Duncan and Tweed Policies Drive Student Suspensions: Test Prep Mania Marginalizes the Problems Confronting Urban Youth.

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.

See Leonard Cohen sing on U-Tube

“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.


6 responses to “Duncan and Tweed Policies Drive Student Suspensions: Test Prep Mania Marginalizes the Problems Confronting Urban Youth.

  1. Eric nadelstern

    “Punitive data collection”? In contrast to no data collection nor any accountability for student achievement outcomes?

    Regents diploma graduation rates for African American boys, as appalling as they are, are at an all-time high. And for as the 50 years that I’ve been in public education and longer, suspensions have differentially affected African American and Latino males.

    I’m surprised you haven’t figured out a way to connect Duncan and Bloomberg to nuclear proliferation in Iran.


  2. “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.”

    I teach in a Alternative Learning Center, otherwise known as a suspension site. Although we do have a full-time guidance counselor,the NYC DOE does not offer ANY dance, music, phys-ed, sports, or trips to our students. When our students misbehave,the first question that is always asked is: “Have the teacher’s educational practices been perfect?” But we also need to ask: “Has this rambunctious child going through puberty had a gym class in the last month?” “Has this troubled adolescent–who loves art–had a real chance, in school, to develop her artistic talents?” “Has this hyperactive boy been taken out of class for an educational trip in the last 8 weeks?”


  3. David Shulman

    Eric, poor Eric…

    Can we not forget your eviscerating standards of instruction which denied students of color, in poor Bronx neighborhoods, to achieve “empty” credits and be pushed into the adult world (or college educational debt) without the skills they were supposed to acquire in high school? All to advance your own rise within the DOE structure! Instead of championing thorough remediation of educational deficits so these kids could be effective adults in the modern world, you devised and supported a way to make less than competent schooling look innovative and competent.

    Once upon a time you had different and more laudatory goals.

    You have the gaul to criticize this blog? Best for you to just shut up and collect the Columbia money plus the speaking fees.

    OOPS, forget I said that. The almost-Chancellor HAS clothes. Until he speaks.


  4. David Penberg

    Perhaps the DOE should be renamed the Department of Evisceration, because it has taken the soul out of the most honorable of callings: teaching, and reduced the best and the brightest to eschew the classroom for pinstripes.

    All the data in the world will never give kids a sense of hopefulness and agency. All the underdeveloped lives we have systematically neglected and labeled.

    I wonder what John Dewey would say as he passed his bag through a metal detector in his local high school.
    Democracy and education?


  5. David:

    I could not have said it any better. It was Mr. Nadelstern who oversaw the “bogus “credit recovery programs” that gave students “empty credits” and pushed them out unprepared for the adult world.

    Mr Nadelstern was a major part of the problem and not the solution when it came to giving the students a proper education.


  6. Eric, poor Eric. Yes, it’s so disappointing to see an educator like Eric being rendered incapable of seeing the damage that current, punitive measures are inflicting on students and teachers. Was it better when no one was held accountable for whether students learned or not? Of course not. None the less, I am not convinced that schools have improved by becoming test prep factories or places teachers dread going to everyday because at the end of the day their contribution will be judged solely on test scores (that aren’t even valid) and have to put up with being publicly shamed in the newspapers on account of these scores. This system of accountability cannot be defended. It’s mind boggling that anyone can defend this current state of affairs. Accountability is not a bad idea but the current method of accountability is deeply, deeply flawed. Is a deeply flawed system better then no system at all ? My vote is no system is better then this system.


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