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Race and Ethnicity

  • Re-Imagining School Discipline: A Plea To Education Leaders

    Written on January 28, 2021

    In many large urban school districts, there are more security employees than counselors. In the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system, for example there is one security guard for every 147 students, while the counselor-to-student ratio is 1:217. In addition, based on 2015-16 data, Groeger et al. (2018) found that Black students in DCPS were 15 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers (nationally, Black students were four times more likely to be suspended). In short, many students are not getting the emotional and mental support they need as they go through our schools. Instead, as exemplified by these staffing ratios, too many students are affected by punitive, militaristic methods of discipline, which may not only have negative consequences for the students who are disciplined, but for their peers as well (Perry and Morris 2014).  

    A commonly used discipline approach, which used to be known as “zero tolerance,” was to discipline all students who didn’t follow the expected “rules.” Zero tolerance policies proliferated in public schools as a reform to help manage student behavior, using a “quick fix” method. Weaver and Swank (2020) define zero tolerance as “policies…[that] include exclusionary practices (i.e., office referral, suspension, expulsion) that involve the removal of the offender from the context of the incident and isolating the student from others involved and their school community.”

    Unfortunately, as Skiba et al. (2011) show, these policies have created negative experiences for students and have disproportionately affected Black and brown students. Because they are implemented for even minor infractions, such as dress code violations, these policies don’t work and can actually cause harm to our students. Zero tolerance policies were designed to create a method of tracking student behavior, but this militaristic approach did not set students up for future success. Instead, these policies increase suspensions and expulsions, and also contribute to reduced engagement, loss of instructional time, and heightened dropout rates (Jones 2018). We are not giving students the opportunities to fail in our presence.

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  • How Much Segregation Is There Within Schools?

    Written on October 8, 2020

    Our national discourse on school segregation, whether income- or race-/ethnicity-based, tends to focus on the separation of students between schools within districts. There are good reasons for this, including the fact that the majority of desegregation efforts have been within-district efforts. Sometimes lost in this focus, however, is the importance of segregation between districts.

    This distinction can be confusing, so consider a large metro area with a central city district surrounded by a group of suburban districts. There may be extensive racial/ethnic segregation of students between schools within those districts, with students of color concentrated in some schools and their White peers concentrated in others. But total segregation across the entire metro area is also a function of segregation between districts - i.e., the degree to which students of certain races or ethnicities are concentrated in some districts and not others (e.g., students of color in the city, white students in the suburbs). In a sense, if we view diversity as a resource, there are multiple "chokepoints" at which that resource is distributed down to the next level—from states to metro areas to districts to schools—and this can exacerbate segregation.

    recent working paper provides one of relatively few pieces of recent evidence suggesting that, in addition to racial and ethnic segregation between districts and between schools within districts, there may be an additional important "layer": segregation within schools.

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  • A Black Policeman's Sister On Police Reform And Police Unions

    Written on August 27, 2020

    My late brother was a police officer and, before his retirement, our late grandfather was the Acting Commissioner of Public Safety in the U.S. Virgin Islands. So it’s fair to say that I come from a police friendly family. Before coming to work for the Shanker Institute and before that, the AFT, I worked for the AFL-CIO alongside trade unionists from all trades and professions. So it makes it all the more painful to see the asinine responses that police unions have had to charges of police bias and brutality toward African Americans, especially since these charges can so easily be proven to be valid (see hereherehere and here). And, as the mother of a Black male teen, I am terrified to send him out into the world where his very existence may be seen as a threat (see herehere and here).

    One of ironies here is that recent calls to “defund the police” and “reform the police,” if executed with rational foresight, would actually go a long way to making the job easier for rank and file police officers. I remember my brother telling me that the call he hated the very most was responding to a person who was having a psychiatric episode. He thought that breaking up a fight or a robbery or even a murder would be preferable, because he had been trained how to respond in those situations. With mental instability, he had no clue: Should he try to talk them down? If they were violent, what was the proper use of force? How should he defend himself and others? Or should he just wait for medical personnel to arrive? In every case, he had to play it by ear. The call to “defund the police” is not actually a call to abolish police departments, as some on the Right have claimed. Instead, it’s a proposal to move some police funding to other municipal agencies that have more expertise in addressing the social ills that are now dumped on police departments as a last resort—such as mental disability, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. The proposal, then, is to strengthen local social services to the point that they can relieve police forces of some of the functions that they are disastrously ill equipped to handle.

