Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some Think Brown v. Board of Education Is A Good Policy, Not a Court Ruling

Previously, I blogged about an article by a Philadelphia man who wrote that poor black kids should be doing more to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  But what if when they reach for their bootstraps, their teachers are more likely to punish them for not paying attention than their white peers?  What if they are more likely to be sent to prison for possibly reaching for drugs or a knife?  What if they are given thinner bootstraps that break more easily?  The metaphor may get old, but it is not far from the reality. Data released by the Department of Education (covering 42 million students in 72,000 public schools) today showed that minority students are more likely to be punished, sent into the correctional system, and to get fewer educational resources than their non-minority peers.

The Problem

According to an article in the New York Times and a post at Education Weekly, the civil rights issues that students face fall into three broad categories:
  1. Minorities are punished more.
  2. Minorities are referred to law enforcement more.
  3. Minorities face fewer resources and lower expectations.
Minorities are punished more

While only 18 percent of the students studied were Black, they represent 35 percent of those suspended one time, 39 percent of those expelled, and 46 percent of those suspended twice or more.  That is to say, Black students were nearly four times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White counterparts.  Where “Zero Tolerance” policies are in effect, Black and Hispanic students were 56 percent of those suspended or expelled, but only 44 percent of those schools’ student bodies.  In general, the rates of suspension doubled in all K-12 schools from 1973 to 2006 with the rise of Zero Tolerance policies.

Minorities are referred to law enforcement more

While 18 percent of students studied was Black, over 70 percent of those arrested or referred to law enforcement in school were Black.  Apparently seclusion and mechanical restraints are sometimes used for some students with disabilities.  That said, 21 percent of disabled students were Black, while 44 percent of disabled students put in mechanical restraints were Black.  These punishments go beyond the disabled; however, as 42 percent of non-disabled, Hispanic students were punished with seclusion even though they made up only 21 percent of the non-disabled populations.

Minorities face fewer resources and lower expectations

It turns out, high-minority schools also pay teachers less, an average of $2,251 less per year than their low-minority school peers.  Not surprisingly, given the rise of programs like Teach for America, minority students were twice as likely to have teachers with only one or two years of experience.  Most studies show that teachers make the greatest gains in teaching quality after two to three years of teaching. 

Over half of low-minority schools offered calculus, while only about a quarter of high-minority schools did.  Even for less advanced courses like algebra, a disproportionately low amount of Blacks were enrolled and a disproportionate amount failed compared to their White peers.  Minorities accounted for 44 percent of students studied, though only 26 percent of the population in gifted programs.  Half of Black and Hispanic students did not pass federal reading tests, double the failure rate for Whites.  56 percent of 4th graders held back were Black, while 49% of 3rd graders held back were Black.  This meant that Blacks were three times likelier than Whites to be held back (Hispanics twice as likely).  The higher rate of retention of Black students occurs in all grades three through ten (they may not occur later in high school because of higher dropout rates among minorities).  Experts note that retention leads to a higher likelihood that a student will drop out.

Pockets of Problems

It should be noted that all of these three problems are not uniformly distributed across the U.S.  Major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles suffered from much larger disparities in punishments of minority students and in pay levels for teachers in low-and high-minority schools.  Nearly all of Illinois 3rd graders that were held back were minorities, as opposed to half nationwide. 

The Implications

n      If minority students spend more time being punished, out of school on punishment, or out of the system from dropping out of being sent to jail, then this obviously reduces the amount of time spent learning and widens gaps between White and Minority performance (which we see in the results).
n      We see that minority students are more likely to have a new, inexperienced, and poorly paid teacher.  This may be a direct result of programs like Teach for America, charter schools, and a more pervasive assault on union rights of teachers.  If schools with high minority populations have less experience and lower pay, it may make them less attractive to the best teachers needed to overcome the gaps between Whites and minorities.
n      If minorities are less likely to be exposed to a diversity of content, the amount of opportunities available to them (and likelihood of finding subjects that they enjoy or excel at) is greatly reduced.  Students also tend to fulfill the expectations you set for them, so setting low expectations may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
n      Greater levels of punishment may make minorities feel less welcome at school and affect performance and student retention rates.
n      The cumulative effects of almost every aspect of the educational experience being tilted away from minority students demonstrate that there are some severe systemic inequalities in the very design of the education system that need to be addressed.  My guess is that many of these design flaws stem from incorrectly dismissing the impact of income, parental education levels, home situation, and discrimination on student achievement.

Some Ideas for the Future

  1. At the very least, districts ought to equalize resource levels among high- and low-minority population schools and reassess some of the gaps identified in this post.
  2. I reiterate a reform to Teach for America that I made earlier that would place these new teachers in schools with high-performing students and allow high-quality teachers to rotate into schools with greatest need.  This would likely improve teacher retention among TFA alums and would also ensure that those kids who most need help are getting access to experienced, quality teachers.
  3. Use charters as they were intended to identify unique solutions to problems in the public school system.  In this case, use charters to identify new models and pedagogy for kids that are more likely to score poorly, be placed on a lower track, be reprimanded, be sent to prison, or be held back a grade.
  4. We need to use incentives to get and keep good teachers in the most lacking schools.
  5. It would be ideal to find a productive substitute to suspensions and expulsions that pull the most troubled students out of classes and make them fall further behind.  Perhaps we assign them to a community service project or to a special program like the design program I identified in my post on the “hands on classroom.”

Speak out!

  1. What are some ways you see that inequality is present in the schools system?  How does it affect students? What solutions do you see to policies that entrench inequality?
  2. What alternative programs can you think of to Zero Tolerance policies that might improve student discipline without compromising their learning?

1 comment:

  1. They are suspended in order to remove them from the classrooms so that the other kids can learn.