Author: Michael Holzman

Districts Are the Problem

The newly-released National Assessment of Educational Progress data provides us with a yardstick of the quality of education produced by urban school districts. According to the report, the percentage of…

The newly-released National Assessment of Educational Progress data provides us with a yardstick of the quality of education produced by urban school districts. According to the report, the percentage of all students scoring at or above “Proficient” in grade 8 reading (a crucial indicator of education improvement) went from 30 percent to 34 percent between 2009 and 2013. There are various ways of looking at this.  One would be that these are “tidal measures,” as it were, marks of the rising tide that is supposed to raise all boats.

Some of the boats had quite a way to go. Some did not float up all the way with the tide.

The percentage of male Black students that districts teach to read by the time they reach eighth grade is a key indicator of the educational opportunities those districts choose to make available, especially when we look across districts and states and make comparisons with other groups within specific districts. The results of the assessment of the skills of male Black students are the way that we can assess the opportunities to learn offered by districts.

Nationally, in 2009, just nine percent of eighth-grade young black men were reading at grade level – in this case, at Proficient and Advanced levels – in 2009. In 2013 that was up to 12 percent, a three point improvement that was slightly less than the improvement in that period for all students. In other words, looking at the crucial skill of reading at the key grade 8 level, nearly 90 percent of male Black students have been left with skills below grade level.

This is not good. At this rate of improvement, two percentage points every four years, it will take eighty years for half of eighth-grade young black men to read at grade level. Some tide.

Let’s look at some examples from major cities. In Detroit, the percentage of young black men in eighth-grade reading at grade level increased from four percent to five percent between 2009 and 2013.  In Cleveland, the percentage of young black men in eighth grade reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased from five percent to six percent in that same period. In Fresno, the percentage of young black men reading at grade level declined from seven percent to six percent, while in Milwaukee, it “improved” from three percent to four percent. On average, then, something like 95 percent of male Black students in these cities are not reading at grade level in eighth grade.

What is to be said about school officials who fail their students 95 percent of the time?

Certain commentators say that the issue is poverty. Put simply, until students’ families are not living in poverty schools cannot be expected to teach them to read.

There is some data about poverty, race and educational achievement.  In Milwaukee, for example, three percent of male Black students eligible for national lunch programs (a measure of poverty) read at Proficient and Advanced levels, as compared to four percent in Mississippi, eight percent nationally, and 11 percent in New York City. If poverty were the decisive factor, why does its influence vary this much by location?  Wouldn’t the correlation of poverty and educational achievement be the same? Why do so many more poor male Black students in New York City read at or above the “Proficient” level than those in Milwaukee?

The percentages of young black and young white men in eighth-grade reading at Proficient and Advanced levels in West Virginia are nearly identical.  And yet in Wisconsin, where 32 percent of young white men in eight grade reach the “Proficient” level, only seven percent of their young black male peers do. How is it that Wisconsin’s young white men are taught to read at a level similar to that of Michigan and North Carolina, while their young black men are only taught to read at levels typical of Mississippi, Arkansas and the District of Columbia? Family income does not seem to be a factor. Black family income is about the same in Wisconsin as in West Virginia.  State wealth cannot be the issue, either. Does one need to point out that Wisconsin is a much wealthier state than West Virginia?

If poverty isn’t the decisive factor, could it be, as some “conservative” commentators, Black and White, claim, something about family attitudes?  But that would mean that Black families are less interested in the education of their children in Wisconsin than in West Virginia, right?  Really? How do those commentators know that?

So if it isn’t poverty or family attitudes, what other possibility is left? Could it be something about the schools? Could it be, to reverse the blame on black families, that those responsible for the schools in Milwaukee and cities like it are less interested in the education of black children than that of white children?

One thing that can be said is that a rate of failure, such as NAEP reports in cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit and Fresno, is not necessary. Fifteen percent of young black eighth-graders in Charlotte’s schools are reading at grade level, as are 26 percent of their black female peers, improvements from 2009 of five points and three points, respectively.  Hillsborough is at 16 percent for young black men in eighth grade and 19 percent for black female peers. And in New York City, 13 percent of young black men in eighth grade are reading at grade level – an increase of three percentage points since 2009 – and 23 percent of their black female peers are at grade level (a nine point increase).

