Portland expels, suspends fewer students, but still disciplines African … – OregonLive.com
Roughly 3 percent of Portland Public Schools students were suspended or expelled last school year, a drop from nearly 5 percent the year before, according to data released by the district.
But African American and Native American students are still being sent out of class at far higher rates than their white peers–almost four-and-a-half times more often for African American students.
“We are making progress, but we still must maintain a sense of urgency to close the disparity,” said Lolenzo Poe, the district’s chief equity and diversity officer and partnership director. “We still have work to do.”
At the board’s Feb. 10 meeting the district presented discipline data for the 2013-2014 school year and outlined a plan to continue to lower exclusionary discipline rates, or the number of suspensions and expulsions. Superintendent Carole Smith included reducing the rates as one of her key goals for 2014-2015. She wants to cut disproportionality — the gap in discipline rates for white students and certain minority students — and overall exclusionary discipline rates in half by June 2016.
The issue of disparate discipline isn’t new for Portland and districts across the nation. Portland Public Schools was fined in October for disciplining African American special education students at higher rates, leading to additional training in early intervention for school psychologists and teachers.
Racial and ethnic minority special education students cannot be disciplined more frequently than four times the rate of the general student body, according to state standards. Portland Public Schools also missed that benchmark in 2009 and in 2011.
Data from the 2013-2014 school year shows the district has made some gains toward reducing exclusionary discipline overall and among racial groups. About 7 percent of district students were suspended or expelled at least once in the 2007-2008 school year, compared with 3 percent last year. The percentage of students who were expelled or suspended has also dropped over the past year for nearly every racial group.
|Overall||White||African American||Latino||Native American||Asian||Pacific Islander||Multiracial|
– Chart represents the percentage of the overall student body and students in each racial group that were expelled or suspended. Data is for the last three school years.
The district has consistently noted large gaps between the discipline rates for African American and Native American male students and other racial groups, Poe said. Last year 15 percent of African American males and 15 percent of Native American males were excluded at least once, compared with 4 percent of white males.
The trend starts as early as kindergarten, Poe said. Roughly 12 percent of Native American students and 9 percent of African American students were excluded between pre-kindergarten and third grade, compared with about 1 percent of white students.
The district’s ultimate mission is to keep more kids in class to help boost graduation rates, instead of removing them from school when they misbehave, Poe said. Only 20 percent of students who had been excluded between five and 10 times graduated on time in 2012-2013, compared with 68 percent of students who were never excluded from school.
The district has outlined three main strategies to reach the goal of slicing exclusions and disparities in half.
–Culturally Responsive Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is a framework of school climate practices that are culturally responsive. The method outlines teaching students positive behaviors and encouraging good actions.
–Collaborative Action Research for Equity teacher teams study how to implement culturally responsive learning and teaching practices. Teachers also learn how to responded to the needs of historically underserved groups.
–Restorative Justice is an alternative discipline model that focuses on dialogue and rebuilding relationships. Instead of immediately punishing a student for acting out, the model encourages students to talk with their peers, principals and teachers about how their actions affect the school community.
This year the district is focusing on 12 schools that serve a high number of minority students and are already implementing Restorative Justice practices. The district is working with multiple community partners, including the non-profit Resolutions Northwest.
The district has already begun holding staff trainings and updated the student discipline handbook, according to a presentation from the meeting. Principals also must receive district approval before suspending a student for more than two days. To provide more culturally specific services three student-assistance coordinators were hired, with one each working with African America, Native American and Latino students.
Kevin Bacon, principal at Boise-Eliot/Humboldt K-8, spoke to the district about about how some of these changes are working at his school. About 58 percent of the school’s students are African American, 14 percent are Latino and 11 percent are white.
Bacon said the school has worked make significant changes to the culture of the school and shift how administrators and students view discipline. Overall exclusionary discipline rates at the school dropped from 15 percent in 2012-2013 to 7 percent last year.
Educators have to be open to negotiating with students to make restorative justice work, he said. When issues arise, Bacon said he often has students sit in a circle and talk. He pulls together teachers, the students who caused the issue and their peers who may not have been directly related, so that everyone can weigh in about how the incident affected them.
In the past, troublemakers would have just been sent home, Bacon said.
“We haven’t allowed that voice to come through in the traditional public school setting,” he said. “I gotta be willing to sit equally with the student in the circle.”
— Laura Frazier