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Kicked out of school: Disparities are a looming crisis for all districts

It’s no secret to anyone who has spent time in schools that the behavior of a single student can bring an entire class to a halt, testing the patience — not to mention classroom management skills — of the most veteran teacher.

And yet sending the student out of the classroom, particularly by suspension or expulsion, frequently starts them on a path that ends in dropping out. When the student reappears elsewhere, it’s as a grim statistic.

A student kept out of the classroom three times by ninth grade is virtually guaranteed not to graduate. Add to this the fact that the reason for 95 percent of exclusions is disruptive or disorderly conduct — nonviolent behaviors for which African American kids are most singled out.

Last week, a group of classroom teachers took the highly unusual step of showing up at a regular meeting of the St. Paul School Board to plead for changes to the district’s policies regarding discipline and the mainstreaming of many special education students.

A larger contingent of community members showed up in support of St. Paul Public Schools’ effort, begun last fall, to return special needs students, including those with emotional and behavioral issues, to regular classrooms. According to district leaders, 80 percent of students once taught in isolation are doing “incredibly well” in mainstream classes.

By the end of the contentious, standing-room-only meeting, both groups seemed to have a better appreciation for each other’s concerns, according to some who were present. District leaders, the observers hoped, came away with a fresh understanding of how crucial implementation is.

Most difficult conversation

R.T. Rybak

“It is clear that the old system of educating kids is not working,” said R.T. Rybak, executive director of the education coalition Generation Next and one of those in attendance last week. “We have a generation of evidence that it doesn’t.”

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have taken potentially transformational steps in recent months, he added.

“I’ve watched with awe over the years as St. Paul has navigated through some very tough issues of race and equity,” said Rybak. “This is an example of some of the very tough decisions we have to make if we are going to make headway.

“In St Paul, the superintendent is trying to bring people together to have the most difficult conversation you can have in America, which is about race,” said Rybak. “In Minneapolis, it’s having teachers agree to a new strategy that can be used at the lowest-performing schools.”

Other Minnesota districts would do well to consider the St. Paul clash a cautionary chapter and begin communicating with community members about the needed changes and equipping teachers with alternative strategies, public education advocates say.

Statewide, there were almost 45,000 suspension and expulsions in the 2012-2013 school year, according to Minnesota Department of Education records. In the two districts with the highest concentrations of Native American students and students of color, the disparities are stark.

Last year, Minneapolis Public Schools suspended or expelled 4,896 students: 3,801 African Americans, 372 American Indians, 292 Latinos and 328 whites.

St. Paul excluded 4,418 students from class for a day or longer, the state’s threshold for reporting disciplinary data: 3,109 African Americans, 101 American Indians, 472 Latinos and 397 whites.

In St. Paul, African American male secondary students with a disability are at a 66 percent risk of suspension, according to an analysis of data from the 2009-2010 school year. By contrast, 9.2 percent of all district students risked suspension that year.

Some 11 percent of African American elementary pupils risked suspension that year, compared with 1 percent of whites and 2 percent of Latinos. More than 2 in 5 African American secondary students and 1 in 5 black elementary students were suspended at least once. In the case of secondary students, that’s 12 percentage points worse than the national average.

State disciplinary data show that the rate at which the district relies on “exclusionary practices” — suspensions of 24 hours or more or expulsions — has fluctuated in recent years, changing little overall.

Worse, while one third of St. Paul students are African American, they make up two-thirds of those classified as having “emotional-behavioral disorder,” a special education classification that includes behavior perceived as defiant or disruptive.

Inequities laid bare

As state and federal officials increasingly press schools to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in discipline, similar tensions are increasingly likely to crop up in districts around Minnesota. The issue is equal parts resources and mindset, and with one in short supply and the other tough to change, controversy can be expected.

Both Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s school systems have been cited by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for the troubling rate at which students of color, and in particular African American youth, experience the most damaging forms of discipline.

In what is becoming the education hallmark of President Barack Obama’s administration, the DOE has stepped up collection of data that highlights inequities. This year, for example, marks the first time the feds have collected data on preschool discipline.

