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Monday, August 1, 2011

"One Way to Guarantee More Trouble"

The NY Times had an editorial with the above headline yesterday. A few excerpts (italics mine):

Nearly six in 10 public school students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade. That was the astounding finding of an analysis tracking nearly one million students in 3,900 Texas schools.

Schools are right to expel students who pose a threat to others. But suspensions for less serious, nonthreatening behavior have become routine in recent decades, with disastrous consequences. Children who are removed from school are at far greater risk of being held back, dropping out or ending up in the juvenile justice system.

Are these children are at greater risk because they are removed from school, or because they are the type to misbehave in the first place? Using the circular logic of the Times, we should not send adults to jail because they are then more likely to commit another crime later.

The Texas study, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, raises alarms that should prompt every state to re-examine disciplinary policies.

For starters, schools should be required to deal with minor infractions at school, reserving suspension for serious offenses. Only 3 percent of the disciplinary actions taken in Texas were for serious criminal conduct that requires mandatory suspension or expulsion under state law. The remaining 97 percent were made at the discretion of school officials for misbehavior like fighting, misdemeanor drug or alcohol use, or disruptive classroom behavior.

Can you imagine? Suspending a student just because he got into a fight? Didn't the Times just say above that students who pose a threat to others should be expelled? How much more of a threat do you need to be than to beat somebody up? Isn't this the same NY Times which constantly inveighs against bullying in school?

The breakdown of who was punished is also chilling. African-American students and those with some disabilities were disproportionately likely to be removed from the classroom. A staggering 83 percent of black males had at least one discretionary violation, compared with 74 percent of Hispanic males and 59 percent of white male students. Minority students were more commonly given harsher out-of-school suspensions, rather than in-school suspensions, for their first disciplinary violation.

That must mean, of course, that they were suspended because they were black or Hispanic.

Such findings might have been dismissed in the past by those who believed that minority students were more likely to be “bad kids.” National studies have shown that African-American students are no more likely than others to commit offenses that require removal.

Note that they don't quote any study in particular, or give details. Just "national studies." That certainly don't square with what we hear from teachers who have taught at inner city schools, or the test scores at such schools, or inner city crime rates. How many suburban high schools have you heard of which have metal detectors at their entrances?

This problem is not unique to Texas. California and Florida have even higher out-of-school suspension or expulsion rates than Texas, according to the study. The Office for Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education has opened investigations into the disciplinary treatment of minority students in a dozen school districts around the country.

The Department of Education? Weak tea, my friend. This sounds like a job for Eric Holder. 

The one glaring omission in this article was the gender breakdown of those disciplined. Since the Times becomes incensed if suspensions and expulsions are not handed out evenly, where are the statistics on boys vs. girls? Obviously, those would be far more skewed than the ethnic distribution. So where's the outrage there? After all, national studies have shown that boys are no more likely than girls to commit offenses that require removal. (Please don't ask me to back this claim up.)

If anybody were to bring  gender differences up, it would highlight the absurdity of their current posturing. So the Times remains silent on that subject.


Jonathan Leaf said...

Actually there is even a further and more serious point that the reporter missed. Public schools have high rates of serious incidents (like acts of violence leading to student suspension) because they do not give teachers clear authority in the classroom. This leads disobedient students to get in the habit of behaving badly and testing the limits of what they can get away with. Soon problems escalate and these troublemaking students have to be thrown out. All of this could be avoided, of course, if courts didn't take away the teachers status as being in loco parentis in the classroom.
It should also be noted that these problems rarely intensify in private and parochial schools because their students know that they can't misbehave without facing punishment. Indeed, these schools have it as part of their mission to teach kids how to behave as adults. (Such a novel idea, yes?)

John Craig said...

Jon --
You make a very good point. But I think that part of the equation is also that most kids in private and parochial schools grew up with a healthy respect (and small degree of fear) of adults because of the way their parents raised them. They saw their parents as authority figures. Public school kids, especially from poor areas, are less likely to have that kind of family background and as a result have no respect for (or fear of) adults to begin with. And if they don't have that, i.e., if their natures are basically feral, then there's no way to really control them.

Jonathan Leaf said...

The point you make is inarguable, and it's the commonplace one. But I don't think it's a full explanation. Interestingly, a study put out some years ago by the Manhattan Institute noted that children in parochial schools who had siblings in public schools showed much different levels of not only academic performance but in frequency of disciplinary issues. I think you can guess the pattern.

John Craig said...

Jon --
Wow, that's interesting. Differences within families is much better proof, as it eliminates the biggest extraneous factor.

I'm definitely for giving the teachers more authority. Let's bring back corporal punishment, I guess.