discipline gap

Preschoolers at a table
Seattle Parks / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Research shows black students receive harsher discipline than their white counterparts. They are more likely to be suspended and expelled from school, putting them at higher risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Renato Genoza

Michigan is on yet another list of dubious distinction. This time, the state has some of the highest rates of school suspensions in the country.  

A recently released report by UCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies looks at state and even district-level data to see where kids are most likely to get suspended. It also takes a look at which kids are suspended most often. Michigan doesn't suspend the most kids overall (that's Florida's achievement), but the state does have the fourth-largest gap in the nation between the number of black kids suspended and the number of white kids disciplined in the same way. 

Michigan districts also have among the highest rates of suspension in the entire country.

user Frank Juarez / flickr

We've talked about it before, but it's worth repeating: There is a major gap in the way we discipline children in schools.

This New York Times piece highlights not only the race gap but the gender gap as well, citing federal data that shows "black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity" from 2011 to 2012.

Oh but it doesn't end there. Keep reading.

Zak Rosen / Michigan Radio

The school-to-prison pipeline is a nationwide pattern of students being pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

Groups like the ACLU argue young people, especially African Americans, are suspended and expelled from school at disproportionate rates, and research suggests that once they’re expelled, those students are more likely to end up in prison.

Now, a group of people most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline are working to end it.  

Whiteboard: Does zero-tolerance go too far?

Oct 17, 2013

In March of last year, 9th grader Kyle Thompson and his science teacher got into a tug-of-war with a sheet of paper, a “hit list,” that he had written.  The list detailed who the young man wanted to hit on the football field.  In a video produced by the ACLU and later shared on Change.org, Kyle explains, “When we were pulling it back and forth, she was laughing at first, so I thought it was just a joke, but she got serious and I let go and she left the class.  Then the hall monitor came and they escorted me to the office.  The principal told the police officers to take me to the police station.  The scariest part was probably being handcuffed...” You can see the entire video here. 

Kyle ended up being charged with assault and battery, expelled from Farmington Harrison High School and placed on house-arrest.  His fate awaits him at in Oakland County Court today.

Juvenile justice; two steps forward, two steps back

May 31, 2013

It's hard to decide how to process the recent spate of kids-going-to-jail-for-doing-things-kids-do stories.

Over the past week or so, outrage has swelled over the story of one 18-year-old being prosecuted for having sexual relations with a 14-year-old who went to her high school (they're both girls, so there's concern that what's being prosecuted is sexual orientation).

We've been tracking the discipline gap between students of color and students with undiagnosed learning disabilities. News from the west coast that might roll across the nation to narrow that gap: LA Unified School District will no longer use "willful defiance" as a reason to suspend students.

When I told people I was working on this special, one hour show about race, a lot of the reactions were along the lines of “race…hmm….interesting.” Like, man, I’m glad I don’t have your job. That’s cause the topic of race is fraught; people hear it and they run for their hills.

One place where parents and teachers are talking about race in the classroom is Birmingham, MI. Birmingham is pretty much as white a city as they come, with a median household income around $100,000. Espresso bars and high end restaurants and shops line the streets downtown, and there’s a four star hotel where out of town celebrities stay whenever they visit metro Detroit.

From the looks of it, Birmingham has it all. But dig a little deeper, and Birmingham has a problem.

Gap #1: Achievement

Jason Clinkscale is the principal at Berkshire Middle School in Birmingham. He says when it comes to student performance on standardized tests, "the achievement gap is alive and well" in his district.

We're not talking about some 5 or 10 point difference here. The achievement gap in the Birmingham district translates to a nearly 30 point difference in proficiency in math at the middle school level between white and black students. By the time those students reach 11th grade, the math gap is more than 50 points wide.

Clinkscale is an African American with two daughters of his own. He uses words like "sobering" and "frustrating" to describe the achievement gap. And the gap isn’t just on paper. You can see it play out from classroom to classroom: minorities are over-represented in lower level classes and underrepresented in honors and advanced classes.

yellow chair in the rain
James Nord / Flickr

We're starting to look into why certain kids are getting suspended from school more often than others, namely African-Americans, Latinos, students with disabilities, and low-income white students.

It’s not because these kids are worse than others or have taken misbehavior to new levels.

Instead, disturbingly, it’s because these kids are who they are---African-American, Latino, in special education, or low income. Closing the gap in achievement won’t happen if kids from different backgrounds are disciplined differently based on race, income, or other factors.

But even more disturbing, is the rise in preschool suspensions. Pre-K suspensions from state-funded program are three times higher than for K-12