I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is There a Reverse Achievement Gap with Respect to Student Suspensions?

Why Are Asians So Infrequently Suspended from School?

This is a true story. In my first year on the school board, while attending a state sponsored convention in Tampa in 2007, I attended a break-out session on “The Achievement Gap”. The lecturer in the small room had a PowerPoint presentation and some handout materials detailing his data analysis indicating that in the districts he studied- White student achievement was typically higher than Hispanic student achievement, and Achievement among African American students was typically below the Hispanic level. He went on to frame his conclusions and a group discussion ensued on how to narrow the “gap.” Before the group could dive too deeply into how the public school system was somehow potentially shortchanging Hispanic and African American students-- I raised my hand and asked, “Where are the Asians detailed in your analysis”----then the room went quiet like a scene from one of those old E.F. Hutton commercials. Then came the gasps and a few muted chuckles. I did not realize I had committed a faux pas by

 merely asking a question. Come to find out, the Asians were above the white students—off the charts and above the top of the page and therefore not included in this presentation!

Fast forward five years, and I see this article in the Sacramento Bee this morning, regarding student suspension/expulsion statistics being compiled in a study of several large Northern California School Districts. It is a very interesting read. This chart breaks the data down quite succinctly.

The information is strikingly similar to data presented in this Texas study from last year.

I’ve not undertaken a thorough and scientifically sound analysis of our schools locally in Escambia, but I do see the monthly reports of expulsions and one data point (among several) provided in that document monthly to board members is the ethnicity of the student to be expelled. So, anecdotally and going strictly from memory, I can think of very few instances locally where Asian students have been on this report. Perhaps a study should be conducted to analyze our data as Texas and California have done?  It would be interesting to know if their trends hold true here in Escambia County as well.

All this leads me to this question: We know there is an achievement gap between different classes of students—but does this gap between the races/ethnicities of students with respect to discipline and expulsions also exist? And, is the relationship directly proportional or inversely proportional?

The startling conclusion appears to be, at least at first glance looking at the Texas and California data, that the suspension rates, by race/ethnicity, seem to be [exactly] inversely proportional to the academic achievement gap rates that are discussed around districts nationwide (including in my initial introductory breakout session in Tampa in 2007).

So what is the root cause of this apparent phenomenon? Is it Poverty? The Sacramento Bee article does not indicate Poverty is the reason. From the article:

"...There are better alternatives to out-of-school suspension," said Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, a research group based at UCLA that focuses on increasing educational opportunities for minority students. "It hurts people of color most of all."  So why are black and Latino students suspended more often than white students?  The report, which analyzed U.S. Department of Education data, drew no conclusions. But Losen said he does not believe poverty is the reason."

What could it be? It might be instructive to take a detailed look at what high achieving, minimally disciplined students are doing right, regardless of their races—and see if somehow that behavior can be impressed upon the students who are misbehaving and struggling academically. Would it even be politically correct to suggest such a course of action? I mean, we are always looking to duplicate best practices in order to foster better achievement among organizations, schools, teachers, administrators, etc. etc. Why can’t we try to shape and improve the outcomes for ALL students by showcasing and modeling the behaviors, habits, and successes of those students who do well academically and are infrequently disciplined?

Or would it be much more safe, palatable, and politically correct to try to locate some flaw in our education delivery system, or funding shortfall, or facility shortfall, or technology shortfall, or learning materials shortfall, or staff shortfall, or administrative shortfall, or test fairness shortfall—that could be used to illustrate that somehow we, as local school districts, are somehow missing the mark? Maybe I have it wrong and it is OUR fault—not the students who misbehave. Maybe I have it wrong --and the expectations of personal responsibility from students and their parents is just too much to ask?

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