Discipline quotas

Tucson has adopted racial/ethnic quotas for discipline, writes Heather Mac Donald on City Journal.

Schools that suspend or expel Hispanic and black students at higher rates than white students will now get a visit from a district “Equity Team” and will be expected to remedy those disparities by reducing their minority discipline rates.

Administrators say suspended students “lose valuable learning time,”  widening the ethnic academic achievement gap.

Such thinking ignores the students who are not disrupting class or threatening teachers and who also lose valuable learning time when unruly or violent students remain in the classroom.

Mac Donald offers help for Tucson principals told to examine the “root causes” of disparate rates of suspension: “The root cause of disparate rates of suspension is disparate rates of bad behavior.”

What’s the root cause of bad behavior? Cherchez the absent father, Mac Donald suggests.

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  1. I’m with Heather McDonald on this, what a disastrous idea. Examining root causes may be a very good idea, but setting a quota by racial group encourages focussing on meeting the quotas, not on root causes.
    It’s like how people try to meet graduation rate targets by lowering the skills needed for graduation.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Don’t educators know quotas never work and if a child needs disciplining then discipline them (yes, knowing the students and what is happening in their lives is very important but it should not excuse poor behavior or weak decision making, kids need to learn choices have consequences)…yep the kids still run the schools…teachers, have fun.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Should part of discipline be aimed at helping other students. How much harder is it to learn in a classroom with a couple of disruptive students.

    This is just another example of schools being more interested in the worse student than in the good students or even the average students.

    What is the benefit of keeping a few very disruptive students in school versus the costs of lower level of education?

  4. This is all the more reason to have some sort of alternative school. There are a large number of students who for one reason or another simply require more attention than can be given to them in a regular classroom.

    Some have learning disabilities. For others, it’s simply a question of not having enough attention at home. On more than one occasion I have found out that I was the adult male in that student’s life.

    Such students need more time and attention. It’s not fair to stick them in the same room with kids who just want to learn. Alternative settings often allow students to be quite successful who otherwise would be dropout statistics.

  5. Is it really so inobvious that quotas are demonstrations of the evenhandedness of the those who administer the system?

    Quotas are the unpuncturable proof of moral rectitude since the rationale is that quotas mandate fair and equitable outcomes rather then letting nature take its course and simply assuming fair and equitable outcomes will result. After all, administrators are order-givers so when presented with a problem they give orders. Quotas obviate the need to prove you’re not a racist.

  6. Wait, am I reading this wrong, or will schools that are expelling large-ish numbers of Black and Hispanic students have to look for reasons to expel white students now, to keep things equal?

  7. Ricki – this has been the de facto case in a couple of the MD suburbs of DC for decades. White and Asian kids get disciplined for minor stuff, to balance serious/dangerous stuff from the “others”.

    Absolutely, the uninterested and the troublemakers get more resources. The kids trying to learn something pay the price. Sigh…

    I think the constructivist curriculum, social promotion, mainstreaming and differentiated instruction are also to blame. Middle and high school kids in heterogeneous classrooms who are either totally lost or totally bored are likely to be discipline problems.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Suppose your kid is white and is assaulted by a black kid. Nothing happens to the black kid because…the principal has maxed his minority push-out, and/or he’d rather be sued by an amateur with limited resources, you, than the professionals with unlimited legal resources.
    Happened to a special needs nephew.
    How this is supposed to improve support for public schools among those who pay the taxes is beyond me.

  9. This seems like an obviously bad idea. However, there has been a lot of research done which has found very unequal discipline outcomes for white and minority students who commit the same sort of infractions. I’m sure that this quota thing is an attempt to rectify that problem.

  10. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I lived in one of those MD suburbs. At one point, to get the detention numbers up, they took most of my AP Calc class in a hall sweep– because we were in the hall after the bell. Because the classroom was locked, and the teacher got there after the bell rang to unlock it, so only a couple of kids made it in before the security guards came through.

    We were mad, but I think the teacher was even madder– she lost about 20 minutes of class time while they took down names and wrote detention slips!

    But hey….. at least the detention statistics looked better, right?

