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.

Student suspended for questioning governor

After questioning Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy about gun control legislation, Asnuntuck Community College student Nicholas Saucier was escorted off campus, suspended and found guilty of harassment. At his hearing, officials refused to review his videos of the incident, complains FIRE.

Most community college professors don’t speak out on education issues, writes an instructor. “Many two-year campuses are run more like high schools than colleges . . . Much like school principals, some community-college presidents believe it is their role, and theirs alone, to speak out on issues of concern.”

Suspension disparity starts in preschool

Graphic by Bill Kuchman/POLITICO

Yes, it’s possible to be suspended from preschool — especially if you’re black. Black children make up 18 percent of preschoolers but 48 percent of students suspended more than once, according to the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Across K-12 schools, black students represented 16 percent of the student population but 42 percent suspended more than once in the 2011-12 school year.

Girl saves boy, faces expulsion

Sixth-grader Adrionna Harris saw a boy cutting his arm with a razorblade at her Virginia Beach middle school. She persuaded him to give her the blade and threw it away. The next day, she told a school administrator what had happened. She was suspended for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion. She’d handled the razorblade.

After her mother complained to the local TV station, the administration moved up the disciplinary hearing and cleared the girls record. She missed four days of school.

“She thought he would bleed out, as he was cutting himself, and there was no teacher in sight,” said Rachael Harris, the girl’s mother. 

Adrionna said she’d do it again. “Even if I got in trouble, it didn’t matter because I was helping him.”

“The way school officials responded led to a question of if the school’s zero tolerance policy went too far,” reports WAVY-TV.

Ya think?

Do bad apples spoil the learning?

 African Americans and students with disabilities are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates,” according to a report by a group called the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. 

Higher rates of misbehavior don’t explain higher suspension rates, said Russell J. Skiba, a professor at Indiana University and director of the collaborative. He pointed to other factors such as classroom management, diversity of teaching staff, administrative processes, characteristics of student enrollment and school climate.

Suspending disruptive students doesn’t help their classmates, the report argues.

One oft-repeated justification for frequent suspensions is that schools must be able to remove the “bad” students so that “good” students can learn. . . .  when schools serving similar populations were compared across the state of Indiana, and poverty was controlled for, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower test scores

Troubled kids  hurt the whole class responds Education Next, citing two recent studies.

Domino Effect found children from “troubled families, as measured by family domestic violence,” are much more likely misbehave and be suspended.

We find also that an increase in the number of children from troubled families reduces peer student math and reading test scores and increases peer disciplinary infractions and suspensions… in many cases, a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.

Philadelphia study by Penn researchers found that “in schools with a high concentration of children with ‘risk factors,’ the academic performance of all children – not just those with disadvantages – was negatively affected.”

The collaborative would respond that suspension isn’t the only way to prevent troubled kids from disrupting their classes.  Researchers recommend “some restorative justice programs and prevention programs that call for more student-teacher engagement.”

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is “very nervous” about making it harder to discipline students.  “This push to make it harder to suspend students is going to have a chilling effect on teaching and learning.”

Learning to get along

Can we all get along? Children will learn how to cooperate and “collaborate” in San Francisco elementary and middle schools, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

“If kids don’t come to school prepared to collaborate, we punish them, blame their family, blame their neighborhood, blame their race, their socio-economic situation, instead of reaching deeply to teach them,” said Matthew Hartford, principal at Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School. “Some kids need to learn it.”

Schools are using a program called Second Step to teach K-8 students how to listen, manage stress, be empathetic and deal with conflicts.

San Francisco teacher Anastasia Fusscas leaned down and whispered the sentence to one of her fourth-grade students.

“We respect other people.”

The Lakeshore student turned to a classmate and whispered the sentence he had heard, who then repeated it into the ear of the next person and so on until the last student in the circle whispered the sentence back to the teacher.

Fusscas started laughing. As was the case with most games of Telephone, the sentence had been garbled along the way.

“Do not touch a lot of people,” she said, repeating what she heard. “Well, that’s a good rule too.”

But the real lesson of the day wasn’t about respect or the avoidance of excessive physical contact.

The Second Step lesson was about listening and ways to listen better, like making eye contact, asking clarifying questions and not interrupting.

While teaching listening skills takes class time, it’s worth it when students are more focused, stay on task and listen, the teacher says.

San Francisco Unified no longer will suspend students for “willful defiance.”

Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

Defender of gay student won’t be expelled

life lesson: what's right and what's permitted doesn't always matchA Florida high school student was suspended, but not expelled, for defending a gay classmate who was being attacked in the cafeteria.

Mark Betterson’s 10-day suspension was reduced to two days after a disciplinary hearing. When James Griffin swung at the football player, he fought back, breaking “zero tolerance” rules. He says he’d do it again, if necessary.

Griffin was arrested for battery for punching Jonathan Colon in the face and head.

“I think it’s a good punishment as substitution for expulsion, but (Betterson) shouldn’t even have been considered for expulsion for what he did,” said sophomore Cody Lesie.

“I think it’s horrible because he got suspended for doing something right,” said sophomore Kyle Piogrim.

No kidding.

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.”