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Black students’ suspension rate at MPS is far higher than others’

Minority students are suspended from Minneapolis Public Schools at drastically higher rates than their white peers, according to a new report commissioned by The Minneapolis Foundation.

About three-fourths of the 4,151 students who were suspended from MPS schools during the 2009-2010 year were African-American, according to “One Minneapolis: A vision for our city’s success,” a snapshot of the lives of Minneapolis’ minority residents released last week (and covered in more depth by Community Sketchbook’s Cynthia Boyd).

Put another way, almost one in four African-American students was suspended from MPS in 2009-10, including one in 10 African-American kindergarteners. American Indian students are the next most likely group to be suspended, at just above one in seven.

The district’s overall suspension rate crept down from 16 percent in 2005 to 13 percent last year.

MPS’ minority suspension rate is dramatically higher than that of U.S. schools on the whole. A report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), also released last week, found 15 percent of African-Americans students are suspended each year — a frequency that the report said should “raise questions about a school’s disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership and the training of its personnel.”

In response to the report, MPS issued this statement: “Minneapolis Public Schools is aware of and very concerned about student suspensions, particularly concerning students of color. We continue to monitor and address student suspensions in the school district’s academic plan and have a target goal of decreasing suspensions to no more than 4 percent of students by 2015. Suspensions have been slowly decreasing over recent years, but disparities between student groups continue to persist in Minneapolis schools as well as at the national level. We always work to ensure that disciplinary action has as minimal an impact on student learning as possible.”

Minor offenses
What accounts for the disparities? Minorities and disabled kids are often suspended for minor offenses, according to the author of the NEPC report.

A harsh disciplinary strategy, suspensions are supposed to be isolated to those cases where students are overly disruptive or threaten others’ safety. In part because it separates students from the learning environment, suspension is considered by many to be both punitive and counterproductive.

Yet MPS suspends 4 percent of kindergarteners and first-graders and 6 percent of second-graders each year.

In addition to being most likely to be suspended, black students are the most likely to serve more than one suspension during the school year. On average, black students who are suspended have almost three suspensions during the course of the school year.

Students who were suspended one or more times in a year were suspended an average of 2.7 times. Hispanic and Asian students were suspended fewer times on average than their peers, at 1.7 and 1.8 times.

Peak in 7th grade
Suspensions peak in middle school, with 24 percent seventh-graders, 22 percent of eighth-graders, and 21 percent of ninth-graders suspended at least once during the year.

Interestingly, unlike other districts, Minneapolis expels almost no students, but does unilaterally transfer hundreds from one school to another as a result of disciplinary issues. The unwritten district policy is an attempt to hang on to kids who would otherwise probably drop out, according to MPS administrators.

Last year, MPS unilaterally transferred 267 students. The vast majority, 197, were African-American. Also transferred were 24 Hispanics, 21 American Indians, 18 whites and seven Asians. The most transfers occurred in 10th grade, with 49, 9th with 41 and eighth, with 32.

Disruptive behavior in the classroom can easily consume a teacher who is operating without a school behavior specialist or other support. One possible antidote: a strong school culture. Lots of odds-beating schools here and in other cities have slashed the rate at which they haul out heavy disciplinary tools like suspensions by exerting a laser-like focus on things like orderly hallways, respectful voices and forms of address.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by liam gilmorasy on 10/10/2011 - 12:11 pm.

    This article was incredibly useless.
    It begs the question of a perceived injustice without drawing any reference to conditions outside the school that might contribute to unproductive behavior in the first place.
    Never, not once, has an article that draws attention to one group or another made a reference to what happens at home.
    I understand the fear that might compel the writer or those in education not to attack poor parenting.
    For while you are explaining how poor parental skills have undermined the schools attempts to educate that student, by the time your words have reached most parents ears they hear something quite different. When in fact there must be an attack on poor parenting skills.
    You can only blame schools and their teachers so far.
    Article such as this one, again, express that fear. The fear of blaming the true (for the most part) culprits in these suspensions.
    As as for merely moving a disciplined to another school rather than sending them to a work farm….. ?
    That method sickens me.
    What in the …… do you think that will accomplish?
    Now dear journalist, I dare you to attack the parents of these children.
    You can’t! Can you?

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/10/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    The most insightful paragraph in terms of solutions for this problem is the final one. Kind of like Rudy Giuliani’s campaign against litter and broken windows in New York City, attention to the small things, like orderly hallways and forms of address, can often make attention to the bigger things (fights, cursing, rude behavior) less necessary, and perhaps unnecessary altogether. That’s very, very important because, as Beth’s first sentence plainly states, having to spend all one’s classroom time dealing with one or two disruptive students means there’s less learning going on for everyone in that class, which is absolutely unfair to all those other kids in the class who are not disruptive.