  11. It is sad that many teens cannot control themselves in high school, but this kind of policy simply won’t help. It will make administrators and school board members feel better about themselves, but that’s it. Vile behaviors will proliferate; the unsuspended kids will still fail to learn much, while demoralizing teachers and dragging down other students with them.

    A sounder solution would be to insure that all Tuscon kids get a super-solid, content-rich education K-8, so that they can read well and do math when they get to high school. Also Tuscon elementary schools should have a strict, no-nonsense tone that gets kids accustomed to playing by the rules and controlling their impulses.

  12. Richard Nieporent says:

    However, there has been a lot of research done which has found very unequal discipline outcomes for white and minority students who commit the same sort of infractions.

    How is that possible rebeccat? Are you accusing all of those left-wing Democrats schoolteachers of being racist? Certainly we know that the teacher’s union loves to have minorities in public schools. Isn’t that the reason why they prevent them from getting vouchers so that they can go to private schools?

  13. Most teachers will agree that there is nothing more frustrating or demoralizing than having a student who forced us to write a referral (writing too many referrals is already a stigma for teachers in most schools) sent back to us with no punishment. Tying that sense of frustration to the fact that the students involved are minorities is a dangerous road to turn down.

    This policy will hurt no one more than the minority students it claims to help. They are the ones who will be sitting in class with bullies who are immune to punishment, insulted by the implication they can’t behave as well as white students, and let off the hook for behaviors that will make them successful later in life.

    Then, this wave of students will graduate into a workforce reluctant to hire minorities because of bad experiences with troublemakers Tuscan taught to think their high school behavior is acceptable on the job.

    Let schools handle discipline. A detention won’t ruin anyone’s life. A lack of real education will.

  14. My neighbors daughter graduated from Boston Latin about 7 years ago and was enrolled when the courts forced them to get rid of their racial quotas for acceptance into the school. The school openly attempted to impose new acceptance plans that were race neutral but would engineer similar end results and had those smacked down as well. Both the daughter and father told me that the school no longer enforced discipline against minority kids when she was there and eventually it was disclosed that the school had failed to report to the police or take disciplinary actions in at least 2 sexual assault incidents.

  15. Just silly nonsense.

  16. Why no gender quotas? I’m assuming significantly more than 50% of the suspensions are males who are losing valuable learning time.

  17. I suppose the next step is a quota system for convictions for murder, assault, robbery, rape, etc.  If racial disparity in school punishments is wrong, isn’t the same in real life also wrong?

    There is evidence that this is happening; see The Failure of Law Enforcement by El Ingles at Vlad Tepes Blog.

  18. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Let’s do a little off-the-cuff reductio. The principle is: there must be racial justice in school discipline.

    Over what time period do we measure this? By quarter? By semester? By year?

    Why not do it by WEEK? Or daily?

    Why not have a strict progression-rule: if a white kid gets in trouble, the next kid punished has to be non-white, and so forth. No racial group can be allowed to get more than 1 infraction ahead.

    That way if the count is full, and TWO white kids commit some sort of horrible act, only one of them can be punished!

    It’s racial justice.

    And why do it only on a schoolwide basis?

    Why not have racial discipline quotas for each classroom?

    Or better yet: for each SIDE of a classroom. If a white student gets in trouble in Row 2, then the next student who gets in trouble in Row 2 has to be Black. If a row only has white students, well, then only one student from that Row can EVER get in trouble. For all of time.

    It’s racial justice.

  19. Educators seem to be particularly resistent to the concept of looking for root causes and trying to prevent problems–rather than just responding to them. The word quota is all over the article–but I don’t see that this is what the district is going for. The have set and indicator that demonstrates a problem. Further, they have established a team to help further identify the causes of the problem and arrive at solutions.

    What educators are responding with, however, is ways that this rather sensible process can be circumvented by just manipulating the data–in fact through self-imposed quotas. As Rebeccat points out, research has frequently pointed out that discipline is unevenly dispensed across racial lines for the same offenses. Now, given the realities pointed out–that kids who aren’t in school aren’t learning–it would seem that a good way to begin moving those numbers down would be to attack the inequities.