These are not great numbers. But teaching 15 percent of young black men to read is unquestionably better than teaching only five percent of them to do so. All other things being equal, three times as many might graduate from high school, find a job, go to college, stay out of jail, help raise their children without needing national lunch programs, perhaps move somewhere with good schools.

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All Kids Deserve Great Education

There has been much discussion of late concerning the expense involved in the education of disadvantaged children.  The success of the highly praised Harlem Children’s Zone schools is attributed to,…

There has been much discussion of late concerning the expense involved in the education of disadvantaged children.  The success of the highly praised Harlem Children’s Zone schools is attributed to, and criticized for, that project’s access to hedge fund capital.  Newark’s Abbott funding, at $22,000 per student, is seen as off the charts.  In these discussions, after these criticisms, the question is said to be:  How can the quality of education offered by the Harlem Children’s Zone, by suburban Montgomery County Public Schools, and by private schools be replicated by the average local district, given average funding?

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2It is the wrong question. The correct question is:  How can we best provide resources, including more money, to children in order for each child to attain high-quality education, without regard to where they live or their family background? This is a question that has to be considered in the light of the education currently provided for four typical students.  Let’s call them Alice, Bill, Catherine and David.

Bill’s family lives in the inner city of a metropolitan area. His mother is a nurse’s aide. Food stamps help her get through the month. His father, who is no longer in prison, has not seen Bill in quite some time.  Bill’s grandmother was from a West Virginia mining town. Her education ended at sixth grade.  Bill’s grandfather had to quit going down the mines when his lungs gave out. He died young from emphysema and alcoholism. Bill’s mother and grandmother want him to have a better life, but they have few resources to help him toward that goal. One quarter of the students in the schools Bill attended graduate from high school on-time and college ready. The annual per student expenditure of the district is $12,000.  Bill went to summer school twice, when he was held back at grade 7 and then again at grade 9. He has stopped going to school. He tells me he is working on his GED.

David lives in Bill’s neighborhood. His mother and father are both school teachers and have access to knowledge and resources not afforded to Bill’s family. They worked hard to get him into one of the few good schools nearby, a public school that is open from eight in the morning to nine at night, on weekends and in the summer and uses money raised from foundations to supplement the district’s funding. The expenditure per student from all sources is about $21,000 a year. David’s parents were able to contribute about $6,000 per year to his education for tutoring, Saturday language classes, and some educational travel. David has been accepted to the public university’s honors program.

Alice’s family lives in a suburb in the same metropolitan area as Bill.  Her father is a surgeon; her mother, although trained as a scientist, has decided to remain at home.  Alice’s father makes between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, which is far above the median, but not considered wealthy by many Washington decision-makers. The annual per student expenditure of her school district is $28,000.  All of Alice’s grandparents have advanced degrees:  two in the sciences, two in the humanities.  They have been deeply involved in her informal education.  She went to summer school nearly every year, except when her parents or grandparents had taken her to Europe for a few weeks.  She is trying to decide whether to go to Princeton or to the University of California, San Diego.  Her parents estimate that their family contributed, on average, $15,000 per year to her education in the form of language and music lessons, educational travel and the like.

Catherine’s family lives about forty miles from Bill’s neighborhood.  Her father used to work on Wall Street, but now he works from a building owned by his investments firm in a small city near where they live.  Her mother sells real estate—mostly houses, but some horse ranches.  Catherine’s mother’s parents live on investments made by their parents.  Her father’s parents had founded a company that had something to do with cars, she is not sure what exactly.  Catherine goes to a private school in New England, for which her parents pay $40,000 a year, but as it actually spends much more than that on each student, her father has become chairman of the school’s annual appeal and makes significant leadership gifts.  Catherine has taken some college-level courses in mathematics.  Given that and her fluent French and Spanish, she is considering a career in international trade and is deciding now between spending her freshman year in either Paris or London.

Let’s do the sums. Bill’s education costs $12,000 a year, but averaged less over twelve years, as he dropped out in grade 11. David’s education costs $27,000 per year. Alice’s education costs $43,000 per year.  Catherine’s education costs about $60,000 per year, when the school’s endowment funds and her educational travel are factored in. Just as importantly, Alice, Catherine, and David have access to opportunities and resources beyond money – from field trips to Saturday and summer school classes – that Bill never had.

