How Kumbaya Disciplinary Policies Hurt Black Students

Here we go again… The Richmond Times-Dispatch tells us this morning that a “pattern” in Chesterfield and Henrico counties of suspending black students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rates has triggered a response from the state. Chesterfield, Henrico and the City of Richmond are among seven Virginia school districts mandated to set aside federal money under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to address the problem.

In the 2014-2015 school year, Chesterfield was four times more likely to give a long-term suspension to an African-American student with disabilities than other students with disabilities. Despite several years of trying to reduce suspensions, Henrico was 6.7 times more likely.

In Chesterfield, an “equity coordinator” will aim to get at the “root causes” for the disparity. “It’s not that people are racist. That’s too easy,” said Julie McConnell, an attorney who runs the Children’s Defense Clinic at the University of Richmond. The bias, she said, is subtler. “If a child doesn’t act like your child, it’s harder for people to understand.”

The implication here is that the pattern of disciplinary action is discriminatory in effect, if not in motivation. Accordingly, offending jurisdictions like Henrico and Chesterfield are singled out for revamping their disciplinary policies. The new thrust, as described by T-D reporter Vanessa Remmers, is to discipline students “in a nonpunitive way, by focusing on repairing harm done and engaging everyone involved rather than excluding the misbehaving child.” Thus, schools become an agent of let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya social welfare policy.

The article does not tell us how many children are being suspended, much less how many handicapped black children are being suspended, as justification for overhauling district-wide disciplinary programs. The article does not tell us whether the suspensions are commensurate with the number of number and severity offenses. The article does not tell us the number of victims, either students or faculty, of misbehaving students. The article does not tell us what impact poor school discipline has on the learning environment for other students, much less how black students might be adversely affected by disrupted classrooms.

In other words, the article frames the social problem as one of bias and discrimination against black children with disabilities without regard to the impact their behavior has on anyone else, such as black children who do not create trouble at school. Indeed, by ignoring the disproportionate impact of the supposed remedies upon the educational environment of four-fifths of African-American students, one could say that the undue focus on bad actors is itself a form of bias and discrimination.

Here is a quick look at some statistics that might present the issue in a different light. This data comes from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies:

In Virginia secondary schools in the 2011-2012 school year, males were disciplined at roughly twice the rate of females. By the logic of the Children’s Defense Clinic, the ACLU, the Obama administration and other advocates of “disparate impact” theory, the school system discriminates against males. This would seem incontestable. But no one raises this issue. No one seems remotely concerned.

Here’s the data for the suspension rate broken down by ethnic/racial/linguist groups for 2011-2012:

Here we learn that the disciplinary rate for African-Americans in secondary schools is three times that of whites — but that the disciplinary rate for whites is roughly the same as it is for Latinos and American Indians, higher than the rate for English learners, and more than four times the rate for Asians. Perhaps the most accurate way of presenting the data is to say that prevailing practices have a disparate impact on non-Asians!

Here is another way to frame this data: While 21% of African-American students were suspended in 2011-2012, 79% were not! These students did not create major disciplinary issues. But they had to suffer through the disruptions inflicted by their unruly peers. Again, social justice advocates never mention this.

Here’s another set of data, this from the 2014-2015 Virginia Department of Education “Discipline, Crime and Violence Annual Report.”

The incidents  highlighted at left are only the most severe. They do not include 22,388 incidents of defiance of authority/ insubordination, 17,450 incident of classroom or campus disruption, 15,894 disruptive demonstrations, 12,523 minor physical altercations or countless other offenses adding up to 145,413 in all. These numbers also do not include acts of indiscipline too routine to even bother reporting in a system where deviancy is continually defined down.

No one tracks the race/ethnicity/linguistic background of these victims.

Here are other data sets for which there is no data because no one collects it:

  • Number of classes disrupted.
  • Number of teaching hours disrupted.
  • Number of student learning hours disrupted.
  • Academic cost to students of lost learning hours.

Yes, school systems need to take into account the fact that many students come from extremely challenging home environments, and many may suffer from disabilities that make it difficult for them to plug into the normal school environment. We should feel compassion for these kids, and perhaps we should make special arrangements for them. Perhaps it’s time we question the commitment to mainstream them with other students. In the meantime, we should stop assuming that disparate impact equals discrimination, and we should stop contort school disciplinary policies to meet the needs of the few rather than the needs of the many.

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19 responses to “How Kumbaya Disciplinary Policies Hurt Black Students”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    There’s an interesting study out on this subject:

    2017 Brown Center Report on American Education: Race and school suspensions

    They compared schools and found differences in suspension rates between schools..