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  • For Students, The "Good Ole Days" Are Not Good Enough

    Written on July 7, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Dr. John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    Across the country, everyone is asking one question, “When will we get back to normal?” A cry similar to that of previous generations who often beckon back to the “good ole’ days.” If we are honest, the desire to get back to a place called “normal” is not because the past was better, but simply because it was familiar. The very fact that our past “normal” included a system where, in most school districts, you could identify by race and ethnicity which students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or less likely to graduate says it all. Our past “normal” was actually abnormal (unless, for some reason which defies all science, you believe that intellect is distributed by race and ethnicity). 

    In America, the “good ole’ days,” meant prevalent systemic racism, a widening achievement gap, and scarce resources for our students and teachers. Rather than longing for “back to normal,” our public school system has the opportunity to once again move us forward towards creating a more equitable and just “new normal” for students, parents, and families. There are three common sense places where, post-COVID, we can give birth to a transformative “new normal”:

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  • The Structure Of School Segregation In The D.C. Metro Area

    Written on December 12, 2019

    A few weeks ago, the Shanker Institute published an analysis of segregation by race and ethnicity in D.C. metro area schools (including D.C. proper, Alexandria City, Arlington and Fairfax County in Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland). 

    The report, written with my co-author Bilan Jama, presents multiple measures to characterize segregation within each of these six districts and across the entire metro area, but it also focuses on segregation between districts. This is a very important distinction for understanding segregation, particularly in large metropolitan areas. Put simply, students may be systematically sorted into schools within each district (e.g., white students may be concentrated in some schools while African American students are concentrated into others), but they might also be sorted between districts (e.g., some districts may serve mostly black, white, Asian or Latino students, while others serve very few such students). Both of these factors affect the racial and ethnic composition of schools, and so both contribute to or attenuate segregation in the metro area as a whole.

    The D.C. metro area is an excellent context for this kind of analysis because it is so racially and ethnically diverse, with relatively strong representation of white (26.5 percent), black (34.7), Hispanic (27.2), and Asian students (11.6). This diversity is the “raw material” for truly diverse schools. Unfortunately, we found this not to be the case, and the underlying reasons why are interesting.

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  • Let's Talk About Sex (Education Inequity)!

    Written on September 30, 2019

    College is too late to expose students to facts about their own anatomy or to introduce tools for informed, consensual decision-making. I began my career at a liberal arts university in South Carolina where I focused on social justice education and sexual assault prevention. I quickly realized that many undergraduate students were receiving information on consent, healthy relationships, and sexual health for the first time. Sexual assault prevention work will not be effective if a measurable percentage of the student body had no prior foundation of sex education. I began to explore the national landscape of sex education and found an urgent social justice issue. 

    The current state of sex education in the United States is inadequate and inequitable. Sexual health disparities on the basis of race and ethnicity are clear and alarming nationwide, especially in states that do not mandate sex education in any form or those that require an abstinence only curriculum. 26 states in this nation omit essential sex education from their curricula by mandating a stress on abstinence only information, (Lowen, 2019). We as a nation employ deficit-based thinking to blame teenagers for their choices and behavior, yet we fail to recognize the system that withholds the education students need to be informed and healthy young adults. When comprehensive, fact-based sexual health education is systematically withheld, we can see disproportionate rates of teenage pregnancy and HIV transmission in Black and brown youth. 

    Let’s examine what’s not working. Texas, for example, does not require HIV information or contraception in its sex education curriculum for public schools. If – and the key word is if – sexual health information on HIV or contraception is offered in Texas, it must be taught from an abstinence-only framework (Guttmacher Institute, 2019).

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  • It Was Never About The Buses: Personal And Political Reflections On “Forced Busing”

    Written on July 11, 2019

    White protestor attacks African-American passerby with American flag at a 1976 ‘anti-busing’ rally in Boston. (Photo credit: NPR)

    I have only a few distinct childhood memories of hearing someone utter the racial slur “N*****.” To be honest, I do not doubt that there were more incidents than those I now remember, but some instances were so stark and hateful, so soul wrenching, that I could not forget them, even as the passage of time has come to be counted in decades.