Why is Bill’s future worth less than David’s or Alice’s or Catherine’s? Why do we, alone in the world, fund education from property taxes, which both guarantees that the children of the well to do will have more spent on their education than children living in poverty, and keeps some kids from accessing high-quality learning? If we believe that all children deserve high quality education, then why do we not provide it to all of them?

The question is not how to improve the education of the disadvantaged without spending more money. The question is how can we have a future worthy of our past without providing all the resources necessary, including and beyond money, for excellent education for all our children?

Photo courtesy of domaproject.org.

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Step One for de Blasio: Do Better by Minority Kids

One can easily say that in many ways, outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 11-year effort to transform public education in the Big Apple has helped improve life for…

One can easily say that in many ways, outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 11-year effort to transform public education in the Big Apple has helped improve life for families and communities within it. Between 2003 and 2011, the percentage of fourth-graders reading Below Basic declined by eight points (from 47 percent to 39 percent) while the percentage of fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by eight percentage points (from 21 percent to 29 percent). The declines in illiteracy for the Big Apple’s poorest children were also pronounced, with a 10 percentage point decline (from 51 percent to 41 percent) in that period while the percentage of poor families reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by seven percentage points (from 18 percent to 25 percent). Bloomberg’s reform efforts have not been perfect — and as this piece points out, his shortcomings have been especially troubling when it comes to education for black and Latino children regardless of economic background. But the mayor is leaving the Big Apple with a better district than it had before he took it over in 2002. And it will be up to his successor, Bill de Blasio to both build upon Bloomberg’s successes and address the shortcomings of the regime.

geniuslogoOver the next few days, Dropout Nation‘s editors will offer their own advice on what de Blasio should do. Today, Contributing Editor Michael Holzman focuses on what de Blasio should do to address one of Bloomberg’s shortcomings: The low (albeit improving) achievement of the Big Apple’s black and Latino children. Tomorrow, Editor RiShawn Biddle will discuss the choices de Blasio must make to build upon the most-successful aspects of Bloomberg’s reform efforts. And on Friday, Biddle and Holzman will both offer additional thoughts on two problems that have remained unaddressed by Bloomberg: Accurate data on school performance to state and federal agencies; and the $31 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that will complicate New York’s fiscal future (and de Blasio’s plans to expand early childhood educational opportunities for the city’s children).

When Bill de Blasio takes over as New York City’s mayor, he will face a task his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, admitted is the most-important of all: Educating the nation’s largest city’s one million children. And the current mayor-elect is right when he declared that the Big Apple has become two cities. This is especially true when it comes to education.

Students from white non-Latino and Asian (especially Indian) homes are more-likely to live in families with two parents who are college-educated. Just four percent of white and Asian families consist of single women with children under age 18. The poverty rate for white families alone is just 19 percent in 2012, lower than the average of 26 percent.

Students from black and Latino households are not likely to be so fortunate. They are less likely to have received baccalaureate and graduate degrees. They are more likely to be single-parent households; 16 percent of black and Latino families in New York City consist of single women with children under age 18. And 40 percent of black and Latino families are living in poverty.

This is a challenge that New York City doesn’t undertake nearly as well as it should. On average, 86 percent of young black and Latino men in eighth-grade, and 82 percent of their female peers score below Proficient and Advanced levels (or at grade level), according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. As a result, most black and Latino students do not graduate college- and career-ready in four years.

The results can be seen in U.S. Census data on college completion for adults in the city. While nearly half of the New York’s White, non-Latino, and Asian adults over 25 years of age have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, only about one-fifth of black adults and 15 percent of Latino adults have achieved that level of education which is a crucial predictor of the educational achievement of their children and increasingly necessary for a middle class income.

The failure to educate black and Latino children is especially problematic because New York City isn’t a majority white or Asian district. Roughly equal numbers of New York’s children are Latino, black and white.  Asian students (including Asian Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and others) number between one-third and half the size of the other groups. When it comes to education, New York is a tale of two cities – and not a good one for black and Latino children.

What, then, is the task of the public schools?  Is it to allocate public resources in proportion to private resources, so that children from comparatively well-off and highly educated families receive more public resources than others? Or is it to fulfill the ideals of the Founders that the quality of education should not depend on where children live or the class status of their parents?