    ” A school’s suspension rate was calculated as the number of suspensions of black students divided by the number of black students enrolled at the school. The 0.05 suspension rate was used as the dividing line because it is the state average for all students of all races. Put in plain English, the definition of a high-suspension-rate school is a school that has reported five or more suspensions of black students for every 100 black students enrolled. The high-suspension-rate schools totaled 2,177 schools in 2013; 3,357 schools had a suspension rate below .05 and are designated low-suspension-rate schools. Most of the low-suspension-rate schools (3,240), in fact, did not suspend any black students in 2013.”

  2. CrazyJD Avatar

    What is the point of these facts as far as you’re concerned?

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    here’s another that leans the way that Bacon does:

    ” But a recent study published in the journal Social Problems concludes that differences by race in suspensions—over which schools do have some control—could be a key reason so many black children fall behind their white peers. In fact, as the study points out, progress on closing the achievement gap leveled off in 1990. And (coincidence or not), it was around that same time that schools started ramping up their disciplinary practices and, in many cases, embracing zero-tolerance tactics.

    Suspensions and expulsions take a toll on student achievement in various ways, some of them obvious. For one, they take students out of school, which can easily hinder their academic progress. For another, they often weaken school bonds, disengaging children from their teachers and learning. Other research, also by Morris and Perry, has suggested that high suspension rates can undermine student achievement as a whole, even for children who weren’t personally suspended.

    Still, little empirical evidence exists to demonstrate a direct link between suspensions and achievement—to show that the suspensions themselves are responsible for lower performance. While Morris and Perry’s latest study can’t prove that there’s a causal relationship between suspension and achievement, it does use longitudinal data to show a strong connection between the unequal suspension rates and the persistence of the race-based achievement gap. ”

  4. djrippert Avatar

    Snowflake logic never handles the Asian outlier case. The snowflakes of the liberal left contend that angry old white men run the country for the benefit of other angry old white men. Yet, the Asian – Americans in America seem to be doing extremely well. Here in NoVa, Asian – Americans constitute a dramatically higher percentage of the acceptances at the hyper-elite Thomas Jefferson High School than any other racial group. As Jim notes, Asian-Americans are being suspended at 1/4 the rate of white Americans.

    How long until snowflake doctrine has to be revised to decry and evil cartel of angry white men and Asians running America for the benefit of angry white men and Asians?

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s a bad problem.. no question about it and DJ is right about Asians.

    but the bottom line is that if we do not figure out a way to deal with this issue and get as many of these kids as we can – educated – at least well enough to get a job.. we’re going to end up with an enormous entitlement and incarceration burden.

    That’s the main problem I have with the Conservative types. They basically are unfit to govern because they just hate this kind of thing and their inclination is to just walk away from it and blame “snowflakes”.

    Like the achievement gap where Conservative types want to talk about overall numbers and not look at individual schools – this too has that problem.

    At many schools – where blacks are in relative proportion to their demographic percentages in society – they have far less problems of this kind. In racially isolated schools – which are located in low income neighborhoods which are places where 3 in 4 kids are in one parent families and there is crime and gang activity.. and the schools cannot attract good teacher so they get the dregs.. and it all turns into a ball of bad stuff.

    Now – you ask Conservatives what to do – and all they want to do is find someone to blame.. and walk away.

    but the real world requires that we figure it out.. that even if we cannot save every kid – we save as many as we can.. and see if we can reduce the numbers.

    That’s called – governing… and unfortunately – it’s really the only choice and as they say -if you are not part of the solution – then you are the problem.

    1. We used to have special schools for kids who were chronic disciplinary problems. We called them reform schools. I’m not saying we need to run those schools like we did the old reform schools. Perhaps the therapeutic approach advocated by the “equity coordinators” would prove useful. The main thing is to provide a different kind of environment tailored to the behaviors and needs of these kids rather than mainstreaming them, in effect, cramming a square peg into a round hole.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Reform Schools were a failure right? putting kids with behavior problems in a place with incorrigible criminals .. was not a solution.

    What do you do when a significant percentage of a low-income school has “behavior” problems ? send them all off to an alternative school?

    even that I would agree with if the school system actually funded and operated such schools honestly.. and not let them become warehouses.

    Can you name a school system that you’d hold up as a model for doing this “right” or is this yet another “idea” with no real practical examples?

    I’m trying to identify Henrico’s alternative education program with little luck is there one?

    I see mention of “boot camps” in some states.

    I suspect the problem is money and Henrico does not want to put up the dollars to do a real alternative school that actually works.

