program to prevent teen pregnancy back in the late 1980s at two junior highs. One had a black principal and the other had a white principal. The school with the black principal had almost all black students, who the principal greeted by name when they arrived each day. The list of suspensions and detentions in that school had no more than a couple of names on it each day. At the other school which had almost equal numbers of black, white, and Hispanic students had two pages of detentions and suspensions. Often it’s a manner of perception. Behavior exhibited by black students considered aggressive by whites is often seen as just “letting off steam” or “kids being kids” when exhibited by white students. May not be racism, but it definitely shows lack of culutural proficiency and some prejudice.

    • Shad Williams

      It appears that KoeniginLuisevonPreussen
      is simply taking the opportunity to express its own bigoted well deformed character.

      • Philoponus

        What bigotry? Where? It’s fairly obvious to anyone who pays attention and isn’t willfully blind that these disparities in discipline rates and academic performance are almost *certainly* due to factors that have nothing to do with discrimination, i.e., demographic disparities in behavior and demonstrated academic ability.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t think that one can draw that conclusion with any certainty. The discipline rates just show the rates at which students are disciplined. They’re not a magic measure of the rates at which students misbehave. There are a number of factors that come into play here. You should take a look at that Chicago Tribune article linked above, which looks at some of the reasons behind this.

          • Vladdy

            Better idea. Don’t look at the Chicago Tribuen. Spend a year at least subbing, if not teaching, in a ghetto school. You willl quickly see that the black kids actually get away with MORE misbehavior and more serious misbehavior.

            No officense, but to believe the Tribue is just dopey.

    • The Autis Project

      I have read the comments, and I find most of them to be very ignorant and conducive of people of European descent, and the mentalities that are condition with educational system itself on every level.. Whites tend to think that they know everything that there is to know about other cultures, ethnic groups and races, especially when it comes to African Americans. There attitude often is all knowing because they have education and have been learned. This is not true. The educational system itself was established for wealthy white males in Boston in 1617, to maintain there wealth which built was off the back of black slaves and white indentured servants. The education system was to maintain this white privilege mentality and so it is today. There are very good white teachers but there are culture dynamics in which children learn. The system itself does not teach, teachers how to deal with various cultures, ethnics groups, but rather to teach people how gain employment in various industrial systems and maintain then. Diversity in the workplace is not the same as cultural dynamics. When white children go to school they learn from their own, about their history. African American children in many cases do not, and what they do learn is compartmentalized, limited to black history, and distorted with just learning bits and pieces about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Nobody is from America and all races come from Africa. White teachers cannot teach black children about their history and culture because they don’t know it. White teachers don’t understand the behavior of African American children, because they are not African American. They do not listen to African American teachers and their recommendations, because nobody black can tell them anything, because they are all knowing. 80% of what we use, see built and created was that of Black people, because they were the original people. Standardized test does not measure intelligence its designed to see if the students can take a test or not. Until there is a change in the delivery information, and how it its give, and what is being taught and how teachers are trained. There will not be a change with the students.

  • Anonymous

    Did they look at Asian students? Groups were in different environments for thousands of years and they might have different average traits.

    • Anonymous

      The Asian enrollment in Toledo schools is small–less than 1 percent of total enrollment. The district didn’t report any disciplinary actions for Asian students for the 2010-11 school year.

      • Anonymous

        Ok, thanks. As you’ll see from my comments, in my view equal processes will invariably still have statistically unequal outcomes in part due to human genetic diversity (cultural factors & parental involvement are obviously also very important). I appreciate this is not a popular view, but it makes some sense to me in terms of the patterns in the UK and anthropological research as discussed by Cochran & Harpending. Criminologist Anthony Walsh also looks at these issues in his book on Biosocial theories of crime.

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