Who Speaks for the Victims of the “Victims”?

disciplineby James A. Bacon

Cosmological theorists posit the existence of an infinitude of alternate universes. In one of those universes, perhaps there is one with a Henrico County School System that collects data showing that African-American students are more likely to suffer from violence and disrupted classes in school rather than data showing that African-American students are more likely to be suspended from school.

Unfortunately, in our universe, an array of political forces focuses public sympathy upon the kids who disrupt the learning environment rather than those whose learning is disrupted. The trouble makers are classified as victims. The victims of the victims are ignored.

As a result, readers of the Times-Dispatch are treated to yet another front-page hand-wringer about the disproportionate suspension of African-American students in Henrico schools. Over five years, it appears, Henrico has succeeded in reducing the number of suspensions from almost 10,200 in the school year ending in 2010 to 6,500 in the school year ending in 2014. Alas, in so doing, the percentage of African-Americans among all suspended students has increased from 74.6% to 77.7% over the same period. Reporter Ted Strong quotes the usual suspects on how the disparate results might reflect discrimination against African-Americans and gives a megaphone to School Board member Lamont Bagby, who wants more resources for more intensive therapeutic services for the kids creating the trouble.

This entire controversy is built upon the statistical disparity in suspensions between African-Americans and students of other racial/ethnic classifications. African-Americans account for 36.8% of the students in the school system but 77.7% of the suspensions. That disparity by itself is deemed evidence of discrimination as opposed to, say, evidence of lower incomes, rate of single-mother households or other sociological features of the African-American population. The Times-Dispatch has systematically mined the “discrimination” angle but given virtually no attention whatsoever to the socio-economic characteristics of the students being disciplined.

The Times-Dispatch skips over the fact that most suspensions take place in overwhelmingly black-majority schools where teachers and administrators are themselves disproportionately black. It apparently has never occurred to the Times-Dispatch to ask if African-American teachers and administrators are prone to discriminating against students of their own race or if they are simply responding to incidents on a case-by-cash basis, in which a disproportionate number of troubled, disruptive kids are black.

Perhaps worse, the Times-Dispatch has shown no concern whatsoever for the victims of the so-called victims. What are the standards and procedures for suspending a student? How much disruptive behavior are students permitted before they are suspended? The T-D does not tell us. Has the T-D interviewed teachers and principals to ask if they are frustrated by the limited means at their disposal to discipline misbehaving students? Are teachers frustrated by the disruption to their classes? Do teachers feel that the learning experience of other students is diminished by the disruption? No, of course not. Those questions never occur to the T-D.

How many hours of classroom time — in effect, stolen from students who want to learn — does a student have to disrupt before getting suspended? How many hours of classroom time in total have been lost due to misbehaving students? No one measures those numbers and the T-D does not think to ask.

What has been the impact of the Henrico public school policy aimed at reducing the number of suspensions? Has the number of disruptive incidents declined as well, or are school administrators simply tolerating more ill discipline in order to reduce the number of suspensions ? What has been the impact on academic achievement of Henrico school kids — in particular, what has been the impact on schools where the most incidents and suspensions occur? Is it possible that the crackdown on suspensions has led to an increase in the level of disruptive behavior that has had a deleterious impact on learning? And, if such a perverse consequence has arisen from the policy, to what extent have African-American students been the victims of it?

Henrico public schools do not measure the data needed to answer such questions, or, if they do, the T-D does not think to ask for it. Therefore, readers are left with the impression that the Henrico County Public Schools are likely discriminating against African-American students. Perhaps they are. But the case is far from proven. For all we know, the failure to discipline disruptive kids is discriminating against African-American students. Maybe in an alternate universe, an alternate Times-Dispatch is telling that story.

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24 responses to “Who Speaks for the Victims of the “Victims”?

  1. I was curious if Henrico has instituted this program – PBIS – in the schools:

    https://www.pbis.org/school

    What is School-wide PBIS?
    One of the foremost advances in school-wide discipline is the emphasis on school-wide systems of support that include proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments. Instead of using a piecemeal approach of individual behavioral management plans, a continuum of positive behavior support for all students within a school is implemented in areas including the classroom and non-classroom settings (such as hallways, buses, and restrooms). Positive behavior support is an application of a behaviorally-based systems approach to enhance the capacity of schools, families, and communities to design effective environments that improve the link between research-validated practices and the environments in which teaching and learning occurs. Attention is focused on creating and sustaining primary (school-wide), secondary (classroom), and tertiary (individual) systems of support that improve lifestyle results (personal, health, social, family, work, recreation) for all children and youth by making targeted behaviors less effective, efficient, and relevant, and desired behavior more functional.

  2. I reread the TD piece and fail to find the flaws you do.Eastern Henrico, the rich county’s poorest area, still has a disproportionately high numbers of African-American students who are suspended for discipline rules. Ok, straight reporting. Not to you. You are affixing your right-wing template of hidden liberal agendas everywhere. Then you state that maybe it is because they are black. And then you run this ridiculous picture of a white child with a dunce’s cap. So, blacks are not up to white standards. Huh? I DOn’t get the imagery or the argument.