    Not surprisingly, since I’m an old, broken-down high school history teacher, this area of behavioral discipline is something I’m inclined to attribute to a failure of parenting, but “inclined” is not synonymous with “always.” A parent myself, I’m well aware that there are times when parents may be just as surprised as the rest of us by misbehavior. That said, a lot of disruptive behavior is either a method to get attention, or it’s a response to other conditions over which the teacher has no control.

    I agree that suspension is often punitive, but there are times when “punitive” seems appropriate if that’s what it takes to get a student’s attention, and that of her parents and family, to an ongoing issue. Even then, however, it’s almost always going to have a significant downside, since removing someone from the classroom is typically counterproductive in terms of learning unless a district has the money and resources for alternatives to simply sending a kid home for a day or three. Many districts do not have those resources for alternatives, and as the legislature continues to cut K-12 funding from the state, that seems likely to continue to be the case, with poorer districts not really having very much in the way of alternatives.

    It’s a tough nut to crack.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/10/2011 - 01:09 pm.

    I am thoroughly convinced that more black men are arrested because they are involved in more mischeif, but that they end up in prison more often simply because they get mowed down by a legal system they cannot financially afford to succeed in.

    Racism? Not really; cash is color-blind. Wrong? Without doubt.

    Likewise I believe that it is usually their own mischeif that leads black youngsters to be diciplined, but the disparity of punishment, or remediation perhaps being the better word, is a mystery to me.

    Public schools are dominated by left leaning people; those who at all turns patent themselves as the protector of minorities, what can be going wrong?

    Is it the familiar passive\agressive racism of the left that sends these kids home, or is there another mechanism at work?

    I’m guessing fear has a bigger role to play.

    Teachers, especially white, female teachers are more likely to be intimidated by black kids. Removing them is a lot easier than dealing with them.

    I can understand, then, why a “strong school culture” works so well, and I applaud schools that take the effort to maintain one. At the same time, I can’t help but mourn the fact that a “strong home culture” is the missing link.

  4. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/10/2011 - 02:02 pm.

    Excellent points by #1 and #2 above.

    “raise questions about a school’s disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership and the training of its personnel”. Wow, talk about avoiding the elephant in the room. It’s responses like these that make it darn near impossible to be a “L”iberal. Likewise, there’s the claim that minority students are suspended for “minor offenses”. Really? In whose eyes? Again, a completely worthless article.

    And Ray, I agree. I think if we addressed the parenting issue the suspension rates would drop to acceptable levels.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/10/2011 - 05:55 pm.

    As indicated, if the MPS expelled more black students, it would suspend fewer of them.
    Which is a more socially productive approach?

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/10/2011 - 05:57 pm.

    In regard to arrest frequencies:
    which neighborhoods have more police on the streets?

  7. Submitted by Randall Ryder on 10/10/2011 - 06:43 pm.

    Indeed, this data is typical of urban school districts. The issue is whether the educational system is in some way bias toward black youth. From my experience it is a complex issue but to a large extent suspension rates would likely be higher among the poor and in those families where there is poverty and there is no male figure. I don’t think we can conclude that is the teachers’ determination as to whether a student is suspended, nor is it likely the school system. Spend a day in intake court and it is clear that poor, minority students will be the ones with no parent present, and they are the ones that get stiff rulings rom the court.

  8. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 10/11/2011 - 03:52 am.

    Some very good points in the earlier submissions.

    Unfortunately, some children, especially in lower socio-economic areas, come to kindergarten never having had a book read to them at home. Studies have shown that these students have a higher probability of seldom enjoying academic success in their school years and having behavioral problems.

    It’s very difficult to improve parenting skills, since many of these parents or guardians are reluctant to accept any help or advice. Also, with the disintegration of the family some children have many different guardians during the most critical periods of their lives, resulting in instability.

    One can go on and on about hunger, abuse, violence, and other problems, but as other writers above have stated, there are no easy answers.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/16/2011 - 11:28 am.

    Discipline begins at home with families. Perhaps instead of pointing the finger at; “Teachers, especially white, female teachers”. We should be asking more of these childrens’ families and communities. Parents of any income level who drill into their kids’ heads the importance of discipline and education, who stress written rather than visual media, and who support the actions of their childrens’ teachers and schools produce consistently successful students.

    It’s an age old concept and it’s called personal responsibility and that lesson begins at home…..

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