Our View: Is racism driving how we punish minority students?

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More Arizona schools need to look at their policies to ensure the punishment fits the behavior and isn't about the kid.

Editorial: More Arizona schools need to look at their policies to ensure the punishment fits the behavior and isn't about the kid.

When you read about the problems facing public education in Arizona, money usually plays a big part in the discussion. Not this time.

A new report shows a different kind of challenge: Minority students and students with disabilities are punished at disproportionately higher rates in Maricopa County.

It is not an isolated problem. It is happening all over the country, experts say.

Recent national studies suggest that minority students are disciplined more because teachers expect them to misbehave more, not because they actually do misbehave more than their white peers.

 

Few people consciously set out to disadvantage students based on race, ethnic background or disability, but deep-seated biases may be playing a part.

We need to confront the possibility that this country, which has a long history of discriminating against minorities, is systematically disadvantaging minority and disabled students.

We also need to think about the long-term consequences if our schools are failing minority students at a time when minorities make up an increasing proportion of our school populations.

It’s in our best interest – as a state and a nation – to deliver on the great promise of public education to give every kid a chance to succeed.

The benefits reach well beyond individual children and families.

When a child grows up with the skills and education to succeed, we all win. Sabotage some kids and we all lose.

 

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona found that in Maricopa County:

  • Black students are eight times more likely to be suspended from charter high schools than white students.
  • Latino students are six times more likely to be suspended than white students in charter high schools.
  • K-12 students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended from district schools than their classmates who do not have disabilities.

Suspension puts students on the street instead of in the classroom, and that can lead to a downward spiral toward dropping out.

Let’s be clear: Schools have a duty to protect the entire student body – and teachers and staff – from students who present a danger. It is important to maintain a safe learning environment.

 

But in Arizona, schools commonly list “defiance” or “failure to comply with an administrator” as the reason for in-school or off-campus suspension, according to reporting by The Republic’s Maria Polletta and Ricardo Cano.

These categories can include talking back or not tucking in a uniform shirt.

Suspending kids robs them of instruction time, which can contribute to an existing achievement gap between minority students and others.

The ACLU used school-year 2013-14 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to compile the report.

The Arizona Republic did an independent analysis and found:

  • Forty-six district and charter high schools in Maricopa County suspended 20 percent or more of their black students. The rate of out-of-school suspensions for black students was higher than for white students in all but three of these schools.
  • Students with disabilities had disproportionately high rates of out-of-school suspensions at several elementary schools.
  • One East Valley district school had an overall suspension rate of 9 percent that soared to 40 percent for students with disabilities.

The ACLU Arizona’s Demand 2 Learn project has been reaching out to schools about the disparity, and some district and charter schools have entered agreements to be part of efforts to address the issue and track progress.

 

Whether it is through this program or other efforts, more schools need to scrutinize their discipline practices to make sure punishment is about the behavior, not the child.

Unlike so many problems facing our schools, the disparity in discipline at our schools is not about money. This one requires every parent, teacher, administrator and school board member to dive deep into their own hearts.

It requires all of us to take an honest look at how we can assure our schools reach all students and treat them all fairly.

 

 

 

 

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Article Our View: Is racism driving how we punish minority students? compiled by www.azcentral.com

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