    Don’t you understand how such media presentations undermine whatever your argument is?

    • If I’d posted a photo of black kids, you would have accused me of visually pandering to stereotypes (which, in fact, I was seeking to avoid by running the photo of the white kid). No winning with you. If conservatives do A, they’re wrong. If they do B, they’re wrong!

      So, you’ve read the T-D piece. Do you conclude therefrom that discrimination is the only logical explanation for the statistical disparity in suspensions? Do you think that interpretation is “proven” by the evidence? Do you rule out any other possible explanation without the need to present any evidence?

      My sense is that you’re uncomfortable with the idea that liberal policy prescriptions, despite the noblest of intentions, can have perverse outcomes that hurt African-Americans. I imagine that would be a hard pill to swallow.

  3. “Unfortunately, in our universe, an array of political forces focuses public sympathy upon the kids who disrupt the learning environment rather than those whose learning is disrupted.”

    So, children who are suspended from school don’t have their learning disrupted? Interesting theory…

    “It apparently has never occurred to the Times-Dispatch to ask if African-American teachers and administrators are prone to discriminating against students of their own race or if they are simply responding to incidents on a case-by-cash basis, in which a disproportionate number of troubled, disruptive kids are black.”

    Let’s talk about cause and effect here. As early as preschool, black students are three times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. Preschool. The children who most need the benefits of early learning to mitigate all those socio-economic* problems you talk about are the ones getting punted out of preschool at disproportionate rates. Not only are they getting a reputation that will follow them from teacher to teacher as part of their student records, they’re also missing opportunities for developmental opportunities, which is important because we also know that poor literacy achievement in the first and third grades predicted relatively high aggressive behavior in the third and fifth grades, respectively. And studies have shown black boys starting at 10 are perceived as older and less innocent than they actually are.

    Black American children as young as preschool are disproportionately kicked out of their learning environment. Children with poor literacy skills are more inclined to aggressive behavior in schools, which will result in further disciplinary action. All of this causes children who are already not given the benefit of the doubt their white peers get to be disproportionately removed for disciplinary reasons.

    But please do tell us more about how the culture of single mothers is more influential than the culture of white supremacy.

    “Lamont Bagby, who wants more resources for more intensive therapeutic services for the kids creating the trouble.”

    What a jerk. How dare he think that maybe if we treat the causes of student disruptions we’ll have fewer student disruptions. Better to just cyclically kick out disruptive students then let them back in then when they disrupt kick them out again – rinse, wash, repeat. Or, better still, expel them altogether and then you’ll get even more American citizens without the benefit of a high school diploma trying to find employment. And certainly when their employment prospects prove negligible and they inevitably end up invited to spend some time in our prison system housing them there will be cheaper and more socially beneficial than trying childhood therapeutic intervention.

    “Are teachers frustrated by the disruption to their classes?”

    You need a reporter to tell you teachers get frustrated by classroom disruptions?

    Also, I find it interesting that when it comes to pedagogy, grade assignment, testing and pretty much anything else related to the inside of a classroom teachers and their unions can’t be trusted and their opinions are invalid. But it’s imperative we get someone on record saying that it’s not easy enough to punish black American children.

    “For all we know, the failure to discipline disruptive kids is discriminating against African-American students.”

    Yeah, that’s a problem we have in America – not punishing black children as much as we should. Just ask Tamir Rice.

    *Of course the socioeconomic conditions of black American citizens was not created in a vacuum. It’s the result of centuries of the actual theft of labor. It’s the result of centuries of having no access to the political process. It’s the result of black business centers being subjected to white terrorist attacks. It’s the result of black neighborhoods being seen as less important than the construction of highways. It’s the result of never receiving any reparations for any of those injustices. And then any time a program that might make things better exists or is proposed – expanded Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment benefits, universal pre-K, busing, SWAM and DBE guarantees in government contracts, AFDC, etc. – it’s besieged and watered down.

  4. Childhood literacy and aggressive behavior.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16460528

  5. Jim,
    Let me repeat — you are taking a straight newspaper report and putting all kinds of spin on it. That’s your privilege but the piece was not meant to be a deep, probing analysis of classroom racism. If it had been a true commentary, then you would have something to chew on.

    • Sure, it was a straight newspaper report…. that framed the issue in a particular way, asked a particular set of questions and ignored other equally legitimate questions that could have been asked.

      • but we don’t really end up with the truth of the matter but rather a particular perspective – that can then be used by other commenters to further promote something other than a balanced viewpoint. Too much of this these days. It serves no real useful purpose other than to get people to group up in like-minded herds with little more than sound-bite ideas behind their views.

        but what’s worse than that much worse – is a blame mentality rather than “how can this be fixed” mentality – the latter of which requires a better understanding of the problem and a willingness to accept some level of responsibility to contribute to something that will improve the community – that we all live in.

  6. “a willingness to accept some level of responsibility to contribute to something that will improve the community.”

    You’re kidding right?

