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.

Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”

How black, Latino males succeed

Black and Latino males who are doing well in high school credit their parents’ high expectations, relationships with caring teachers, a respectful, college-going culture in their high schools and a desire to get out of poverty.

Succeeding in the City, a study by Penn Education Professor Shaun Harper, is based on interviews with New York City juniors and seniors with a B average or higher in college-prep classes. All were engaged in school activities and planning to enroll in college.

Two-thirds of the students’ mothers and three-quarters of their fathers lacked any college degree. However 45 percent lived with two parents, which is above average for low-income urban neighborhoods.

“Staying on track can mean staying indoors,” writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.

When asked how they avoided being drawn into gang activity in their neighborhoods, many of the students said their parents prohibited all outdoor activity after dark. Some students said that having a reputation as a serious scholar headed for college actually protected them from gang conscription. Many of the respondents also stayed on campus long after classes ended for the day in order to do their studying and hang out with friends, often as a means of avoiding the disruptive neighborhood environment.

Harper also tracked 90 young male black and Latino college students from the same high schools. “Students said they had difficulty with time management–in high school, teachers were careful not to overload students with competing assignments due on the same day, and a student who asked for an extension would likely get one.”

All the high school students could name a teacher who’d helped them succeed. None of the college students could name a supportive professor.

Chicago closes 50 schools

Chicago is closing 49 elementary schools and one high school. All are underenrolled and underperforming.  Most are in black neighborhoods.

Closing neighborhood schools won’t help low-income, inner-city students, writes Marilyn Rhames, a charter school teacher who backs most education reforms.

How will destabilizing up to 30,000 students and making many of them cross into vicious gang territory to attend rival schools make them learn better? How will increasing class size to well over 30 students improve academic results? How does making the African-American community, which will bear 90 percent of the burden, feel bullied and disenfranchised work to enhance parental and civic involvement with the school district?

. . . There aren’t enough iPads, air conditioning, new libraries, and start-up IB programs at the new schools to make me go along with this.

Closing only the worst schools would have given the district time to perfect its implementation plans, Rhames writes. ” Right now the district is asking firefighters to double as glorified security and crossing guards!”

In this story, a Chicago mother says “if you’re not teaching children, it needs closing.”

High school in a war zone

President Obama condemned the wave of violence in Chicago in a speech at Hyde Park Career Academy. He said “the solution is not only more gun laws, but community intervention and economic opportunity in impoverished neighborhoods.” A few hours later, the sister of a student sitting behind Obama on the stage, was shot and killed in a North Chicago alley. Janay Mcfarlane, 18, had attended Hyde Park.

Last school year, 29 current and recent students at Chicago’s Harper High were shot; eight died. This American Life looks at the violence that surrounds the high school. More than 15 gangs operate in Harper’s attendance area, reports Linda Lutton. “Boys are nearly always assigned a gang affiliation, whether they want it or not, based on where they live,” says Lutton. Many gangs don’t sell drugs. They shoot each other over “girls, ‘he said-she said’ stuff, money owed, a fistfight.”

In one story, staff and students learn at a Homecoming pep rally that a recent student was just shot a few blocks away. Principal Leonetta Sanders struggles to decide if she’s going to hold two events – the football game and the dance – while everyone’s worried about retaliation.

When a boy is tall enough — he has “hard legs” — he’s a target says a gang member in the second episode.

Harper High’s “After Action Review” team — the principal, social workers, the football coach and others — tries to contain the damage after each incident, reports Slate. Chicago school officials picked up the AAR idea on a visit to Fort Leavenworth to study military training.

Gangbangers value math talent

STEM is hot these days. Even gangbangers are looking for math talent, writes Jim Miller, who cites a KUOW interview with Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna. In talking about how gangs recruit new members, McKenna quotes a teacher:

You know which kids they want to recruit? The ones who are good at math.

Gangs have to “calculate wages and profits, though probably not taxes,” writes Miller.

A classic from The Onion:  Inner-city youths have mastered the metric system, showing the ability to identify a “kilo” or “ki” (pronounced key) of weight by “tossing it back and forth in their hands.”

Candidate riles 'Mount Pregnant' High

A Republican candidate for governor of California, Steve Poizner is coming out with a book called Mount Pleasant: My Journey from Creating a Billion-Dollar Company to Teaching at a Struggling Public High School.  April Fool’s Day is the publication date. Teachers at San Jose’s Mount Pleasant High are angry about Poizner’s portrayal of their school as a gang-ridden dump with a high pregnancy rate, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“Mount Pleasant is a rough place,” the jacket reads. “There’s no money to fix broken copy machines, burned-out lightbulbs go unchanged, and student pregnancies are so common that the school’s nickname is Mount Pregnant.”

Now the state insurance commissioner, Poizner is running a losing campaign against Meg Whitman, also an ex-Silicon Valley CEO. He uses his school experience — he taught a civics class in 2002-03 –  in the campaign.

Mount Pleasant High, which is about two-thirds Hispanic with 40 percent of students qualifying for a free lunch, is not considered an especially tough school by San Jose standards. It scores below average for California high schools (4 out of 10) for state high schools, but above average (7) for those with similar demographics. That doesn’t mean there are no gang kids or pregnant girls at MP — or unfixed copiers. Its district, East Side Union, which pays the highest teacher salaries in the county, is broke.