One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.Secretary of Education Arne Duncan characterized these findings as a "civil rights" problem, a violation of "the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise." But what is the real problem here? Is it believed that the teachers are racially prejudiced? Are there "white" (or middle class) standards of behavior that are used unfairly to judge and punish black children? Are there female standards of behavior that are used to judge boys?
And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.
These are very uncomfortable and disturbing statistics, and the solutions are far from clear. But certainly, you can't even out the numbers by going after white kids. There needs to be one set of rules and individuals must be treated as individuals, based on what they did. That's a "principle of equity" that cannot be abandoned.
But there are some subtleties here. For example, I suspect that teachers notice boy misbehavior and overlook the things girls do. I saw some outright sex discrimination in one class here in Madison, where the boys were all stamped as bad and disciplined as a group. The boys did act up in a way that annoyed the teacher. They bonded in a way the teacher perceived as ganglike, with their own culture and slang. Meanwhile, the girls had their culture, but it involved signals and looks, and things that perhaps the teacher saw as sweet and harmless and reasonably allied with the educational effort.
Also, here in liberal Madison, I was always astounded to attend an assembly and see the teachers singling out black kids for discipline. Didn't the teachers worry about how bad that looked? Presumably, they saw misbehavior, but something is seriously wrong, and the adults are responsible for conditions at school. You need discipline, but discipline has to work, and it shouldn't be sending a negative message to the rest of the children who see what is happening and draw their own conclusions.
One solution is to develop charter schools with different models of learning that are responsive to the needs of children who succumb to misbehavior in traditional schools. Here in Madison, there's the proposal for the Madison Prep school, but it has faced opposition. Teachers unions want unionized teachers. The ACLU will litigate if it's an all-boys school. Read the whole story at the link.