Roots of the Problem

Last week I commented on a report from Guilford County Schools that shows there has been little improvement in eliminating the difference between suspension rates among white and minority students over the years.  The Cincinnati Enquirer has a great article on the disparity of discipline referrals between the races in Southern Ohio’s public schools that identifies four intertwined reasons for the problem:

Cultural Differences/Stereotyping: 

“Black students don’t like to take a lot of stuff,” one black student says. “Most black parents say, ‘Stand up for yourself and don’t let people put you down.’ White parents say to turn the other cheek and walk away.”

“Teachers here have a low tolerance for any sort of goofy behavior,” … “Behavior that could be perceived as childish is being perceived as dangerous.”

“In a lot of cases, black students are mouthy,” …. “They are told at home to stand up for themselves regardless of the situation. If that means not seeing things the way the classroom teacher sees it, they feel they have some carte blanche from home to go ahead and state their feelings without regard for the consequences.”

Institutional Bias/Poverty:

“Alan Coleman, a retired African-American teacher who taught for 29 years in Cincinnati Public Schools, says white teachers are tougher on black students, in part, because they’re afraid of them.”

“(S)urrounded by poverty and violence, some children become angry, distrustful and lacking in hope – hardly the makings of successful school years…”

“…(teachers) don’t believe they are differentially disciplining African-American or Mexican-American students,” one school Superintendent says.

“(F)or example, if a white teacher sees two white students fighting, she might perceive it as roughhousing, says Dan Losen, legal and policy research associate at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. But if that same teacher sees two black students fighting, she might view it as assault, he says.”

The disparity in how discipline is meted out to the different races was identified nearly 30 years ago but continues to exist with about the same statistics as it always has been.  It needs to be fixed but we have to look at all of the causes and come together to eliminate them.

Equal behaviors must receive equal consequences without regard to color, race or culture.  Adjusting discipline measures for differing norms of acceptable behavior has no place in an effective and orderly school… when white students are treated exactly like minority students we will no longer have a problem.

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