    Last report said it costs $245,000 to raise a kid. How about until such time as you can afford them or at least have the prospect of obtaining those funds, legally, stop the procreation! Nearly 75% of black children are born into non-male-support provider households. And that folks leaves the taxpayers holding the bill. These children are, the majority of the time, low birth weight babies that grow up to have behavioral and other social issues, above average healthcare costs and poorer educational attainment outcomes.

    • Okay. What policies do you recommend get put in place to stop black women from exercising their procreative rights?

      • ” 75% of black children are born into non-male-support provider households. And that folks leaves the taxpayers holding the bill. These children are, the majority of the time, low birth weight babies that grow up to have behavioral and other social issues, above average healthcare costs and poorer educational attainment outcomes.”

        how many young blacks get pulled into the criminal justice system for petty street drug dealing tat then leads to these other issues?

        what to do about it?

        let’s put it this way – if you wash your hands of it – what happens to you and your family downstream in terms of taxes and society?

        there is a LOT than can be done to reduce the numbers.. free birth control – free IUDs is certainly cheaper than the alternative…

        When you see that they have failed 3rd grade SOLs -you have to choice about what to do or not and if you do nothing – don’t expect things to get better later on.

        “low birth rate” is another ignorant canard.. sorry – provide good health care to mom no matter how she got pregnant. Get her day care for her kid and get her into a remedial education program so she can try to undo her original non-education…

        but what I said at the start was – what is the narrative really about when it sounds something like – “black kids misbehave at higher rates of white kids” or their “culture means they can’t really be educated without extra money”?

        what’s the point of those narratives? what are you trying to say when you say them?

        honest question. Are you essentially giving up and absolving yourself of any role – and resigned to the outcome? Do you see Ferguson as about a black thug or an entire race resentful of their treatment from schools to policing?

      • I think it is called self-responsibility…being responsible for one’s own actions. If you can afford them, procreate as many as you want. I don’t want to infringe on “black women from exercising their procreative rights”, just don’t infringe on my rights to use my resources as I choose.

        • It’s funny – we both seem to highly value self responsibility but we differ on how to handle it when it’s not.

          Like I think folks should not be screwing around with their phones while driving but I do not walk away from the problem if they don’t.

          are we on the same wave length so far?

        • Your prescription then is to roll back aid so we can have hungry, unhealthy American children so you can pay slightly less in taxes?

          • My prescription? When did I say that? Please re-read my posts.

            “I think it is called self-responsibility…being responsible for one’s own actions. If you can afford them, procreate as many as you want. I don’t want to infringe on “black women from exercising their procreative rights”, just don’t infringe on my rights to use my resources as I choose.”

          • HCJ – how do you distinguish “your” resources? When you buy insurance are you paying for the actions of irresponsible people?

            do you decide who is going to get entitlements from your taxes?

            do you decide how much money the state will spend on prisons?

            would you deny funding to child abuse agencies if you think they waste money?

            would you be opposed to spending money on handicapped kids or transportation for aged or handicapped people ?

            how do you decide?

  7. You know the interesting thing is that I know folks who when they were young – did not have a clue that they could afford kids and had them anyhow.. just because they believed that they would someday make more money and be able to pay for them but also because they knew the govt would provide for their health and education no matter what.

    I also know folks who did not have kids because they were no so sure they would ever make enough money to be able to truly afford them because at that time in their lives they were barely making enough money to pay the rent.. and food for two – much less 3 or 4.

    It’s not only the “poor” – many, many people get direct subsidies from the govt in the form of tax credits and deductions, and more. How many lower-income folks who actually work full time but make only 30-40K could actually afford their kids without the tax credits, deductions and exemptions – as well as health care and education? And they’re not black…

  8. Here’s something you hardly ever hear from folks dialoguing about “irresponsible” poor people whose kids should not be a concern for these rest of us:

    Child protection in turmoil across the country

    ” Child protection agencies across the country are grappling with how to repair systems that failed to protect thousands of vulnerable children from repeated abuse.

    Since 2012, directors of at least 16 state and county agencies have resigned or been fired. Nine states have passed sweeping reforms designed to protect more children. Those actions often followed public outrage over the deaths of children previously known to child protection agencies.”

    so my question is – do you think these kids are our responsibility?

    don’t we get ourselves on a slippery slope when we say we should intervene if the kids are abused and neglected in general but not if we neglect their education needs?

    I’d love to see Jim write an article on this issue and then regale us with how this is the problem of the parents – not us.

    • Wrong again, Larry. I think we as a society do need to look after abused kids. But if, as you say, the child protective services across the country are dysfunctional, the solution is to fix the agencies — not to pour good money after bad.

      • neglected kids, Jim? and only if they have bad genes or irresponsible single-parents?

      • I was also curious how you actually know the problem is not money?

        how do you know?

        but even if you do not know – would you still choose to believe the problem is money – and therefor refuse more money and ergo – let the kids continue to be abused until they fix their wasteful system?

        how do you resolve this?

  9. re: ” the solution is to fix the agencies — not to pour good money after bad.”

    so how do you “fix” the schools with disruptive kids from dysfunctional parents and where do you draw the line between abuse and neglect in terms of whether you think there is responsibility for it – by the state and not the parent?

    Do you accept responsibility for kids that are abused but not neglected?

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