BLACK STUDENTS WITH disabilities are disciplined more often than their white peers, pushing them into the school-to-prison pipeline at higher rates, a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights shows – just the latest finding to stoke an ongoing debate over the role race plays in school discipline.
“Ignoring the reality that kids can be harmed and that it is our educators’ obligation to ensure that they are not harmed has an obvious impact on students of color in particular and students with disabilities in particular,” Catherine Lhamon, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, says. “When we know that turning away from specific harms to specific identity groups will hurt their educational opportunity and their rights in schools, we are taking steps we ought not to take.”
The 224-page report draws on data from the Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights to argue that students of color don’t commit more offenses than their white peers but receive “substantially more” discipline than them, as well as harder and longer punishments for similar offenses. At the same time, the report underscores, data shows that students with disabilities are about twice as likely to be suspended compared to those without disabilities.
AS EDUCATION POLICY experts and politicians continue to clash over whether Obama-era discipline guidance meant to stem the school-to-prison pipeline creates better environments for students of color or makes classrooms more disruptive, one Republican congressman has an idea: school district leaders should go undercover into their schools to see for themselves.
Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, pitched the idea Tuesday during a hearing at the House Education and Labor Committee, which was supposed to focus on school segregation 65 years after the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v Board of Education.
But the issue of the previous administration’s discipline guidance – and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ recent and contentious decision to rescind it – took center stage for most of the hearing. The guidance, which prodded schools to use methods of discipline other than suspensions to keep more kids in the classroom, has become a clarion call for civil rights advocates who see it as essential to address the disproportionate rate at which black students are disciplined. But others see the guidance as a federal overreach that pressures teachers and principals not to report disruptive students to the detriment of others.
Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in K-12 schools across the country. That’s according to a new report, out Wednesday, from the non-partisan federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office.
Those disparities were consistent, “regardless of the type of disciplinary action, regardless of the level of school poverty, and regardless of the type of public school attended,” says Jacqueline Nowicki, who led the team of researchers at the GAO.
Nowicki and her team interviewed administrators, visited schools across the country, and used 2013-2014 data from the Civil Rights Data Collection, which includes disciplinary actions in more than 95,000 schools across the country. Those numbers include suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.
The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice are hosting teams of superintendents, principals, and teachers from across the country today for “Rethink Discipline,” a day-long conference at the White House on creating positive school climates and implementing effective discipline practices. The conference seeks to advance the national conversation about reducing the overuse of unnecessary out of school suspensions and expulsions and replacing these practices with positive alternatives that keep students in school and engaged in learning, but also ensure accountability.
“Creating and sustaining safe, supportive schools is absolutely essential to ensuring students can engage in the rich learning experiences they need for success in college, work and life—that’s why rethinking school discipline is critical to boosting student achievement and improving school outcomes. Today’s conference shows that there are leaders across the country who are committed to doing this work. We are proud to stand as partners with these educators to say that we have to continue to do better for all of our students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In many schools across America, we begin each day with a morning ritual, the pledge of allegiance. Students stand sleepy-eyed with their hands over their hearts and recite the words that make our country great “with liberty and justice for all.” And though we proclaim it every day, the harder declaration is to live it.
In my classroom, students start off each school year discussing at length what it means to be a citizen of the United States. We debate, we question, and we make reference to our school creed: Be respectful, Be responsible, Be safe and an Active Learner. Students quickly discover that we cannot begin to learn unless we know how to best support one another throughout the process.
My thanks to CEO Edwards and President Dukes for their comments, and for that gracious introduction.
I thank you for your unwavering commitment to equal opportunity for all students and your leadership in rethinking school discipline in Maryland. And I’m so pleased to be joined here today by my good friend and colleague, Attorney General Holder.
The Attorney General and his team have been great partners in our work together to improve school climate and keep schools safe. I know this is a very personal issue for him–as it has been for me, and for the students we talked to just minutes ago at a roundtable here at Frederick Douglass.
We’re gathered here today to talk about school discipline—which, far too often, is not applied equitably or as effectively as it could be in our nation’s schools.