Discipline: Playing the numbers game

If black students are suspended at a higher rate than white students, is that discrimination? The Obama administration’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating a Florida school district on charges its discipline policies have a “disparate impact” on black students.

Black students made up 16 percent of Flagler students but accounted for 31 percent of the in- and out-of-school suspensions in the 2010-11 school year, the complaint states. Black students accounted for 69 percent of those expelled.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held hearings on School Discipline and Disparate Impact. “Most, but not all of the teachers reported no effort by school administrators to interfere with classroom discipline, but some reported onerous procedural and paperwork burdens before any disruptive student could be removed from class,” according to the executive summary.

School administrators said it’s important to tell students “what the rules are; why the school has those rules, what the consequences are for violating those rules, and being consistent in applying the rules.” (No kidding!)

Jamie Frank, a teacher who’s taught in a variety of schools, said pressure to meet accountability targets affected discipline policies.

. . .  in some school districts teachers were ordered to reduce racially-disparate suspensions in spite of threatening behaviors toward teachers involving weapons. For example, in her school teachers were ordered to substitute a day of “exclusion” at home for what otherwise would have been a suspension. Her view was that the schools felt pressured to pass some minority students through high school regardless of how many days they did not appear for classes to keep graduation numbers high for each racial group.

. . . Ms. Frank said that in her school the administrators were told to reduce their suspension numbers. As a result, they developed a euphemism –“in-school exclusion or intervention” — which allowed the school to avoid reporting the data as suspensions. In addition, the teachers had to fill out a form that required contacting a parent three times before disciplinary action was possible, and that usually a minority student simply reappeared in school even if parents did not respond.

Commissioner Kirsanow asked about the effect of retaining disruptive students on the learning experience.

“Horrible,” said Frank.

About Joanne


  1. “As a result, they developed a euphemism –“in-school exclusion or intervention” — which allowed the school to avoid reporting the data as suspensions.”
    We have this too.

  2. If male students are suspended at a higher rate than female students, is that discrimination?

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Darla: You’ve heard of the more-equal-than-others thing, I presume?
      Since pub ed ‘crats are good at pretending bafflement when people take their kids elsewhere, I don’t suppose this will make much difference to them.

  3. Miller Smith says:

    Our union’s response to suspension reduction plans has been to go straight to law enforcement, the courts-both civil and criminal, lawsuits against parents directly, and orders of
    protection. We have decided to report students to admin on our way out the door to criminally charge the student and sue the parent. Admin is requred to move the student from our class to another class when we do this or find another school for the student.
    Union response to the upset parents is to tell them that if their child had been properly disciplined by admin legal action would not have occured. Admin is still stunned.

    • In other words, you’ve become a pumping station on the “school-to-prison pipeline”.

      I don’t expect this administration to acknowledge that some people belong in prison, even some of those who are barely “youths”.  I expect even more discussion and hand-wringing before we largely agree that some people shouldn’t become parents so soon or even at all, and adopt policies which actually bring about changes.

      • Miller Smith says:

        Yes Poet, we’ve decided to become high horsepower pumps from school to prison for the students who decide to be violent criminals who physically harm or threaten to harm staff or other students.
        It is Interesting that the victims and families of victims support our actions. I guess we didn’t get the memo that we should “just relax and take the beating.”
        We should have done this long ago as admin and parents of criminal students have been forced by the courts and legal actions of victims to focus on the real problem-the violent wacked-out child. Instead of blaming the school for suspending or expelling too much of the politically incorrect demographics, each case gets judged on its individual merits without regard to statistical pressures admin has towards their own evaluations.
        But I take it that you, Poet, prefer some other reaponse?

        • This kind of response is too infrequent and has been too long delayed.When I was a kid, such kids went to the juvenile justice/security side of the state residential school for kids. (It also had facilities for orphans and abandoned kids)

          When I lived in MoCo, after the onset of its prized socioeconomic integration program, one of the kindergarten classes at the neighboring school was being terrorized by a newly-integrated kid who screamed, hit, kicked, bit, threw books and chairs and had attacked classmates and adults with scissors. She was big enough that removing her from the class required three adults. Her mother refused to allow testing for emotional disorders, because she said that would be racist. Sorry, Mom, regardless of color, whether your kid is a spoiled brat in need of good dose of discipline or a psych case in need of treatment, she needs to be removed from regular classes until such time as she can behave. The other kids and the teacher should NEVER be forced to take such abuse.

          As for those who piously trot out the “school-to-jail” meme, they need to be reminded that the same kids who won’t follow school rules are very likely to be the same kids who won’t obey the law. School suspensions or expulsions aren’t the problem; it’s correlation, not causation.

          • Richard Aubrey says:

            momof four. Don’t leave us hanging. What was eventually done–or not done–about the kid?

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          It is not surprising to find that many objections to reasonable discipline don’t seem to be concerned about the student victims or the adult victims of the undisciplined.

          • The kid stayed in the school for the whole year, at which time we moved out of the area, so I don’t know what happened after that. The politicians and admins who allow this kind of situation would never tolerate it for their own kids. Some kids simply need to be removed; whether to alternative schools or juvenile justice.

        • I take it that you, Poet, prefer some other reaponse?

          Schools used to have many more tools at their disposal, and it would be great if they were brought back in lieu of the time and expense involved in kicking things up to law enforcement.  My first sentence was sarcastic; your union is doing what it must given what it has to work with.

    • John Thompson says:

      This has become a prime disagreement between my daughter and me. I’m an old-fashioned 60 year old white liberal who teaches at an alternative school for discipline problems. (most of my kids say they would have been better off if they had been referred to alt ed a few years earlier, instead of being allowed to run wild)

      She is a black graduate, from extreme generational poverty, of the school that refers the most students to our school. I hate the criminalizational of discipline and I’ve often participated in union efforts to presuade the district to enforce its disclipine policies. To me, it is cowardice to have a kid get a $500 ticket (yes its jumped from $240 to $500!) for fighting because the school refuses to enforce its rules. In her eight year of teaching and growing up in the hood, she is convinced that the school will never enforce its rules. So, she and other young teachers support the arrests as the only option available.

      • Miller Smith says:

        One outcome, however unintended, is the calculus parents make when looking to transfer out of trouble from the school that didn’t want to do anything to another school. Upon hearing how the teachers at Bowie High will “go hard” by instantly going legal, we tend to have parents choose schools that also do nothing.
        Principals of We Are Victims High have the nerve to complain that they “have to take” the students we won’t. They pretend not to understand that the choice was made by the parent…for their school.

      • John, I agree with your students. On some level, it is disrespectful to let kids run wild. It implies that their education and the education of their peers is not worth protecting, and it implies that they are incapable of better behavior. If it takes an alternative setting to help them learn self-control, then I’m fine with that.

  4. Parent comment is link spam.