Monday, July 25, 2011

More than half of Texas students suspended or expelled

The results of a longitudinal study that followed one million Texas seventh-graders for six years reveals that 60% of those students were suspended or expelled at least once before finishing high school.

That is an astounding number - and an indictment of disciplinary policy in Texas schools.The purpose of public education is to ensure that every child in Texas receives a quality education through high school. Policies that result in more than half of our children being suspended or expelled and policies that introduce children to the criminal (in)justice system for misconduct at school are antithetical to the mission of our schools.

Mike Thompson of the Council of State Governments Justice Center said that this is a continuation of a 20-year trend that has seen suspension and expulsion rates double across the country. I guess it's a lot easier to educate the children who behave and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. But kids who drop out, are expelled or who fail to graduate for some other reason are more likely to find themselves caught up in the criminal (in)justice system as adults.

There are already too many folks under the thumb of the government. We don't need more.

Thompson said that's the problem: Expulsion and suspension policies focus too much on punishment, and not enough on addressing the misbehavior and having students learn from their mistakes. 
"We think the findings in this report should prompt policymakers in Texas and everywhere else to ask this question: Is our state school discipline system getting the desired results?" Thompson said.

According to the study, almost one-in-six children were punished eleven times or more. Of those, about half ended up in juvenile justice centers or alternative schools for 73 days or more. Those are the kids who tend to repeat grades or drop out of school without graduating.

The study also revealed that 70% of black girls were either suspended or expelled compared to 37% of white girls for the same or similar offenses. That's hardly a coincidence. Disciplinary decisions tend to be made solely by a teacher or administrator - hence there are no checks-and-balances to ensure that all students are treated equally.

The report also looked at the fascination that Texas schools have with issuing Class C citations for behavior that a generation ago would have been handled in class or within the school. Talking back to the teacher or disrupting class make it harder for teachers to do their jobs -- but charging a kid with a criminal offense and requiring them to miss school to appear in court with their parents is not the way to resolve it. We should be looking at ways to reduce the number of people introduced to the criminal (in)justice system, not the other way around.

State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) voiced his concern to the Houston Chronicle about schools farming out disciplinary problems to the courts:

Whitmire complained of "large inner-city school districts creating a large bureaucracy to deal with oftentimes just dumb teenage behavior that can be corrected short of making it a crime." 
Whitmire said the report confirms his concern over the continual growth in criminalizing classroom behavior. 
"We all want safe schools, an orderly environment and for teachers to be left alone," said Whitmire, the senior member of the Texas Senate. "The nonsense begins with overusing the issuance of Class C misdemeanor tickets and the tremendous growth of school district police departments."

Schools should be places of learning. Schools should be a refuge from the harsh realities of life. They shouldn't serve as a way station to the criminal (in)justice system.

See also:

"Majority of Texas middle and high school students suspended or expelled," Grits for Breakfast (July 19, 2011)
"Breaking Schools' Rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students' success and juvenile justice involvement," The Council of State Governments

No comments: