There is a war between the rich and poor,
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn’t.
There is a war between the left and right,
a war between the black and white,
a war between the odd and the even.
“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”
On Tuesday afternoon at Howard University the Secretary rolled out data that points to significantly higher suspension rates among students of color, especially Afro-American males.
“Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions.” (the data will become publicly available, at ocrdata.ed.gov.)
I’m sure the Secretary will bash school districts and schools, criticize suspension policies and use the bully pulpit to somehow tie his Blueprint (See Duncan Blueprint for Reform here) to reducing suspension rates.
In the real world in which student and parents and teachers live it is the very policies that the Secretary espouses that exacerbates high rates of suspensions and expulsions.
Let’s identify on a map schools with high suspension and expulsion rates and overlay zip codes by poverty and crime data – how about hand gun violence – and might as well include foreclosures – and, of course, schools in the lowest five percent – “persistently lowest achieving” schools – schools in danger of closing – yes – the correlations are abundantly clear.
And how has the Secretary responded?
The fear of school closing, the policies of the Secretary, have narrowed curriculum and turned schools into test prep mills. The arts, from dance to music, physical education, intra and inter scholastic sports, after school programs, school trips, and counseling, all have been sacrificed to the mammon of raising scores.
Bushwick CommunityHigh School is a transfer school, a school designed to accept students who are failing in their original school. Bushwick accepts students with zero credits; it is their mission to work with the most challenged students, students on the edge of the abyss.
In New York City the system does not differentiate. If you accept students, all of whom, 100%, are destined to drop of school, and “save” 50%, you have a 50% dropout rate and you’re a failure.
NYS Regents Merryl Tisch and Kathleen Cashin, to their credit, included a section in the NCLB Waiver application that would allow “wiggle” room in assessing school performance for transfer schools. It may be too late for Bushwick.
Ask kids why they drop out of school, why they involve themselves in acts of violence…
“The school felt like a prison …” (scanners, security and police)
“The courses were boring …” (test prep 24/7)
“The school was gang infested …” (insensitivity to neighborhood realities)
“You gotta standup …” (the culture of the streets dominates)
Schools are the product of their communities – and teachers and school leaders must respond to their communities.
Why are there so few male teachers and school leaders of color?
Teacher for America, the alternative access routes to teaching attracts predominately white teachers; school district leadership is overwhelmingly white, as are the principal leadership programs, the insensitivity, the absence of role models and leaders who understand the culture of the streets is staggering.
“The Black Boys Report highlights concerns that New York’s graduation rate for its Regents diploma is only 25 percent for Black male students.New York City, the district with the nation’s highest enrollment of Black students, only graduates 28 percent of its Black male students with Regents diplomas on time.”
The ability to listen to thoughtful policy analysts such as Pedro Noguera (See video clip here) is beyond the ability of Tweed and the USDOE to imagine.
As the credit recovery loophole is closed graduation rates will fall. Dropout and remediation rates in college are disgraceful and both the feds and Tweed respond by closing more schools.
Suspensions are simply an event on the road to dropping out of school. Sadly we know a great deal about why kids are suspended, the research base is rich. (See compilation of research here)
Lashing kids through suspensions and expulsions and lashing principals and teachers through punitive data collection only increases crime, drives more kids to incarceration and drives the caring and dedicated away from schools that need them the most.