KEITH HERRON: New Initiatives Address the Plight of Students of Color

sac-button-KeithOPINION – The plight of today’s low graduation rates among males of color is a serious matter.

In the state of California, less than 68 percent of Hispanic students who start high school graduate on time. For African Americans less than 59 percent of students who start school graduate on time. Studies also show that 31 percent of these students actually drop out of high school.

The rates in the Sacramento Region are just as alarming. If we were grading Sacramento region schools using their own system, they would receive a grade of “D-” or “F”. In most cases when considering someone for promotion, students who receive D’s and F’s would not be promoted to the next level or some type of intervention would be prescribed. The question then becomes, how should we treat our schools when they have the same passage rates as the students that they fail? Should schools be able to continue to operate if they don’t meet a set standard for graduating students?

Most districts would argue that there are many factors that need to be considered and schools deserve an opportunity to improve themselves. Districts also claim that funding is not adequate enough to address the many problems that they must deal with. I am supportive of this process of giving schools adequate opportunities and extra funds to succeed. However, I find it frustrating that we don’t offer those same opportunities to all students who have an identified deficiency, similarly as we do with English language learners. Particularly, our Black and Latino males.

National statistics show that Black and Hispanic males are suspended and expelled at rates that are much higher than their peers. In the Sacramento City Unified School District, Black and Hispanics account for 71 percent of all high school suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year.

One of the most common reasons for suspension is “willful defiance.” Willful defiance accounts for more than 40 perccent of all suspensions in California. If you asked 10 different people what that means, you would probably get 10 different answers. Willful defiance can include cursing, talking on cell phones, or talking loud in the hallways. The term is so subjective, that the real travesty is to hold someone accountable for not understanding it.

We all know that our students of color as a group have the lowest test scores as a group. Suspensions and expulsions equate to a reduction in instruction hours. Hours spent on instruction and self esteem (or the experience of success), are directly correlated to improved academic performance. So why are we suspending the kids who need to experience success and more time on task? Why not offer other opportunities or invest more funds to respond to intervention, like we do failing schools.

In all fairness, the California State Assembly recently passed five bills that propose to “Fix School Discipline”:

  • AB 1729 – Sets out that alternatives to suspension and expulsion should be used and school exclusion should be avoided. It requires that other means of correction be used and FAIL prior to “in school suspension” in addition to “out of school suspension.” These other means of correction should be clearly defined and school actions should be documented and kept in pupil records;AB
  • 2537 – Provides more clarity and allows more discretion for Zero Tolerance Policies. Basically it allows administrators to make recommendations other than expulsion for certain acts if the factual circumstances do not warrant it or other means of correction would address the conduct. It also clarifies that the possession of an imitation firearm or over the counter prescription medication does not mandate expulsion;
  • SB 1088 – Prohibits a school for denying enrollment or readmission to a student because they have had contact with the juvenile justice system. This includes arrest, adjudication by a court, probation supervision, and detention of any length of time.

These laws went into effect on January 1, 2013. You can help make certain that your school district follows the new law by requesting a copy of the districts policies and making sure that they include the new laws. You can also report any violations of the law to www.Fixschooldiscipline.org. Although these laws are a step in the right direction, they do not have any funding or reporting requirements. Hopefully districts will not show willful defiance and make sincere efforts to enforce these new laws.