Even here the disparities are clear. African Americans make up 18 percent of public preschool enrollment but almost half of preschoolers who are suspended more than once.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Hours before the standing-room-only St. Paul board meeting, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan vowed to keep pushing “the key civil rights issue of the day.” 

“Black 3- and 4-year-olds are much more likely to be excluded” from school, Duncan told the annual Education Writers Association conference. “When students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended or expelled, and when that disciplinary action stems from discriminatory policies or practices, it’s a civil rights violation.”

Starting in 2015, DOE’s Office of Civil Rights will begin collecting data on in-school violence, the number of school days missed by students who were suspended and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and religion. Districts will also be required to report teacher salary spending, as well as demographic data on students who complete Advanced Placement and other higher-level coursework. 

Duncan also proposed a $300 million Race to the Top initiative to fund innovative state and district equity initiatives, including efforts to reduce suspensions and expulsions and to eliminate disparities in discipline.

On-the-ground realities

That the data and the policy focus are already identifying hot spots does little for the classroom teacher who is in the difficult position of keeping a class on track without the ability to send a disruptive student to the office.

A cooperative of west-metro school systems, Intermediate District 287 is responsible for educating some of the Twin Cities most challenged students. In addition to operating schools for children with unique and intense cognitive disabilities, 287 provides schooling for students with unmet mental health needs — a number of whom exhibit violent behaviors.

Using a combination of strategies aimed at replacing punitive measures with positive discipline and school culture, 287 had reported just 15 suspensions by mid-March — five of them associated with one particularly challenged student.

Anxious to reduce the number of students who need their expensive, specialized services, District 287 this year asked lawmakers for $250,000 to provide training for at least one school in each Hennepin County district. The idea: Getting an entire building pulling in the same direction in every community would convince educators in other buildings that there is an effective alternative.

The state dollars aren’t forthcoming, but the district has decided to go ahead and offer its training to any program in the state. Osseo and Duluth, two large districts under pressures similar to those of Minneapolis and St. Paul, already have expressed interest.

Everyone must be in

Schoolwide buy-in is crucial, added Eric Kloos, a supervisor in the Minnesota Department of Education’s special-ed division. MDE has been training school faculties in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports for 10 years, he noted, during which time it’s become clear that 85 percent of the adults in a building need to support the approach for it to succeed.

As of last fall, 480 schools had received MDE training in the strategy, he continued. Last week, the department singled out 30 Minnesota schools where the effort is working for recognition.

“No one sets out to have disproportionate impacts,” said Kloos. “For many years our attention has been on student behavior, but increasingly our attention is on the system.”

Which makes adequate support for teachers crucial. For his part, Rybak did not hear indifference to equity from the unhappy teachers who addressed the St. Paul Board last week. To the contrary, by the end of the meeting, he said, it was clear that the plea was for practical assistance.

Rybak praised St. Paul teachers and leaders for their efforts so far. “This is incredibly tough work,” he said. “It’s easier for everyone except the students to isolate those in special ed or English-language learners but it’s also not producing the results we need.”

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Comments (29)

What is your solution?

Is your solution a lowering of standards for African Americans or is your solution the teaching of acceptable & unacceptable student behavior? The former is wrong while the latter is right for a civilized society.

Maybe these folks should learn about Harvest Prep's approach.

During the meeting noted in this article, the following was documented:

[quote]
During his public comments, McGill described an example at the crux of the debate: an African-American fourth-grader who McGill said bullied and intimidated students, and "significantly compromised an entire year of science instruction for the great majority of his classmates."

McGill noted that teachers and administrators were reluctant to discipline the student following the new "equity" policy.

"I -- we -- failed this student and this class," McGill said.
[end quote]

My questions:

Is withholding discipline helping this bully ?

Is refraining from appropriate discipline helping the rest of his class ?

Obviously, it’s not helping the teacher, who is telling the story…but maybe it’s helping the school administrators in some way. In exactly what way would it help the administrators ?

Exactly who or what is being helped by such a policy ? Is it worth the cost of destroying most of the value of a class for most of the students for an entire year ?

