Behavior explains discipline disparity


Angel Rojas, shot to death on a New York City bus, is mourned by his wife and children. A Dominican immigrant, Rojas worked two jobs to support his family. — New York Daily News

Kahton Anderson, 14, charged with opening fire on a Brooklyn bus and killing a 39-year-old man, shows what’s wrong with the racism meme, writes Heather Mac Donald in National Review.

The day before Anderson shot at a rival “crew” member and killed a passenger, the Obama department released data showing that black students are suspended at three times the rate of white students. “The civil-rights industry predictably greeted this information as yet more proof that schools are biased against black students,” writes Mac Donald.

But “behavioral differences, not racism, drive the disparity between black and white student suspensions,” she argues.

Anderson was “frequently in trouble” in school, reports the New York Times.

Sometimes it was for violating the school’s uniform code or disrespectful chatter in class. . . . Sometimes it was worse: He had a sealed arrest from 2011, and often, high-school-age members of a crew students knew as “R&B” or “RB’z” — the initials stand for “Rich Boys” — loitered outside the school, waiting to fight him.

About three weeks after he got into a fight near school last year, he was transferred to Elijah Stroud Middle School in Crown Heights. . . .

But he seemed to do no better at Elijah Stroud, where he had been suspended from the early fall until very recently.

“The lack of impulse control that results in such mindless violence on the streets unavoidably shows up in the classroom as well,” writes Mac Donald. “It defies common sense that a group with such high rates of lawlessness outside school would display model behavior inside school.”

The Obama administration’s anti-suspension campaign will undermine school safety, argues Hans Bader, a former attorney in the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. He cites a study by University of Cincinnati criminologist John Paul Wright, which found racial disparities in suspensions and discipline are caused by disparities in student behavior.

Silent or spoiled for ‘Game of Thrones’

A French math teacher quiets classroom chatter by threatening to write Game of Thrones spoilers on the board. Most of his students are fans of the TV series. The teacher has read all the books.

When students defied him, he wrote the names of everyone killed through the end of the series’ third season on the board, reports Belgium’s Nieuwsblad, which picked up the story from a French site, DansTonChat. A “religious silence” was maintained for the rest of the lesson, a student said.

Expulsion is ‘heartbreaking but necessary’

Chicago charter schools expel 6 of every 1,000 students compared to .5 for public schools, the district reported. “At three campuses in the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which has faced backlash over its disciplinary approach, anywhere from 2 percent to nearly 5 percent of students were expelled in the last school year,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

Expulsion is heartbreaking but necessary, argues Michael Milkie, founder and superintendent of the Noble schools, in a Chicago Sun-Times commentary.

Milkie and his wife taught in Chicago public schools before starting Noble 15 years ago. They saw a disruptive minority make it difficult to teach and learn. Their 14 charter schools are known for strict discipline.  

We believed that the best way to support students’ success in college, career and life was to run schools with a culture of high expectations and personal accountability. 

. . . We’ve made a promise to our parents that their children will learn in a safe, calm and focused environment. We promise that our classrooms and halls will be free from violence and disruptive behavior. We promise that we will socially and academically support our students while holding high expectations for them despite the many social issues they face.

Noble schools don’t have metal detectors, police, bullying or fighting, Milkie writes. Attendance and graduation rates are high and 90 percent of graduates go on to college.

Students “who threaten the safety and environment of others” are expelled, he writes. The network’s expulsion rate is about 1 percent per year.  Noble will not “compromise the culture and learning environment of the 99 percent of students for the disruptive 1 percent.”

The well-meaning campaign to reduce suspensions and expulsions may backfire, writes Michael Goldstein on Puzzl_Ed, the Match Education blog. If a school environment is “crazy,” teachers will leave. “Kids in the most troubled schools typically lack choice.”

Goldstein remembers heartbreaking expulsion decisions in Match High‘s early years.

Fritz was carrying a weapon which he said . . . was to protect him from gang members in his neighborhood, and he would never use it in our school community. We believed him. We had a clear rule, though, and he was expelled. . . . You end up thinking crazy things like “Should our students be able to check their weapons at the door, like a saloon in the Wild West, and pick them up on the way home, because the police in Boston are utterly unable to protect (minority) kids from gangs?”

. . . There’s part of an educator that thinks “Hey if that was my kid, and he had to live in that unsafe neighborhood, and the reality was that yes, carrying a weapon poses obvious risks (of escalation, of arrest), but also genuinely also serves as a deterrent so he can go to and from school without humiliation, what would I tell my kid to do?” It’s not always an easy question.

