Sunday, February 08, 2015

Separate & Unequal: Who's Getting Disciplined in US Schools & Why?

Just about this time of year back on March 23, 2014 I wrote a blog entry about troubling Department of Education statistics that showed an alarming disparity in the severity and frequency of discipline given for Pre-K - 12th grade American students based on their race. 

Last Thursday February 5th, reporter Nina Strochlic published an eye-opening piece on The Daily Beast Website highlighting how this trend in education seems to be growing nationwide; especially in major school systems located along the east coast.

Click the link above and check her article out.

Among the highlights, how a twelve year old African-American girl from Georgia who faced juvenile court and expulsion from school for scribbling the word "Hi" on a locker while her white counterpart who was also caught scribbling was only required to pay a small restitution.

Disparities like that reflect DOE statistics that show young girls of color are six times as likely as their white counterparts to face suspension; in New York City schools (amongst the most segregated in the nation) the ratio jumps to TEN times to one.

It hasn't escaped the attention of the Obama administration.

In January of 2014, a Washington Post rticle by Donna St. George highlighted efforts by the DOE and the Department of Justice to bring attention to the issue:
“The need to rethink and redesign school discipline practices is frankly long overdue,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking in Baltimore alongside Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the two leaders unveiled what were described as the first national guidelines on school discipline.

As the article states, the event at which Duncan and Holder spoke was held at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland; a city which showed a significant drop in student suspensions in previous years, but have other schools around the nation followed those guidelines since the announcement was made?

Why isn't there more public focus on this issue?

After all, with the 2016 presidential and Congressional elections on the horizon, calls for educational reforms in the US these days are as frequent as they are varied in their scope and purpose.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio has been an advocate for universal Pre-K for all New York City students and President Obama echoed that goal nationally in his recent State of the Union address, where he also called on Congress to support legislation that would make community college free for any student wishing to attend.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats have led the charge to cap interest rates on college loans to help make a university degree more accessible, and paying back student loans less financially crippling for young professionals entering the job market.  

Republicans have some bold ideas for educational reform too.

Scott Walker's educational reform? Cutting state funding for college
Like conservative Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's new $68 billion state budget proposal which, in addition to more tax cuts, also calls for a staggering $300 million cut in state funding to the University of Wisconsin system; he's already backed a proposal to privatize Wisconsin's K - 12 public schools system.

Critics have called Walker's budget an unrealistic reflection of his desire to appease the right wing base of the national Republican party rather than a sensible approach to the needs of the people of Wisconsin. 

Democrats and Republicans alike have called for reducing the amount of time students spend on standardized testing during the school year, but where's the focus on the fairness of who's getting disciplined and why?

Can there really be a discussion on reforms in American education without addressing racial bias in the severity and frequency of discipline measures being based on skin color or ethnicity? 

I look at the conditions of many American schools today and it makes me truly thankful for having had the opportunity to attend quality public and private schools, with quality teachers and administrators who really cared while growing up in the '70's and 80's.

Even now I still remember my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Goldblatt, my first grade teacher Mrs. Lehman and my fifth grade teacher Mr. Williams; and how they molded and shaped me.

I can also remember my language arts and English teachers in middle school who helped encourage my ability to write.

My Pre-K - 12th grade education was a launch pad that eventually led me to graduate from Penn State University with no college debt; thanks to my parent's insistence that I get my degree, hard work and coach Joe Paterno giving me a full scholarship to play Division I college football.

My own public and private school experience infused me with a life-long love of reading, history and politics as well as a genuine desire to learn, intellectual curiosity and a passion for writing.

All students deserve that opportunity, and it shouldn't be based on the color of one's skin, or one's ethnicity.

So before we begin addressing standardized testing, maybe we as a nation need to focus on standardized discipline that treats all students equally; instead of separate and unequal.

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