And finally, does the school administration have a plan to somehow return the lost value - perhaps the lost year of opportunity to learn science - to the students in that “compromised” science classroom ?

Have these school administrators ever read the Handbook of Harvest Prep regarding discipline ? I highly recommend it to all of them, especially the way it addresses expectations of student conduct and discipline starting on about pages 15 and 19, respectively. Is this school's success because they slacked off on issues of conduct and discipline ? Quite the opposite appears to be true.
http://es.harvestprep.com/documents/Student%20Handbook/es-handbook-fy11-...

Nope

Harvest Prep and other charter schools don't have to deal with the kind of kids that get suspended and expelled because their parents don't make the effort to send their kids to charters. Charters can (and do) get rid of problem kids without having them show up in suspension/expulsion statistics. The Harvest Prep policy has nothing whatsoever to do with that school's "success."

,,,nothing whatsoever to do with that school's "success" ??

This is just plain silly. Harvest Prep seems to differ with your opinion. They think these policies are essential to their success. Maybe you should let them know where they're going wrong.

I can understand your point that Harvest Prep (and similar schools, which by the way have similar policies) can exercise latitude in enrollment and discipline where the public school is constrained. The constraints bearing on the public school I can see would include legal issues, and responsibility to open the doors to everyone, but also the level of commitment the public schools can demand of parents and students.

Apparently, the public schools either are, or think they are, powerless to demand certain behavioral norms. You know, the kind of behavioral norms that comport with, say, the education of children.

The "success" of Harvest Prep (and again, similar schools) I'm talking about is academic success. It is, after all, a school. Maybe you're talking about some other kind of "success".

See http://www.seed-harvest.org/download.axd?file=50cbf909-22ed-40cf-a9c2-eb...

It is Harvest Prep’s “Parent and Scholar Handbook” for the 2013-14 school year. Below are a few quoted excerpts:

“Harvest Preparatory School’s formula for success is built on three basic principles: strong basic skills instruction, African culture and heritage, and in-depth involvement of parents.”

“We have very high expectations for scholar behavior, and we “sweat the small stuff” to create and preserve a focused learning environment.”

“Scholars are expected to always respond respectfully to the authority and direction of school staff. Behaviors that are considered disrespectful include, but are not limited to, rolling of the eyes; smacking lips or sucking teeth; making inappropriate remarks or sounds in response to a request; walking away from a staff member before a conversation is over; talking back to a staff member; or questioning a staff member’s action or authority. Such disrespect will not be tolerated, and demerits, detentions, and other consequences will be issued appropriately.”

But do not miss the “PARENT/GUARDIAN CONTRACT FOR ACADEMIC EXPECTATIONS” and specifically, the “Parent Letter of Commitment”, which reads, in part…

“We expect much from our scholars. In turn, we also expect much from our families in order to ensure the success of our scholars and the success of our school. Our school requires commitments from parents/guardians that may not be required in other schools.”

How someone can read these policies, look at the results of Harvest Prep, listen to how important they are in the eyes of the school, and then turn around and say that this has nothing to with their success...is beyond me.

Harvest Prep

Harvest Prep is run by a convicted felon who pays himself and his wife ridiculous salaries. I don't give any credibility to what someone with a fraud conviction thinks is happening.

The fact remains that charters like Harvest Prep don't get the worst students because students have to elect to enroll in charters. Harvest Prep and its ilk also "counsel out" students who cause trouble without expelling them.

Its a nice policy, but the fact that you (and anyone else) thinks that is what makes a difference shows what a real problem this is.

Dan;

It is a falsehood that charters can select their students or choose to stop serving kids whose challenges prove steep. ALL schools can subtly or not so subtly encourage students to go elsewhere or to drop out. Indeed, in contrast to your assertion I would point to any number of Twin Cities charters that serve large numbers of students who are not formally suspended or expelled by a mainline district school but who were essentially counseled out.  