    One of my earliest recollections dates back to the fall of 1964, in my 6th grade class at St. Matthias Elementary School. The nun who taught the class had us research that year’s presidential election, and each of us had to decide which of the major party candidates – Johnson or Goldwater – we would support. During the ensuing class discussion, a fellow student announced that she supported Goldwater, as he would keep “the Niggers from being bused into our neighborhood schools.” Even as an eleven year old, I was stunned that this racial slur was used openly in a school dedicated to educating students in the values of the Catholic faith, and that the reaction of the nun teaching our class was to mollify, rather than admonish.

    St. Matthias was located in Ridgewood, a neighborhood on New York City’s Brooklyn-Queens border. In those days, Ridgewood was far to the right, a home to many who had been Nazi sympathizers and American Firsters during the 1930s and to others who had fled Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.[i] It was the anchor of the only assembly district in all of New York City to vote for Goldwater in 1964, and I was one of just two students in my large 6th grade class to support Johnson.

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  • Charter Schools And Teacher Diversity

    Written on June 27, 2019

    new study of North Carolina public schools finds that black students in charter schools are more likely to have black teachers than their regular public school counterparts, and that the positive effect of “teacher/student racial match” on the test scores of black students is more pronounced in charter than in regular public schools.

    Like most good analyses of charter and regular public schools, this report, written by economist Seth Gershenson and published by the Fordham Institute, is an opportunity to learn from the comparison between the charter and regular public school sectors. For instance, the fact that the “match effect,” which is fairly well-established in the literature (e.g., Dee 2005), is stronger in charter schools is fascinating, though a well-informed discussion of the reasons why this may be the case is well outside of my rather modest wheelhouse (there are some possibilities mentioned in the paper’s conclusion). 

    I’d actually like to focus briefly on the first finding – that teacher/student racial match is more common for black charter school students. This is the descriptive and arguably less interesting part of the analysis, but it struck me because, like the paper's main finding about the magnitude of the "match effect," it too raises policy-relevant questions, in this case about why teacher diversity might vary between sectors.

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  • Update On Teacher Diversity Data: Good News, Bad News, And Strange News

    Written on December 5, 2018

    A couple of months ago, we released a report on the collection and availability of teacher race and ethnicity data, based on our late 2017 survey of all 51 state education agencies (SEAs) in the U.S. We asked them two simple questions: 1) Do you collect data (school- or district-level) on teacher race and ethnicity; and 2) Do you make the data public, and how (i.e., by request or on your website)?

    Our findings, in brief, were that the majority of states both collected and made public school- and district-level data on teacher diversity, but that six states did not collect the data all, and another four states collect the data but do not make them available to the public.

    Since the publication of that report, we’ve come across significant information/updates pertaining to three states, which we would like to note briefly. We might characterize these three updates as good news, bad news, and strange news.

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  • We Need To Reassess School Discipline

    Written on November 2, 2018

    It has been widely documented that, in American schools, students of color are disproportionately punished for nonviolent behaviors, and are targeted for exclusionary discipline within schools more often than their white peers. Exclusionary discipline is defined as students being removed from their learning environment, whether by in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion. 

    In a national study, Sullivan et al. (2013) found that “Black students were more than twice as likely as White students to be suspended, whereas Hispanic and Native American students were 10 and 20 percent more likely to be suspended.” Out of all the racial minority groups, Asians had the lowest suspension rates across the board. Across all the racial groups, “males were twice as likely as female students to be suspended, and Black males had the highest rates of all subgroups.”

    One reason that students of color are at a performance disadvantage to their White counterparts is because, put simply, they are being removed from the classroom much more often. This is true nationally, but it seems to be a particularly pronounced issue in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Center for Public Integrity released a 2015 study demonstrating that schools in Virginia “referred students to law enforcement agencies at a rate nearly three times the national rate” (Ferriss, 2015). According to the U.S. Department of Education, Virginia’s Black student population, which is 23 percent of all students, received 59 percent of short-term arrests and 43 percent of expulsions (Lum, 2018).

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