All evidence points to a de facto decision in New York City to allocate public resources in proportion to the private resources available to students.  Pre-kindergarten classes are more available in wealthier neighborhoods. Gifted and talented classes are more available in wealthier neighborhoods (and the qualifying tests are not even given in some poorer neighborhoods).

College-preparatory curricula are available in wealthier neighborhoods and not in poorer neighborhoods, The peak of the system, the selective high schools, as a matter of fact select so few black and Latino students as to be simply a rounding error in some of those schools, and the test is designed in such a way as to be virtually impossible to pass with the courses available in the city’s schools serving poorer (Black and Latino) students, while the city’s students from wealthier families not only have the requisite coursework for a solid foundation in their schools, but benefit from expensive private tutorials.

Given this situation, what is a new Mayor to do? The details are difficult to define. The goals are not.

First, bring equality to the allocation of resources across the school system. The differences in facilities, equipment and maintenance among the city’s schools is grotesque.  It is incredible that this situation should exist.  It must end.

Second, bring equity to the allocation of resources across the school system.  The measure of this should not be clever book-keeping devices, but outcomes:  Every school should have the resources to provide every student with a good education. Neighborhood schools in the Bronx and central Brooklyn should offer educations at least as good as those on the upper West Side and eastern Queens.

It is not difficult to measure the resources necessary for providing a student with a good education.  The new administration need only identify those schools now providing high quality education, as shown by any of the usual measurements and determine the total resources—public and private—available to the students in those schools.  Schools serving students living in poverty, with parents whose own educations are limited, will require compensatory resources:  pre-school, all day kindergarten, after-school tutorials, summer school, high-standards for curricula and teaching.  Schools serving students from wealthier families may find some of these items to be redundant for most of their students.  The budget for each school should follow those determinations.

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Black Men: Left Behind

The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress breaks down results into four categories:  Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.  Students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels are where they…

The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress breaks down results into four categories:  Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.  Students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels are where they should be for their grade in school. The others aren’t.

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2NAEP measures many subject areas at grades four, eight, and 12.  The best general indicator of these is the essential skill, reading, at eighth grade. By eighth grade students have been in school long enough that it is fair to judge the overall effectiveness of their schools by the percentage of students scoring at or above Proficient in eighth grade reading.

How are we doing, particularly for young black men, arguably the most vulnerable group? The answer: Not well at all.

The percentages of White, Black, Asian and Hispanic students scoring at or above Proficient on eighth grade reading all increased between 2011 and 2013. This is either a good thing or an indication that there is a technical problem with the test. Let’s give NAEP the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that it is a good thing.

The percentage of White students scoring at or above Proficient increased by three points, as did that for Hispanic students. The percentage of Asian students scoring at or above Proficient increased by four points. The percentage of Black students scoring at or above proficient increased by two points. That is, the gap between Black students and the others increased by between one and two points.

This is not good. Particularly not good if we look at the actual percentages. Half of all Asian students scored at or above Proficient on eighth grade reading in 2013. The percentage for White, non-Hispanic, students is 44 percent. Not as good as the Asian result, but pretty good (especially when we see that the percentage in 2011 was only 41 percent). A fifth of Hispanic students (21 percent) scored Proficient or above.
Meanwhile, just 16 percent of Black students scored Proficient or above in eighth grade reading on the 2013 NAEP. Which means, of course, that 84 percent did not. It is particularly troubling that Hispanic students are now five percentage points more likely to read at grade level in eighth grade than their Black peers. [Hispanic outcomes include those of the large middle class Cuban community in Florida and the entirely Hispanic districts along the Texas-Mexico border, where differential intra-district school funding is not an issue.]

Young black men, as we have come to expect, are failed by their schools even more spectacularly than their sisters. Twenty-one percent of female Black students score at the level of Proficient or above, a rate identical with that of Hispanic students. But just 12 percent of male Black students score Proficient or above on the NAEP eighth grade reading assessments. Those are national averages. Alabama, Mississippi and Wisconsin have been unable to break 10 percent for their male Black students (nine percent, five percent and seven percent, respectively). Everyone knows about Milwaukee, not to mention Mississippi.