Counseled out

Its funny that you use the term "counseled out" because that is exactly how places like Harvest Prep cull their trouble students without official expulsions (and not because of their policy). And you know very well thay mainline schools have far less lattitude than charters to remove students without expulsions. The real difference is that mainline schools (who, unlike charters, can't hire convicted felons as principals) actually have oversight over how and why students leave.

I think we are going to have

I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on what the facts are here, Dan. 

Charters like district schools vary

Charters like district schools vary. They serve a variety of youngsters. Some alt & charters serve youngsters who have been pushed out of traditional schools.

Discipline disparities

The article does not address the behavior
disparities which result in discipline disparities.

Special Education students

It is important to remember that students classified as disabled have legally protected rights to education. Just as children in wheelchairs are guaranteed access to their education every day in spite of their disabilities; children with emotional and behavioral disabilities are entitled access to their education every day in spite of their disabilities.

Suspending a child with a disability does not absolve the school district from its obligation to educate the child and provide the opportunity for him to learn and make progress.

Suspensions

Can we get a breakdown of the reasons for the suspensions and expulsions? Can you define disruptive and disorderly conduct? At my child's St. Paul public school, the suspensions and expulsions usually involve violence. This isn't about kids talking in class. This is about kids doing physical harm to other kids and to teachers and school employees.

Platitudes won't help

I have to agree with Mr. Ryback that this is “…incredibly tough work.” So, to make this work more effective, let’s make sure that the people who craft new and more informed policies and directives are – by their own choice – far removed from any and all classrooms. Better yet if they’re in the rarified atmosphere of a legislature. Doing so, of course, will mean that the people who actually have to DO the “…incredibly tough work” will have no meaningful influence on policies and directives, whether they involve materials, instructional techniques, or disciplinary tactics and strategies.

And if you don’t see the sarcasm dripping from the above, you’re not paying attention.

Before – or at best, simultaneously with – consideration of the reasons for disparities in disciplinary action, it would behoove the powers-that-be to pay attention to Keith Hawkinson’s trenchant comment about disparities in disruptive behavior.

I completely agree that suspension does nothing to fix the problem, and also does nothing to educate the child that’s been suspended, but I’d also argue that what often gets inadequate attention in this debate, as Steve Titterud has pointed out quite well, is that the whole rest of the class often suffers – twenty-something other, equally-valuable children – when the disruption of a single student becomes the focus of the teacher’s (and the class’s) attention.

It’s not generally tolerated when a teacher uses force to discipline an unruly child, even though that unruly child – in my experience – more often than not comes from a home where force is the only means of discipline that’s typically applied, and may be the only method to which that unruly child will respond. I say that as a parent who never struck his offspring, and a teacher who managed to survive 30 classroom years with only a single “Go to the office” incident. Disruptive children are completely antithetical to education as it’s currently constituted. They are poisonous to an academic atmosphere. If taxpayers want to fund a system where, as a teacher, I can deal with each child individually, and my student load will be reduced accordingly, I’ll be happy to adapt to, and adopt, whatever methodology and tactics will work with each of those children, no matter how time-and-energy-intensive those tactics and methodologies might be. But if budgetary and philosophical constraints are going to put me “in charge” (a relative term when dealing with adolescents) of 30 teenagers in a single room for 48 minutes to an hour each day, 5 days a week, there’s quite literally only so much individualization I can do before the needs of the group as a whole have to get some attention. This is especially true when the be-all and end-all of an increasing amount of instruction has become the standardized test score.

Ms. Bloom is quite correct in pointing out that disabled students have rights when it comes to educational access, and I second her statement that suspension does not absolve the district of its obligation to provide educational opportunities to that child. That said, however, I’m old-fashioned enough to come down rather firmly on the side of behavioral norms that allow ALL the children in the class to learn. A disabled child who cannot, for whatever reason, become part of the collective effort on the part of teacher and students to learn subject ‘x,’ may well have to learn that subject in a personally-less-restrictive but academically-more-segregated environment. Indeed, it should never be an automatic response, but the disabled child, while fully entitled to all the rights of her peers, is NOT entitled to MORE rights than her peers.