Schools should be clear about rules and consequences, Goldstein concludes. Let parents decide whether they want a strict or lax regime.

Many Chicago and suburban public schools aren’t reporting campus violence, despite a state law, reports NBC.

Disciplining the undisciplined

Federal “guidance” on school discipline could “have a chilling effect . . . potentially leading to unruly and unsafe classrooms,” warned senior House Republicans in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The letter was too polite, writes Checker Finn in Disciplining the undisciplined. It will be harder to create “safe, serious, and effective learning environments” for students who want to learn.

A 23-page “Dear Colleague” letter warns against disciplinary practices that have a “disparate impact” on various groups of kids. University of Colorado political scientist Josh Dunn explains:

. . .  if students in one racial group are punished more than their percentage of the student population a school can expect the feds to come knocking at their door. In that investigation, federal bureaucrats will ask if a discipline policy had an “adverse” (disproportionate) impact on a particular race, if the policy is necessary to meet important educational goals, and if other effective policies could be substituted without the “adverse” effect. The guidelines are unsurprisingly short on what could count as an important educational goal and what policies might be suitable alternatives. If evenhandedly designed and implemented policies could fall afoul of their bureaucratic eye, then any policy could.

“The consequences for schools and particularly for minority students, will be nothing short of disastrous if actually implemented,” Dunn concludes.

A ‘no excuses’ school day

A Day in the Life of a No Excuses Charter School Student is highly regimented and repressive, writes Sarah Goodis-Orenstein on the Center for Teaching Quality site. After four years teaching English at a “no excuses” charter in Brooklyn, she switched to a more progressive charter school. She blogs at Making Room for Excuses.

At 7:40, the first period teacher rolls her cart in and immediately begins to issue commands. “Aside from two pencils, and your IR book in the top left corner of your desk, your desk should be cleared. As soon as you get your classwork packet, begin on your Do Now. You have 3 minutes.” A timer is set and placed under the document camera, and any students not on-task within thirty seconds are first reminded to get started, and then issued a demerit, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.

Class proceeds to enfold in a highly-systematic structure with a review of the warm-up, some sort of mini-lesson, some sort of guided practice, and a chunk of independent practice before the exit ticket is collected. Packets in hands high over their heads, the teacher snaps, and the last page is signaled to be torn from the staple in a crisp sound of unison tearing.

The teacher bustles out as the next teacher and her cart rolls in, ideally with less than 1 minute wasted in this transition, a transactional cost that, over the course of the year, equates to literal days of wasted learning.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks  of 10 or 15 minutes are “the only opportunities for unbridled conversation,” she writes. “Otherwise, during and between classes, students’ voices are to be ‘off’ unless specific accountable talk procedures or partner share expectations have been put into place.”

Students learn “that rigidity and compliance are predictors of success, and that imagination and interpersonal skills are of nominal use,” Goodis-Orenstein concludes. “They also likely learn that school is boring, that it has little relevance to their lives, or in the case of my last school, it is a place where white ladies try to control Black and Latino children.”

And, yet, no excuses schools narrow the achievement gap, giving students choice in life they wouldn’t have otherwise. And they tend to have long wait lists.

Suspended learning

Reformers should support the Obama administration’s effort to “reduce the overuse of suspensions and expulsions,” argues RiShawn Biddle in a Dropout Nation podcast. Harsh discipline pushes troubled kids out of school, he argues. And it doesn’t work.

Setting racial quotas for discipline will have a “disparate impact” on disruptive students’ classmates, writes Hans Bader. Their classroom safety and learning time will be sacrificed. 

Like crime rates, student misconduct rates aren’t the same across racial categories, Bader writes.

 The Supreme Court ruled many years ago that such racial disparities don’t prove racism or unconstitutional discrimination. But in guidance released last week by the Education and Justice Departments, the Obama administration signaled that it will hold school districts liable for such racial disparities under federal Title VI regulations. In the long run, the only practical way for school districts to comply with this guidance is to tacitly adopt unconstitutional racial quotas in school discipline.

Schools can be held liable for “racially disparate impact” for non-racist policies that unintentionally lead to more minority suspensions, writes Bader.

Many schools adopted zero-common-sense policies to avoid charges of racial bias. The new policy opposes zero-tolerance policies that mandate suspension or expulsion. It also discourages calling the police for school misbehavior, a growing trend.

