One of the most volatile topics on this blog is school discipline and whether there’s too much of it, too little and whether it’s applied equitably and sensibly.
The Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice released a report Wednesday called “Effective Student Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class.”
The study examined state Department of Education discipline data and interviewed 200 people to see how discipline is used, particularly out of school suspension (OSS) in Georgia schools. Confirming other research, the study found that African-American students, poor kids and children with learning disabilities are more likely to be disciplined.
Some of you will respond that the higher rate of discipline and suspensions mirrors higher rates of infractions. But major studies suggest that offenses by minority kids are treated more harshly.
“And Justice for Some, ” a 2000 study by the U.S. Justice Department and six major research foundations, reviewed all phases of the nation’s juvenile justice system — from arrest to sentencing — and found that minority youth face more severe treatment at virtually every turn. The national data reveal a system in which children can expect to endure harsher outcomes if they’re black or Latino.
For example, African-American children with no previous time in a juvenile facility are locked up at six times the rate of white kids charged with similar offenses. Looking only at drug cases, the admission rate of black kids to juvenile detention centers is 48 times the rate for whites. The gap continues once kids are jailed. African-American children are incarcerated an average of 85 days longer than white youth, and Latinos are incarcerated an average of more than 140 days longer than white youth.
What has always amazed me is the difference among teachers in discipline referrals. There are teachers who hardly refer any students in their class. But that same group of kids can cross the hall and prove overwhelming for another teacher.
According to the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice report:
While there is great variability among districts and schools, in some Georgia districts OSS is imposed on more than 20 percent of the school population annually and in some individual schools may affect up to 40 percent of students. Most such suspensions are for non-violent offenses. In relation to other populations, African American students are three times more likely to receive out of school suspension. Not surprisingly, schools with high OSS rates tend to have lower than average graduation rates.
Effectively maintaining a safe learning environment while upholding each student’s right to a reasonable opportunity to graduate is a challenge facing public school administrators and teachers every day. Integration of “positive behavior support,” a pro-active school wide approach to discipline, has worked for many schools. Rob Rhodes, Georgia Appleseed Director of Legal Affairs and the author of the report explains, “We observed success stories where commitment to a comprehensive school climate program that reinforces and integrates positive student behavior into the curriculum can be an effective way to attack the graduation rate problem. After all, the point is not to keep kids in school for the purpose of failing them out at the end of the process. The goal is to keep them in school and on the path of the “school to success pipeline.”
Among the findings:
● In school year 2009-10, 8.1 percent of students in Georgia’s k-12 public school system received at least one out of school suspension (”OSS”) disciplinary action. This reflects an overall reduction from the 9.3 to 9.5% rate experienced in the first five years of the period under review.
● During the most recent school year for which credible national data are available (2005-06), Georgia ranked tenth highest among all states and the District of Columbia in the rate of OSS discipline.
●Use of exclusionary discipline is highly variable among the school districts in Georgia. In some districts, its use is rare. Other school districts consistently impose OSS on more than 20 percent of the school population annually. In some individual schools, the percentage of OSS actions can affect up to 40 percent of the students per year.
● OSS rates and graduation rates are negatively correlated. That is, schools with relatively high OSS rates tend to have lower than average graduation rates. For example, in chool Year 2009-10, the cohort of schools with the highest OSS rates for the seven year period that we analyzed had an average graduation rate of 74.8 percent. This was six
points lower than the reported state average graduation rate of 80.8 percent. It was also almost 15 percentage points lower than the average reported graduation rate (i.e., 89.4 percent) of the group of school districts with the lowest OSS rates during the same period.
● The vast majority of OSS actions were taken for nonviolent actions. For example, in School Year 2009-10, 69 percent of the OSS actions were imposed for such behavior. A very substantial percentage of the incidents were not described with specificity but were categorized as “other discipline incident.”
● Male students received two-thirds of the OSS actions and three-quarters of the expulsions during the period under review.
● African-American students were consistently more than three times as likely to receive an OSS than students of other racial classifications. This is a state-wide phenomenon with more than 90 percent of all school districts regularly reporting OSS data suggesting potential disproportional use of this disciplinary action. Poor African-Americans were markedly more likely to receive OSS than more affluent African American students.
● Other student subgroups may also be disproportionately subjected to OSS discipline:
▪ Students eligible to participate in the free or reduced meal payment program (a status often used as a surrogate for children in poverty) and English Language Learner students were subject to OSS discipline at a rate more than twice as high as students who were not in these subgroups.
▪ Special Needs Students received OSS at a rate slightly higher than 1.5 times the rate experienced by General Education students.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog