Eagle editorial: Close the discipline gap

04/30/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Because equal educational opportunity demands equal discipline, administrators and school boards for Wichita and area districts should take seriously the new data showing black students are more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled at their middle and high schools, and root out any race-based discrimination via policy and training changes.

Maize superintendent Doug Powers had the right attitude, as quoted in the Sunday Eagle: “Do we need to further look at that? Yes, and we need to break that down in every way that we can.”

Though black students made up about 18 percent of total USD 259 enrollment in 2010-11, they represented nearly 22 percent of in-school suspensions, 25.6 percent of out-of-school suspensions and nearly 34 percent of expulsions. The disparities are even more glaring at Southeast High School, for example, where black students represent 29 percent of enrollment but 82 percent of in-school suspensions and 46 percent of out-of-school suspensions.

Though suburban districts have far fewer African-American students, the trend has applied there as well, with black students at Maize, for example, accounting for 3 percent of enrollment but nearly 19 percent of in-school suspensions and nearly 10 percent of out-of-school suspensions for 2010-11.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights explained why more scrutiny of such numbers was needed in announcing its survey last month of data from all 97,000 U.S. public schools, noting that boys of color are disproportionately affected nationally by suspensions and zero-tolerance policies: “Suspended students are less likely to graduate on time and more likely to be suspended again. They are also more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, and become involved in the juvenile justice system.”

That’s bad news not only for the students and their families but also for future taxpayers.

Race is only an ingredient in the discipline issue, of course, with poverty, health, special-education needs and parenting also factoring into children’s behavior.

But it can’t help either the perception or the reality of disparate discipline that, as Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker told a Salina crowd on Monday, 7 percent of Kansas schoolchildren are African-American while only 1 percent of their teachers are.

USD 259 officials have made good use of alternative programs for students, recognizing that discipline can be counterproductive if it interrupts classroom time. The data should underscore the importance of the efforts of Bill Faflick, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, and others to ensure that discipline is meted out consistently, without regard to race.

As Faflick told The Eagle: “Our work’s not done. We talk about trying to close the achievement gap. But we’re trying to close the discipline gap as well, and we work very hard to make that happen.”

Acknowledging that gap exists is crucial to closing it.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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