Minneapolis will close ‘suspension gap’

Minneapolis public schools will try to eliminate the “suspension gap” by reviewing discipline of black, Latino and Native American students. The move is part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which has ben investigating high suspension rates for black students. 

“MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years,” the agreement states. “This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.”

This year, the district has cut suspensions by more than half by using alternatives for non-violent behavior, such as talking back to a teacher. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said teachers are being trained to handle student behavior in the classroom, reports Minnesota Public Radio.

But Johnson says a stubborn gap remains between the number of suspensions of white students and students of color. This fall, African-American students comprised 76 percent of students suspended while they make up just over a third of students enrolled in the district.

. . . “I and all of my staff will start to review all non-violent suspensions of students of color, especially black boys, to understand why they’re being suspended so we can help intervene with teachers, student leaders and help give them the targeted support they need for these students,” she said.

Principals will retain the authority to suspend white and Asian-American students without review.

Race-based discipline quotas are unconstitutional, responds attorney Hans Bader, who worked in the Office of Civil Rights. He writes more here on disparate impact and school discipline.

“Blatantly racist and likely unconstitutional,” writes Walter Hudson on PJ Media. Also “ridiculous policy.”

Why not seek alternatives to out-of-school suspension for all students?

A dropout’s story

Cornelius loved reading in kindergarten. Math was easy in first grade. “You could say two numbers, and I would subtract ‘em and multiply ‘em and add ‘em in my head, give you three answers in a matter of seconds.”

Why did he drop out of high school? In Butterflies in the Hallway, part of the Education Trust’s Echoes from the Gap series, Brooke Haycock uses interviews and school records to tell Cornelius’ story of failure, disengagement and more failure.

Cornelius had trouble reading “bigger books” in fourth grade. He was too embarrassed to ask for help. By fifth grade, he was getting in trouble with a friend who also was struggling. It “felt better than feeling stupid alone,” he told Haycock 

At a middle school where violence was common, Cornelius began cutting gym class to avoid older boys who he feared would beat him up.

“He never skipped math, the class where he always felt smart,” but he started cutting classes that required reading.

His friends, other “lost boys,” would “just run around the school.” Sometimes he got detention, but nobody tried to find out why he was skipping.

The youngest of nine children, Cornelius was raised by his grandmother. The summer after sixth grade, she died. “I just stopped caring. I felt like there was no one there to enforce rules on me or to make me sit down and do my homework. No one to care.”

He lived with his aunt and two brothers for several years.

Recognizing Cornelius’ artistic talent, a new principal invited the seventh grader to lead the school’s mural painting team at a district competition. Cornelius was thrilled.

But he couldn’t read well enough to do school work. “I started getting further and further behind. And I just lost interest. I felt like I was too far behind.”

He got into fights, which led to suspensions.

In high school, he was diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and placed in special ed classes. Then he was suspended for cutting class.

Some of Cornelius’ teachers tried to help, but he’d given up.

He moved to a group home and a new school for his second try at ninth grade. He failed again. At 17, still in ninth grade, Cornelius dropped out.

If he’d received help with his reading skills in third or fourth grade, could Cornelius have been saved?

Too strict?

A student at Lyons Community School in New York does an exercise before a student "circle."

A student at Lyons Community School in New York prepares for a student “circle.”

Is this working? asks a story on school discipline policies for NPR’s This American Life.

Reporter Chana Jaffe-Walt contrasts a “no excuses” charter school in Brooklyn, Achievement First Bushwick, with a nearby middle/high school, Lyons Community, which stresses “restorative justice.”

AFB students who misbehave gets demerits. Lyons students discuss their decision-making in student circles and and may go before a student justice court.

On Match Education’s blog, guest Ross T. critiques NPR’s story.

Educated in a “no excuses” school in Boston, Rousseau Mieze now teaches middle school at AFB. He’s ambivalent about his old high school’s strict discipline, she writes. She finds it “super confusing” when he gives a a demerit to a student for talking during a silent transition.

Mieze is motivated by fear, she concludes.

Fear for the well-being of their students, fear that they “won’t graduate, won’t get to college, will get suspended or arrested for horsing around or being rowdy in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I can relate. I felt that fear, for my own part. What follows next, though, I disagree with.

Jaffe-Walt then says that while Mieze is trying to relinquish some control over his students, “his fear gets in the way.”  The implication is that he knows that the discipline he enacts is wrongheaded, but a sort of hysteria of good intentions blinds his better judgment.

The vignette is framed by a discussion of the “Schools to Prison Pipeline,” a theory that strict discipline leads students — disproportionately minority — to see themselves as “bad kids,”  writes Ross T. “The idea is that minority kids will get suspended (often unfairly), miss school, become frustrated and garner more suspensions by misbehaving out of frustration.” And then on to prison.

