A new report calls for school districts to publish student disciplinary statistics by school, race and gender, to help teachers learn how to keep order in their classrooms without kicking kids out, and to create a disciplinary system that doesn’t result in out-of-school suspensions of large numbers of students — particularly black students.
The policy brief, by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center and UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, reminded me to check in with what’s happening in Oakland Unified on the discipline-and-race front.
A plan proposed by the Oakland school district’s African American Male Achievement Task Force would do some of the things suggested in the report — and even go beyond.
One of the task force’s recommendations, listed on page 14, is to identify teachers who refer a certain number of black students for suspension based on “defiance” — the vast majority of cases, according to spokesman Troy Flint — as well as principals at schools high expulsion rates for black males:
3) Identification of principals assigned to schools with historical patterns of Black male expulsion rates that exceed an established baseline for typical expulsion. Identified principals will be required to participate in a district wide program related to Black male suspension reduction.
4) Identification of teachers with historical patterns of Black male suspension referrals for defiance that exceeds an established baseline for typical referral. Identified teacher will be required to participate either in longitudinal study if eligible or a district wide program that trains teachers to improve their classroom relationships with Black male students.
I’ve asked Chris Chatmon, the director of OUSD’s African-American Male Achievement initiative, whether the district is already taking these steps, but he hasn’t yet responded. When he does, I’ll let you know.
What effects do you think such a policy would have? Do you think more training of principals and teachers is a key part of the solution? What else? I imagine that keeping good teachers in the district for longer would be helpful.
The Civil Rights Project report notes that a child’s behavior often varies from classroom to classroom, and argues that students will learn more and act out less when they’re with a teacher who has an engaging teaching practice and good classroom management.
Have you found that to be true? If so, how do you spread those good practices from teacher to teacher and school to school? I’d like to hear of examples in Oakland where that has happened and how.
Cole Middle School in West Oakland is sometimes cited as an example of a school that reduced its suspension rate through an alternative model, Restorative Justice. Cole closed two years ago, but I know other schools are using it.
Lastly, here the crux of the Civil Rights Project’s case for reforming school discipline:
In policy debates, the issue is sometimes mischaracterized as a choice between setting and enforcing clear behavioral expectations or having lax discipline. It is not. Given the connections researchers have established between students’ misbehavior and such factors as teachers’ instructional and management skills, it is reasonable to ask three related questions: At what point should frequent suspension and expulsion raise questions about a school’s disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership, and the training of its personnel? How do such policies affect the school environment as well as the students who are removed and their families? Can educators instill order in ways that do not rely heavily on disciplinary exclusion, but instead enable the vast majority of students to stay in school and succeed?
I’d love to hear from teachers, parents and students on this subject. Please be respectful of each other and the people you’re writing about.