More to the point, I suspect, is that much of the disruptive behavior in a given classroom is coming, not from disabled children, but from children who have never learned any sort of self-discipline at home, and are often actively hostile to authority figures in general. While I might be aware of, and sympathetic to, the problems that lack of self-discipline will cause that child later in life, in the classroom, I’m charged with the here-and-now, and in that context, I lack the time and the community support to serve as a surrogate parent in teaching that child the kind of self-restraint she should already have acquired by the time she reached my classroom.

Yes !

Picked up on your drippings immediately. As someone who chose to work with the most difficult students for 42 years I could have not said it better myself. And yes many of these folks I now consider friends. Anything is possible if you keep the experts in their ivory towers. The sad part is there is never the question asked of the veterans regarding how we did it.

Strong pre school program essential

African American students are disciplined because they misbehave more. It is that simple. Young African American males are in the judicial system in great numbers because they commit more crimes.
They enter elementary school unable to compete and either drop out or fail. They can't compete with children who have two parents who read to them, computers in the home, parents who speak correct English, etc.
We need a strong pre school program to make up for these deficiencies. By the time the kids are older it is too late.

To Ray's comments

"More to the point, I suspect, is that much of the disruptive behavior in a given classroom is coming, not from disabled children, but from children who have never learned any sort of self-discipline at home, and are often actively hostile to authority figures in general. While I might be aware of, and sympathetic to, the problems that lack of self-discipline will cause that child later in life, in the classroom, I’m charged with the here-and-now, and in that context, I lack the time and the community support to serve as a surrogate parent in teaching that child the kind of self-restraint she should already have acquired by the time she reached my classroom.."

No truer words spoken!! Would you be willing to come out of retirement to be MN Education Czar?

It's been my belief, for some time, that schools are being asked to be individual surrogate parent for each student - and there is no amount of money that we as taxpayers could provide - that would allow that to happen.

Finally, in a rhetorical way, I am wondering if the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights would be interested in tackling the violation of civil rights that occurred for those 20 students who lost their year of science to the disrupted student? To me, a far greater crime...

Ray's Remarks

You are so right. But the points you make are not really addressed by some of the experts on high, who, by the way, maybe wouldn't last a day in some schools where the teachers are continuously doing everything possible to keep everyone happy, somewhat focused and in the room. Finally, I don't see how we can guarantee equal result for all, though we should absolutely try. One or a few should not be allowed to destroy learning for everyone else, on any given day, no matter who they are or what their background. We should not all have to become victims to ensure good education for all. And in the desire to eliminate or reduce suspensions, maybe we just need a few more "time out" rooms where needy students can avail themselves of perhaps more needed counseling services. In fact, let's bring back the often now eliminated school counselors who used to do just that.

Lazy work

The sources quoted in this piece about a very complex classroom management issue are: 1) an ex-mayor, ex-journalist with not a minute of K-12 teaching experience or training; and 2) a well-connected ex-basketball player, sociology major also without a bit of teaching training or experience.

This is just lazy writing.

Hmm

So far I see a lot of describing what the problem is, as well as a lot of blaming what and from whom the problem arises. Outside of a vague call for stronger preschool programs (meaning what exactly?), what I don't see is any sort of solution aside from giving up on children who, for whatever reason, don't "fit" into the traditional environment. You aren't going to make people better parents, period. No amount of want to do is going to allow you the influence, or access, needed to do so. Blaming kids for their parents' shortcomings is completely pointless, as it neither changes the circumstances, nor addresses the issues that arise day to day. I can understand the frustration and difficulties brought about for the teachers involved, as well as the problems created for the other students, but at what point does it become a societal imperative to ensure that despite the difficulties, every child makes it. I have no idea of a solution, I'm no educator, but what I seem to hear is a lot of resignation from those who are regarding the insurmountability of this challenge.

The problem with this article

The problem with this article is that it simply repeats a problem with the way the issue of wildly disruptive kids in the public schools was conceptualized by the meeting: as a problem of racial "equity."

The problem is the disruptive behavior by the kids. That should be the focus. But, that's hard, because you have to start with the family, the culture that has these kids coming to a public school with such deep emotional and behavioral problems that no classroom teacher by himself should ever be asked to deal with.