    McDonald, however sees it differently. Inequitable rates of discipline can only come from racially linked differences in behavior. Which she has a handy explanation for:

    “I can save them some time: the root cause of disparate rates of suspension is disparate rates of bad behavior. As for the root cause of that bad behavior, the biggest one is single parenting. If the Tucson school board wants to publicize the essential role of fathers in raising law-abiding children, it might start solving the problem of disciplinary imbalance.”

    Think she might be profiling?

  20. Jason Bontrager says:

    I have to wonder why schools with lots of disruptive students don’t simply put all those troublemakers in the *same class*. Write them off, but don’t expel them or otherwise discipline them. Give their teacher a Pope-mobile safety cage and let the students act out all they want. Then the students who can actually benefit from an education can get one, and those who can’t are kept out of the way, off the streets, and don’t show up in disciplinary statistics.

  21. Jason,
    that is called tracking and it is a horrifyingly common strategy.

  22. Mrs. Lopez says:

    The Pope-mobile part?

  23. Jason Bontrager says:

    Hey, whatever works. Better a few troublemakers don’t get an education than that they be allowed to prevent everyone else from getting an education. There are not going to be any perfect solutions, so you do the best you can with what you’ve got.

  24. Bill Leonard says:

    Richard Aubrey writes, “How this is supposed to improve support for public schools among those who pay the taxes is beyond me.”

    Exactly. I wonder how many administrators and bureaucrats in Tucson will make the connection as the flow to private schools, charter schools and home schooling becomes a flood?

  25. Richard Aubrey says:

    You seem particularly resistant to the idea that different cultural and ethnic groups are…different. That there may be different levels of bad behavior.
    I don’t know how the schools are supposed to attack the root causes when the root causes are part of minority cultures which must not, ever, be judged. See Bill Cosby’s reception among the race hustlers and liberal chattering class.
    Went to a district library branch yesterday. It’s not far from a high school where the visiting football team forms a hollow square to escort the cheerleaders to and from the buses.
    It’s the only one I’ve ever seen with huge floodlights in the parking lot and a large sign explaining the twenty-four hour video surveillance.
    (For reasons not germane to this discussion, I go to a LOT of library branches.)
    What, Margo, is the school supposed to do about the malefactors whose actions require this kind of caution?

  26. I have a dream that some day my little children will be judged…oh, the heck with it.

  27. Richard, there are plentiful research and recommendations. George Sugai is the leading researcher regarding positive behavioral support. Sorry to say PBS is more complex than is commonly conceived (handing out token rewards for good behavior). It involves systematic and systemic examination of factors that support and feed misbehavior (unsupervised areas, inadvertant reward systems–such as attention or time-off, multiple conflicting or unclear sets of expectations throughout the school). When these kinds of systemic improvements are in place, there are generalized changes in behavior that allow for more intensive responses to students with more specialized needs (either preventive through a focus on learning acceptable behavior for kids with high levels of risk, or responsive for a very small number with actual pathologies).

    In point of fact, I have probably encountered more lower-income and minority parents who are aghast at the chaotic conditions of their schools than middle-class and white. Granted, they are experiencing two different sets of conditions. But frequently the question from low-income and minority parents is why aren’t these schools doing something? Some will join the clamor for kicking out more bad kids, or punishing them. But some also understand that there are specific actions to take to prevent some of the mess. For some these responses are deeply internalized (as a part of their culture) and they do not understand why the white kid (now a teacher) who graduated last year after four years isolation from kids, and a lifetime in a totally different world, doesn’t have this same internal tool kit.

    But–also important is the examination of school response to students of different cultures. When research shows that minority students on average receive more severe response to the same infractions, we also have to ask what goes into a teacher/school response. What meaning does behavior have for a teacher when it is observed in a minority child as opposed to a white child. If a group of white male teens is spotted on a corner, they are not routinely assumed to be a gang. Not so true of black male teens–particularly if the corner is in a low-income neighborhood.