By contrast, the report on Lyons is glowing.

Jaffe-Walt is impressed with the commitment to dialogue, and introduces us to multiple students who have been “Lyonized,” or transformed into more reflective, socially adept community members.

She doesn’t discuss the schools’ academic results, notes Ross T. The Achievement First middle school earned straight As — based in part on students’ academic gains — on its 2012-13 DOE progress report, while Lyons’ middle school earned Ds and Cs. The Lyons high school had lower graduation rates than peer schools in its district.

In a few years, we’ll be able to see whether the “no excuses” model increases the number of low-income, minority students who become prison inmates — or college graduates.

Achievement First Bushwick students practice the violin.

As a teacher at a low-performing Memphis high school, Jessica Polner “saw dozens of suspensions and expulsions” for subjectively enforced and overly harsh rules. Carefully and consistently implemented restorative justice programs can be effective, she writes.

Pepsi pusher is suspended

Canadian schools aren’t any saner than ours.

Alberta high school student Keenan Shaw was suspended for two days for selling an illicit substance, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run. He was pushing Pepsi — the sugared kind – in a school that allows only diet soda.

Threatened with expulsion, the 12th grader says he’s retiring from the soda business. But he wasn’t the only entrepreneur.

“I’m not going to name any names, but I know a couple of people selling marijuana. There’s kids selling smokes, there was a kid last year selling meth, as well as a kid selling acid,” said Shaw.


Don’t Nerf me, bro!

Scott and Ramsey McDonald with the fourth grader's Nerf gun.

Scott and Ramsey McDonald with the fourth grader’s toy.

Fourth-grader Ramsey McDonald was told to bring a favorite toy to his Houston school to share with the class. He brought a blue, orange and green Nerf gun.

He received a three-day in-school suspension for bringing “something that looked like a weapon,” a school official told Ramsey’s father, Scott McDonald.

Houston School Supt. Mark Scott said school officials realized the Nerf gun wasn’t dangerous. “We never viewed that as a weapon.”

At least, they didn’t call the cops.

16-year-old arrested for ‘killing’ dinosaur

Assigned to write a Facebook-style “status” update about himself, a 16-year-old South Carolina boy wrote that he’d “killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur.” In a second “status,” Alex Stone used the word “gun” and the phrase “take care of the business.”

He was arrested for disorderly conduct and led away in handcuffs. Stone also was suspended from Summerville High School.

“Summerville police officials say Stone’s bookbag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found,” reports NBC.

But did they search for the dead dinosaur?

White = racism?

PC Insanity: Student Suspended for Wearing 'RACIST' School Colors!

Juniors at Iowa’s Marshalltown High were told to wear white for school spirit week. (Other classes were assigned other colors.)  Athlete Blair Van Staalduine posted photos of himself wearing white, including one in which he makes  a “W” with his hands. The principal accused him of advocating white pride and suspended him from three football games in the fall, reports WHO TV.

The principal said her son was a racist, said his mother, Cathy Van Staalduine. When she complained, he accused her of being a racist too, she claims.

If juniors had been told to wear orange, he would have worn orange and made an “O,” Blair told his mother.

The dress code rebellion

My sister was sent home from high school for wearing culottes. They were considered too close to shorts, which were banned. Girls had to wear a dress or skirt that hit no higher than mid-knee. Flip-flops weren’t banned because it never occurred to anyone to wear them to school. These were the rebellious ’60s. All our energy went into our hair.

Dress code rebellions are springing up across the U.S. and Canada, reports the Huffington Post.

Two dozen Georgia middle school students were suspended on charges of “terroristic threats” a Facebook post urged classmates to violate the dress code on the last week of school.

 By Thursday, the post escalated to, “Everything they say we can’t wear, wear,” and, “We need the hallways packed and out of control” with everyone participating.

The end of the post threatens whoever might snitch.

Every student who shared or commented was suspended.

This is just one of many outbreaks, reports the Huffington Post. Girls are rejecting the idea that their clothing — or lack thereof — might distract boys.

In March, over 500 students at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois, signed a petition opposing what they’d been told was a full ban on leggings and yoga pants.

Seventh grader Sophie Hasty explained to local news that teachers said the clothing was distracting for other students — rather, the boys. “We just want to be comfortable!” Hasty wrote to the Evanston Review.

Students at Wauwatosa West High School in Wisconsin want to wear short shorts. “They are just legs,”  sophomore Elizabeth Kniffin told the local TV news. “Is that really too distracting? I understand that girls shouldn’t be coming to school with their butts or chests hanging out, but there has to be a happy medium.”

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.”