    1. The reform schools of yester-year treated kids in a way that would not be tolerated today. The idea is not to replicate the 1940s-era reform school model. The idea would be to sidetrack kids into a different environment where (a) they would not disrupt other kids, and (b) they could attend school in an environment geared to kids with disciplinary issues.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Then why do Conservatives not openly advocate for THAT rather than impugn the current system and call other folks “snowflakes”, etc?

    why don’t you guys put together alternatives that you run on at elections?

    It’s the continual “anti” narratives that go right up to the edge of pointing at race as the reason – then stop .. with no advocacy of anything that I see.

    The problem with Reform Schools-Lite is not that they are not allowed. It’s that shunting these kids off to non-school de-facto warehouses is what is not allowed. It costs REAL MONEY to do what you say and like a LOT of OTHER Conservative “ideas” these days – they are not real.. they are “beliefs” that never make it into real policies.. Where are the candidates that run on doing what you say? Surely that ranks up there with cutting taxes and providing jobs, eh?

    There are over 30,000 separate jurisdictions in this country. Can you name ONE that does what you advocate and does it in a way that it’s not a de-facto warehousing of the kids?

    What you are advocating is a simplistic solution .. that “fixes” the problem – but it’s not real – it does not exist …it’s a concept … of which I’ve seen not a single Conservative for office articulate as what they would do. Why?

    In Virginia -we have Conservative advocacy for vouchers, choice schools and virtual schools.. Where is your solution? Nada!

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Ever see Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?” It was supposed to argue that Asian, especially Chinese parents are superior parents because they require strict discipline and set very high goals.

    Maybe. I know someone who teaches in China (not Chinese) and complains that a lot of the kids are trained not to think for themselves or be very creative. Many are obedient ticket-punchers and prepare for a life of doing just that.

    Two other points: not sure segregating African-American trouble makers is the best way (been tried before). Also, “this “Kumbaya” crap is a bit over the top — an unnecessary putdown of a “liberal” straw man that so obsesses this blog

    1. I don’t know who’s advocating segregating African-American troublemakers. I suggested thinking about segregating trouble makers, of whom less than half are African-American.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” an unnecessary putdown of a “liberal” straw man that so obsesses this blog”

    It’s worse – it’s a double whammy hypocrisy – of refusing to owning the problem and dissing those that are trying to deal with it.

    All the fire and fury of the right in the blogs and narratives – and it never makes it to any kind of a actual political plank they will run on like low taxes or job creation or being opposed to Common Core or,ironically, the Federal rules that requires the collection of the very statistics that they then use to stir up the issue.

    their basic solution is to go back to reform schools but they won’t call it that.

    With regard to Asians … what I would like to see is statistics for schools that predominately serve low-income neighborhoods – regardless of race – compared to schools that serve more diverse neighborhoods – more representative of the demographics of a region or community.

    Low income neighborhoods do not have a culture of education – the families in low-income neighborhoods – regardless of race – most often have a generational history of low levels of education and the attendant social ills of that condition.

    In the Conservative world – just discussing these issues – is considered “liberal”.. !! snowflakes!

    Ironically – we now have an entire generation of folks who actually did get minimal high school educations – who have now been left behind by the 21st century global economy – and they are dying in extraordinary numbers from alcohol, opioids and suicide and are the subject of much newfound hand-wringing – from politicians who have parlayed it into getting elected.

    so the moral of this story is – if you are white and you’re actually dying as a result of losing your jobs.. you’ll get much more attention than if you are merely a black kid mired in poverty because dad is in prison from selling drugs to make a living and mom is doing whatever she has to – to try to make living because her education is not even as good as all those high school grads – white guys who lost their blue collar jobs to automation and low skilled foreign labor.

    we got problems – on both fronts.. and we are actually the ones who have created those problem -we own them – and yet our solution is your basic political circular firing squad.. where we refuse to own the black education problem and we, to this point, were oblivious to the high-school white guy problem.

  10. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    As I’ve written on a number of occasions, I’m a strong believer in second chances. Lots of kids screw up and some do it big time. Absent an act of violence or other extreme conduct, kids should not be expelled or even suspended for the first big problem. Efforts should be made to address the bad behavior and keep the kid in class to the extent reasonable. If that doesn’t work, there may be a need to try other in-school or in-district measures. Only if those fail after a reasonable and good faith effort is made is it time to suspend or expel.

    But there is also a need to provide a good learning environment for the rest of the class. One or two disruptive kids cannot be allowed to keep the classroom at a constant state where learning cannot occur. That is the responsibility of the principal and other staff. The suggestion that the rights and needs of the disrupters are more important that those of the rest of the school is simply wrong. It’s better to lose a few than harm the majority of students.

