We are disheartened by last week’s U.S. Department of Education report that shows our kids – black boys and girls – are being labeled as troublemakers and threats from the very first time that they walk into a schoolhouse.
The report, released by the Department’s Civil Rights Division, found that black preschoolers – yes, preschoolers – make up more than half of all the preschool children who have been suspended at least two times. Blacks make up only about 18 percent of kids in preschools across the nation, but they are leading in suspensions.
These skewed figures have set off red flags among many. I mean, really, what warrants suspension for a four-year-old? Refusing to nap? Throwing crayons?
Civil rights leaders say the numbers evince that teachers and administrators are overzealous when it comes to throwing the book at black students – even those too young to read the book that’s being hurled.
In response to the report, Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, told the Associated Press, “Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared.”
Attorney General Eric Holder conceded that the report confirms what is happening in middle and high schools every day – students of color are being suspended, expelled and displaced in an almost arbitrary manner.
“This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool,” Holder said. “Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”
The federal report echoes what the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative found. The group – founded in 2011 through The Equity Project at Indiana University – released a report earlier this month that stated there is “clear evidence that students of color, particularly African-Americans, and students with disabilities are suspended at hugely disproportionate rates compared to white students, perpetuating racial and educational inequality across the country.”
Among the group’s findings:
• There is no research support for the theory that schools must be able to remove the “bad” students so the “good” students can learn. “In fact, when schools serving similar populations were compared, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower, test scores.”
• Given the extreme differences in suspension rates across different groups, the researchers concluded that unintended teacher bias is a possibility. “Several studies indicate … that racial disparities are not sufficiently explained by the theory that black or other minority students are simply misbehaving more.”
• Putting police in schools more often than not leads to the criminalization “of what might otherwise be considered adolescent misbehaviors.”
The Advancement Project, a civil rights group and a member of the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, released a “toolkit” for educators that it says will “help improve school climate and reduce disparities in school discipline.”
“We all want safe, high quality schools that care about our children and give them every opportunity to succeed,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “As schools have relied on overly harsh school disciplinary policies, students, particularly students of color, have been pushed out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system for minor misbehavior. We cannot reverse this trend through mere aspirations alone, but must use proactive policies which have been proven to work.”
The toolkit had a major rollout on March 21 during the American Federation of Teachers’ Educators’ Summit on School Discipline Conference in Washington, D.C.
We wish the toolkit success. Something has to be done. While it is true that many students come from home environments and socioeconomic climates that provide little structure or support, making these kids’ lives even worse by booting them from classrooms can’t be the automatic reaction.