    This is really difficult stuff to confront because nobody likes to see it in themselves. But, it is there–and it affects both the minority and the majority.

  28. Richard Aubrey says:

    Margo. Of course, minority parents are generally aghast at what goes on in low-income area public schools. So what? They aren’t the ones making the trouble.
    They’d really like to have a shot at private or charter schools, if they could make the fare. Unfortunately, professional educators and the president don’t like that.
    The problem is what to do with those making the trouble.
    Unfortunately, minority solidarity sometimes overcomes the “aghast” piece. Don’t snitch. Cops are the enemy.
    John DiIulio wrote on crime and punishment and suggested that, although blacks suffer most from crime, solving that would involve locking up so many of their friends and relatives that there would be resistance.
    Now, let’s presume that the new methods of changing behavior work. Until they do work–they can’t work instantly–what do we do with those who are misbehaving?
    I know. The non-misbehavers are supposed to remain as punching bags for the punks.
    Well, you do your thing and the prospective victims will be taking themselves elsewhere.
    Then what?

  29. Well, Richard, I have been preaching PBS on deaf ears for at least a decade to my local school. How’s that working out? Well the union finally succeeded in having their way, which was to layer on yet another way to get kids out of the classroom (in addition to in-school suspension, out of school suspension, expulsion, a special high school for kids on long-term suspension along with ED classrooms and special schools) in the form of a new special school for kids who are “chronic disrupters.” All of these assume that the problem resides within the individual kid.

    Finally, the district has also determined that they will adopt PBS, although the available training has been minimal (a “train the trainer” approach). Their first task was to rewrite the code of conduct and in so doing illustrated that they have no understanding at all yet of the implications of PBS. Actual implementation may have been more successful so far at the elementary level, where there it is more likely for teachers to assume some responsibility for behavior on the playground, in the hallways and at lunch, etc. At middle and high school I still get blank looks when I bring up the topic. Is the district tracking and reporting on anything that would help to evaluate the success of this program (or the school for chronic disrupters)? Of course not. They report on things like the number of hours of training, or number of students referred. They construct a narrative of how this might play out if implemented and present it as if this is actually happening in all schools.

    And many, due to charter schools and a voucher system for students in schools with poor academic results, are in fact going elsewhere, as you suggest. The district is closing buildings on an annual basis.

    But, I’m sure it’s not the district. It’s the kids and their families, isn’t it? Their culture is lacking.

  30. Margo, it may not be their culture. There are plenty of white kids whose behavior is disruptive in low-income white schools. But, creating a PBS plan for every misbehaving student is not practical (much though I’m in favor of PBS, it’s really an intervention designed for children with IEP’s, and in particular children with severe emotional, cognitive, or behavioral disabilities). We really have a right to expect that children will be socialized at home. That they will have learned, at levels appropriate to their ages, to be patient when bored, stoical when others pester them, able to be silent when others are talking, and not anxious to be in people’s faces. These are skills that can be taught at home, and need to be taught at home. Not that children/teens don’t sometimes fall off of that wagon, but really, it is not bigoted or repressive to hope that the basics of self-control have been learned by the time children are starting school, and that that self-control will grow with encouragement from home as the school years pass by, until high schoolers are acting more or less like adults.

  31. Richard Aubrey says:

    The culture question applies to the disproportionate–higher or lower–incidence of disruptive or assaultive behavior in various distinct ethnic groups.
    It also allows Margo & Co. to imply that, since the variations vary by race, pointing them out may be racist, profiling, stereotyping, etc.
    In the old days, this sometimes worked.
    Margo didn’t get the message. Nobody worries about such bogus accusations any longer.

  32. “But, creating a PBS plan for every misbehaving student is not practical (much though I’m in favor of PBS, it’s really an intervention designed for children with IEP’s, and in particular children with severe emotional, cognitive, or behavioral disabilities).”

    This is a serious misunderstanding of PBS. In fact, Sugai points out that in an environment that where PBS is regarded only as special planning for kids with behavioral challenges, those kids are nearly doomed to failure if the rest of the environment is not also addressed.