It's simple

Reach all kids between the range of age 3 to 5 and begin to work with them then. At 3 they begin to become aware of themselves and the world around them. This is the time to reach them and show them what the world is about. Make sure they are all fed and experience the same treatment, experience and hope. Let them know what it's all about and how to get there. Expensive at first maybe, but with a huge payback soon enough.

Quality pre-school

The value of quality pre-K programming continues to withstand trends and studies and would be held in higher regard if 'in the best interest of business' had not replaced 'In the Best Interest of the Child'.

Yes

I agree. We're in a period where knowledge comes in second place, if that. It's not open for argument that a three year old is at the age where they are beginning to learn, but the argument against helping them learn holds most of the purse strings. Leverage and all that. We have a chance to change what a 3 year old learns and in doing so fundamentally change the lives of the next generation. To make it better for them, and us too with less crime, more employment etc. We 'say' we want them all to fit seamlessly into society but we walk away from providing the means for all of them.

Some alt & charter schools R successful with challenging student

Gordon Parks, a SPPS alternative school, and High School for REcording Arts, a ST. Paul charter, are succeeding with many secondary students who have been encouraged to told to leave large traditional schools.

Both use various project based approaches. Both believe these young people can succeed. Both strongly encourage students to participate in some form of dual (high school/college) credit courses.

A few things

So as a former pre-K and K-5 educator, parent of children with special needs who have attended both MPS,and a charter school and someone who has routinely spent 1-4 hours per week volunteering in K-12 schools, I have a few things to add.
^ Charter schools are all open enrollment by law and while they can designate an attendance area, must enroll any student who applies/registers. All schools are limited by their particular resources and if a challenged student does leave, it is by the guardian's choice because all resources to address the student's needs have been exhausted. This very same thing happens within school districts; though students don't have to leave the district to attend another school program, Charter schools are a district of that one school so if a student leaves they must go to another district.
*No one can force a child to learn. Educators engage students at all age levels in a process of initiating, accessing, associating and integrating material/ content. Many students do this in "non-traditional" ways so that educators need both skills and resources/supports to provide this to all learners. Society has consistently removed both resources and supports while requiring educators to provide "more accountability" with asinine schemes like standardized testing. NO ONE is engaged by learning test questions!! This is the Cliff Notes version of education that we are expecting to prepare students for jobs and life.
* Behavioral issues increase exponentially for students who cannot begin to engage with test prep content that has not a whiff of meaning to the contiguous learning they'd had up to the beginning of testing in grade 3.
^And most importantly, Pre-K and primary Ed used to be about teaching all students classroom skills and foundations for learning. Since core content competency (reading by grade 1 and computational math) have been pushed down to kindergarten, no one has the time to teach the all important skills that students take with them and continue to hone throughout their entire learning career. And it shows!

Plan Do Check Act

"NO ONE is engaged by learning test questions!! "

It is interesting that you are against accountability, however not surprising since you are a former Teacher. They do seem to think that they should be left alone to teach what they want to teach, to who they want to teach it...

The fact is that the teaching method is left to the Districts and Teachers, all that is measured is how well did the students learn the required content.

I am waiting for the day when Teachers decide that students don't need to submit homework and/or take quizzes/tests... And the Teachers choose to not judge whether the child is proficient by checking their work and capability. Since that is what they seem to want society to do.

"Trust us... We know what we are doing... And No Child is Being Left Behind... Trust us..."

I am a big believer in trust but verify... I think one test set per year is pretty minimal. (ie MCAs)

perfectly misunderstand

When a person, child, learns test questions but not the material where those test questions are taken from, they aren't learning anything.

Please Explain

I don't see anyone demanding that kids "learn test questions".

I see that people are demanding that the children can answer questions within areas of important content. Thereby insisting that the Teachers have adequately taught the children.

The best method is still up to the districts and their Teachers.

Schools/Education

Diplomacy classes should be taught at all grades levels,
K-12,starting with a mini-class in K.
Shar Fortunak