The feds have no authority to set school discipline policies — unless they’re protecting minority or disabled students from discrimination. Of course, they could recommend more sensible and flexible discipline policies without bringing race into it, but they want to do more.

Los Angeles Unified is relaxing its zero-tolerance discipline policy, reports NPR. The district won’t issue “school police citations and court appearances for minor offenses such as fighting, loitering, underage drinking, and defacing desks and walls.” Instead, schools will try “restorative justice.”

Feds won’t tolerate ‘zero tolerance’

“Zero tolerance” policies — adopted to ensure uniform punishments — are too harsh, says the Obama administration, which issued an advisory on school discipline.

“Ordinary troublemaking can sometimes provoke responses that are overly severe, including out of school suspensions, expulsions and even referral to law enforcement and then you end up with kids that end up in police precincts instead of the principal’s office,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than non-disabled whites, according to federal civil rights data. That’s fueled the campaign for more flexible school discipline.

The recommendations encourage schools to train teachers and staff in classroom management and conflict resolution, offer counseling to students, teach social and emotional skills and avoid using security or police officers to handle routine discipline issues.

Training school administrators to make common-sense decisions about school safety. . . Can it be done?

Under “disparate impact doublespeak,” schools must make punishments fit the percentages, writes Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado political science professor, on Flypaper.

. . . schools still “violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies” that were adopted with no intent to discriminate “but nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”  Ordinary English users can be forgiven if they find themselves scratching their heads asking, “How could evenhanded and neutral policies actually be discriminatory?  Doesn’t discrimination require someone, you know, actually discriminating?”

. . . If we accept the guideline’s assumption that disruptive behavior should be evenly distributed across racial groups, Asian students are woefully underpunished.

Students who want to learn will be the losers, he predicts. Federal bureaucrats will be “winners since these guidelines give them another pretext to meddle in local schools.”

How parents choose schools

Georgia parents don’t choose private schools for their test scores, concludes More Than Scores, a study of the the state’s tax-credit scholarship program by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Parents who chose to use the scholarships at private schools cared most about disciplinary policies, learning climate, class sizes, safety and individual attention for their children.

Since 2008, Georgia students have been able to receive scholarships to private schools through nonprofits, which are funded by individual and corporate contributions. Donors get an offsetting state income tax credit.

Only 10.2 percent rated “higher standardized test scores” as one of their top five reasons for choosing a private school. Parents were most concerned about finding a safe, orderly school.

Most popular among respondents were:

“better student discipline” (50.9 percent),

“better learning environment” (50.8 percent),

“smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent),

“improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and

“more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).

Low-income parents give top priority to graduation rates and college acceptance rates in deciding on a school.

Pushed out

Let’s return to common-sense discipline and stop suspending, expelling and arresting students for minor offenses, argues Advancement Project. Overusing suspensions and replacing counselors with metal detectors and police creates a school-to-prison pipeline, the civil rights group believes.

The softer side of KIPP

KIPP schools aren’t militaristic or joyless — much less “concentration camps — write Alexandra M. Boyd, Robert Maranto and Caleb Rose in Education Next.

We found that schools that begin by establishing a culture of strict discipline, in neighborhoods where violence and disorder are widespread, ease off once a safe, tolerant learning environment is secured.

KIPPsters live up to the “work hard, be nice” slogan, but they “also play hard when the work is done,” they write after visiting 12 schools in five states. Despite the strong academic focus, the schools “make time for band, basketball, chess, prom, and any number of clubs.”

At KIPP McDonogh 15, a combined elementary and middle-school building in New Orleans’s French Quarter, the middle-school principal played music, and students and staff danced down the hallways as they moved from one class session to another. In the elementary school a floor below, some teachers took this concept a step further, using a lively musical transition from one lesson to another.

On most Friday afternoons, the New Orleans school schedules “celebration.” Students with no behavior demerits compete in a lottery for the chance to hit any teacher or administrator with a cream pie. A few days after researchers saw a popular third-grade teacher “pied,” a professor at the American Educational Research Association’s conference — a mile away — denounced KIPP as a “concentration camp.”

KIPP Blytheville College Preparatory School (BCPS) in Arkansas celebrated Geek Week in March culminating with Pi Day, on March 14 (3.14). A 6th-grade girl won the Pi Challenge by reciting 158 digits of pi. Then three teachers and three students smashed pie plates of whipped cream into each other’s faces.

It’s a concentration camp with music, dancing, pi and pie.