    Mr. Aubrey–perhaps you would be so kind as to address the proven disparity, along racial lines, of the severity of responses to identical behavior. This is a real issue, whether you want it to be or not.

  33. “That they will have learned, at levels appropriate to their ages, to be patient when bored, stoical when others pester them, able to be silent when others are talking, and not anxious to be in people’s faces. These are skills that can be taught at home, and need to be taught at home.”

    Anon–one year my daughter’s school had a PTA President with a serious type A personality. She set herself a goal of having a parent volunteer in every classroom for every day of the first week of school. I got a phone call, and since I had elected to run my vacation over into the first week of school, I was available to show up in my daughter’s first grade classroom. I got to watch something that I might not have otherwise. During the first part of class, the teacher had a number of bookkeeping tasks to attend to (attendance, lunch counts, etc). So, she started off with some seat work that they were to do, and instructed the class that when finished they were to select a book from the shelf and engage in free reading time silently at their seat.

    The first child finished did so. The next few, however, took a bit longer, started chatting with one another, drifting off, etc. I watched while every instinct in me said to issue a reminder of what was expected–but the teacher missed it. Meanwhile the children were eying the teacher. Her words had given them a clear message, which her behavior was now belying. What did she mean? Should they follow her words, or were they free now to wander the room and have conversation as her behavior was implying. Eventually the classroom was very noisy and children were in places other than their seats or at the book shelf. And the teacher started to yell angrily. The class was out of control and so was she. I am certain that she thought that they were being bad. I would say that they were being misled–not that they didn’t make choices, but that the wrong choices (which tended to be self-reinforcing) were allowed to move forward until there was chaos.

    Developing those instincts (knowing when to stop behavior before it derails completely) and expecting such actions to have an impact comes partially from experience, partially from reflection on what works vs what does not, and partially from believing that one’s actions will have an impact. Without this, I have seen well-trained children from the best of families go far astray. With this, I have seen children with minimal “home training” eager to do right.

  34. No, it is not a misunderstanding of PBS. One thread of opinion holds that PBS can/should be implemented as a school-wide behavior management system, but the research to indicate that this is a feasible way to operate schools, or a desirable way to help children mature into good adult behavior, is lacking. At present, it is a theory with limited implementation. We haven’t, in this country (or any other) decided as a community that we want to hold schools responsible for molding students’ behavior in this fairly global way.

    That’s not to say, Margo, that schools can’t have an impact on student behavior; they clearly can, and they should be expected to have rational and consistent ways of guiding students either to encourage mature behavior or to remediate unacceptable behavior. But PBS, for most, would represent undue intrusion on the lives of students when a better alternative is for them to get the guidance they need at home.

  35. Fascinating. We do PBS district-wide. It isn’t intrusive into students’ lives in any significant way that, say, a detention or conference with the principal wouldn’t be.

    While there’s some overlap with IEP students (mostly those with ED), it isn’t about them at all.

    Not a cure-all, but has been pretty effective in cutting hall misbehavior, fights, tardies, etc.

  36. Oops — just updated my knowledge of PBS, especially the schoolwide kind. My apologies for ignorantly asserting that it would be intrusive — it’s clearly not. Time consuming, maybe, but not intrusive. Yet, the fact that it seems to be effective for schools and school systems like yours, Lightly Seasoned, doesn’t diminish the reality that it’s always good to at least hope that students will arrive at school with little need for this kind of overt teaching/coaching/monitoring of their behavior. Guess I’d better go and observe in a school that uses PBS, to get over my feeling that (at least at the high school level), it amounts to keeping the training wheels on for too long.

  37. Oh, I’m all for having kids arrive with social skills, believe me. It is an additional burden on our limited instructional time when I have to explain to a student how to behave. It also shifts a great deal of discipline from the office to the teacher (with the hope, I guess, that it just gets reduced so it ceases to be a burden to anyone… still…).

    I gather ours is one of only a few high school buildings doing PBS. I’m not on that particular committee, but we do have people in observing us all the time.

  38. Anon–I live in “the hood.” My choice, I have a great old house and have had some terrific neighbors. I am on the fringe of a “changing” neighborhood, meaning that folks are buying up beautiful old mansions that were turned into boarding houses when demographics shifted to the suburbs and restoring them.