  11. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Jim,

    Isn’t part of the problem, too, that they are trying to squeeze all students into an academic mold, when quite a few of them would be better off in a more “vocational” track after a certain grade? Fit the kids to their abilities and interests, not just into a “one-size-fits-all” track.


    1. You’re right. A vocational track might be part of the solution.

  12. I am familiar enough with the partisan abuse of statistics and the old cautionary saying, “Correlation is not causation.” We are all witnesses to things that society should fix but there are so many contributing factors that we don’t know how to go at it. And when confronted with battling experts, the only way for ordinary people to sort through the advice and choose a path forward is through the liberal application of common sense.

    Discipline in schools strikes me as one of those things. And one piece of advice you cite is this: ‘The bias, said Julie McConnell, is subtler. “It’s not that people are racist. That’s too easy. If a child doesn’t act like your child, it’s harder for people to understand.”’

    I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that statement. We did not feel like racists when my wife and I pulled our children out of a chaotic, overcrowded public school to pay for the more focused learning environment offered by the private alternative. The usual perpetrators of disruption in their classrooms, it seemed to us, were not black, but bored, bratty kids like ours taught by someone years past optimal retirement. Whatever the source, however, chaos is not compatible with good teaching or good learning. Now, “chaos” is a relative term and my idea of chaos is different from someone else’s and what level of chaos they are used to elsewhere may affect how much it bothers them in the classroom. But an effective teacher has to practice a kind of triage — maintaining discipline sufficient to get the job done that most of the students can accept, working to keep the marginal students engaged, while eliminating the hopelessly bored, the worst disrupters, from the scene. And few school administrators, let alone other parents, are in a position to second-guess the teacher’s judgment how to apply disciplinary triage.

    So we muddle along. And then someone does after-the-fact statistical analysis of the results and comes up with a correlation in certain schools between disciplinary suspensions and race. Not just a correlation overall, but a special correlation among those with disabilities. Not just a special correlation, but a correlation with disparities among different schools that cannot be correlated with anything else but the different schools’ ways of dealing with these discipline problems.

    Jim, you conclude, “We should feel compassion for these kids, and perhaps we should make special arrangements for them. Perhaps it’s time we question the commitment to mainstream them with other students. In the meantime, we should stop assuming that disparate impact equals discrimination . . ..” [emphasis added] My issue with that statement is, you’re still ready to live with the status quo, sweeping the problem under the rug. Classroom discipline is so important! The disruption from inappropriate mainstreaming fatally undermines the education for so many others, and you don’t seem to disagree with that. If a school is identified as having a high rate of disciplinary suspensions, then without regard for race, there should be an investigation to identify whether it’s the teacher or the kids, with a bias towards upholding the teacher’s judgment, and if upheld, those kids who disrupt should stay suspended or removed permanently. What you are pointing out is not bias against a race, but bias against effective teaching. From the schools!

    Mainstreaming as a philosophy seems out of control in this country, and I attribute this to the conflux of parental pressure and the cost and facilities required to deal with these disruptive kids separately — in other words, it’s cheaper and easier for the school to dump this problem back on the teacher by refusing to suspend, than to do what’s best for all the children involved.

    I’d love to see better strategies developed for effective mainstreaming, and effective avoidance of suspensions. But first and foremost, let’s support the teacher on the front lines who makes that judgment that so-and-so has to be removed from the classroom for a time.

  13. CrazyJD Avatar

    Damn, Acbar. Good post!

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    Good comments!

    I support vocational tracks .. and a tougher discipline track …

    I support any/all things that “work” and am not opposed to even non-public school approaches.. and I support that also for the millions of blue collar guys that got whacked by the global economy.

    But in order to do that – you need skilled instructors – more than ordinary instructors.. and the question is – is that the plan?

    When I ask what Henrico’s “plan” is – what is it?

    Perhaps the real question is – is this a proper role of govt?

    and if you think it is – do you think we need to improve/do more than we are right now?

    what I oppose is ideological “spin” that seeks to put the blame on something or somebody and using that as a justification for walking away and/or …saying that this is not something we have any responsibility to deal with.

    you know.. if these kids were going to just disappear from the face of the earth – there may be some justification for abandoning them. But if they are not – and we’re going to actually spend 30-40K a year in entitlements and/or incarceration then what are we really doing?

    I WANT TO SEE – something real from those who are running for office on this – I want to see something with respect to white guys losing their factory jobs and I want to see something about kids in poverty .. who are “behavior” problems – both.. not just one.

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