    Some parts of my neighborhood really DO Hallowe’en–decorations, costumes, all that. My block not so much–but I do like sitting out front with my bucket of goodies. This year the first callers approached down the block at dusk. I heard them coming. Their language was foul, they were large and I wasn’t expecting them to be trick or treaters. When they were almost to the house, one of them whipped a mask out of his bookbag and put it on. I said something to them, along the lines of, “oh, you are trick or treating–you better watch your language.” I also reminded them that there were lots of little kids and and they needed to watch how they talk. They left with their candy, saying “yes, ma’am.” Point is–they had good home training. Most of the low-income, minority kids in my neighborhood have learned at home a formality and respect for elders that exceeds that of my own home culture–or many more middle class kids. On my street, I am ALWAYS referred to as Ms. Margo. Because kids get in trouble for calling adults by their first name. Personally I am a first name person–and in most settings where I worked with kids this has been appropriate. But I have learned consistency with home culture in providing and accepting the Ms.

    This doesn’t mean every parent is stellar–as I can also guarantee is the case in more middle class neighborhoods. But the fact that so few people see the home training and culture that is there is a problem.

  39. Richard Aubrey says:

    Whether there is a discrepancy in penalties for behaviors is a difficult question. It allows for advocates to make equivalences between different behaviors and, presto, different penalties for similar behaviors.
    I have dealt with activists long enough to NOT TRUST them in any, least, littlest, tiniest way. NONE.
    So until the possibility/certainty that the studies are making equivalences between different behaviors is solved to my satisfaction, I don’t intend to worry about the findings.
    In the Detroit area, there were various folks interviewed in the papers, activists, parents, and so forth, who thought the black kids should be given more scope because certain words were so common in their environment that calling a teacher one of them didn’t actually mean anything. And because their home and neighborhood circumstances were so bleak, a certain amount of violence had to be expected.
    I don’t follow the Detroit papers much any longer, and this was about ten years ago, so I don’t know if anybody’s still pitching this. However, with that as part of the background, the idea that we know for certain that the behaviors receiving different penalties are actually equivalent is suspect. Who says they’re equivalent? Let’s have details. We know, for example, that the NCVS brings us different numbers than we get from, for example, the FBI, and different numbers than we get from various advocacy groups. All but the first are filtered through the criminal justice system, which makes them subject to arbitrary classification.
    The fact remains, see NCVS, that blacks commit more violent crimes per capita than other ethnic groups. To presume this is not the case in school would be fatuous.
    Until it can be proven not to be the case in school, a fair penalty system is going to have racially disproportionate penalty outcomes.

    BTW. Somebody left a Detroit paper in the break room this morning. Long article on how crime rules the streets in Detroit and how law enforcement is becoming less and less effective. Hard to think of a public school being completely invulnerable to the myriad influences.

  40. This thread is getting pretty far afield, but Margo, you’ve pointed out something that both supports and also undercuts your case. I agree that many low-income, minority youth do have a home culture that teaches respect (I live in a neighborhood like yours). But, too often the respect gets left behind when the kids go out the door. And for some, it REALLY gets left behind when the child walks into the school. Part of this is no doubt due to the discomfort/pain of being in a historically marginalized group, the desire to dominate in a setting where acting out can achieve that goal, and other understandable reasons. Definitely one of those is that dynamic of high school students who’ve received weak instruction, then been socially promoted feeling out of their depth. But permitting disruptive behavior doesn’t help the child. Most kids will tell you that they don’t respect you when you allow them to get away with bad behavior. The fact that children have been taught respect at home is a good thing, but it needs to be reflected in classroom behavior and too often it isn’t. And I include self-respect and respect for peers in this paradigm.

  41. “But permitting disruptive behavior doesn’t help the child.”

    And is there something in anything that I have said that leads you to believe that I advocate permitting disruptive behavior? This is what makes me crazy in these discussions. There are two options–kick the kid out or allow disruptive behavior. That is just silly.