What is to happen to the nearly 90 percent of male Black students on the verge of secondary school who the schools have not taught to read proficiently? Will they graduate from high school?  Will they avoid incarceration?  Will they find good jobs and live with their families on middle class incomes?  Will their children have access to good schools? Or will the Black poverty cycle continue, pushed along by inequitable school funding, stop-and-frisk policing, mass incarceration and increasing inequality? No prizes for the obvious correct answers.

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Milwaukee, Goddamn

Picket lines School boycotts They try to say it’s a communist plot All I want is equality For my sister my brother my people and me Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddam…

Picket lines
School boycotts
They try to say it’s a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddam

Many years ago, when I was arranging teacher exchanges between the United States and China, there was what seemed at the time to be an unusual conversation in Milwaukee. We were discussing housing for the teachers who would be coming from China to spend a year in Milwaukee. The folks from the University said that there would be a problem: “You see, in Milwaukee there are White neighborhoods—German, Irish, Jewish—and we have a Black neighborhood, but we don’t have any places for Chinese people to live.” This seemed odd. How could a city that cold be that segregated? I haven’t thought about it much since then, except as a story to tell at dinner parties.

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2Then a few days ago the BBC showed a video entitled “Why does Wisconsin send so many black people to jail?” It includes data about mass incarceration of Black men in Wisconsin and particularly in Milwaukee, from Lois Quinn, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Nationally, six times as many Black men as White men are incarcerated. Wisconsin imprisons the highest proportion of Black men among all the states: 13 percent of Black men between the ages of 18 and 64 in Wisconsin are currently in prison. Over half the Black men in Milwaukee County are now or have been in prison. Much of the video has Black men who live in Milwaukee telling their stories. They are heartbreaking.

After watching the video I started looking around for more information about Milwaukee. Here is some of what I found:

Poverty: More than 40 percent of Black families with children in Milwaukee have incomes below the poverty line. The median household income of Black families in Milwaukee is $26,600. The poverty line for a family of four in Wisconsin is $23,550. That means that the income range for those Black families in Milwaukee with an income above the poverty line is pretty narrow.

The usual exemplar of American poverty – and American segregation – is Mississippi (Goddamn!). Forty percent of Black families with children in Mississippi also have incomes below the poverty line. The median household income of Black families in Mississippi is $24,609. If an average Black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, there would likely be no change in their income. Given that the cost of living in Mississippi is lower than in Milwaukee (no snow), they would probably be slightly better off.

Literacy: Eleven percent of male Black students scored at or above Proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 8 Reading examination in Miami-Dade and Charlotte. Three percent of those in Milwaukee did so. Seventy percent of male Black students in Milwaukee scored at the Below Basic level. For most purposes that means they can’t read.

Milwaukee County jail is where many of the Brew City’s kids go after years of educational and societal abuse.

Mississippi is usually ranked as last or next to last in the quality of education it provides to its children. The percentage of male Black students reading at the Below Basic level on NAEP in Mississippi is four points lower (better) than that in Wisconsin. If an average Black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, their children would probably have a slightly better chance of learning to read by the time they left school.

It is important to learn to read, isn’t it? They know that in Wisconsin, don’t they? Don’t they?

Educational Achievement: Of the 3,100 male Black students in grade 9 in the 2007-08 school year in Milwaukee, 1,300 made it to grade 12 by 2010-11. How many graduated with a regular diploma? 600? 700? The chances of a Black male anywhere in Wisconsin graduating on-time, college and career-ready are less than fifty-fifty. The graduation rate for male Black students in Mississippi is five percentage points higher than that in Wisconsin. If an average Black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, their children would be more likely to graduate from high school than if they had stayed up North in Wisconsin, where the state motto is “Forward,” reflecting, according to the state’s website, “Wisconsin’s continuous drive to be a national leader.”

Incarceration Rates: Mississippi has a higher incarceration rate for White people than does Wisconsin: 503 compared to 415 per 100,000. Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for Black people is 4,416 per 100,000, ten times the rate at which it imprisons White people. Mississippi’s incarceration rate for Black people is 1,742, about four times the rate at which it imprisons Black people. Ten times?

Would it be better for a Black family to live in Milwaukee or Mississippi? In Mississippi they would be a little better off, or about the same, on average, financially than in Milwaukee. In Mississippi the children of the family would have a little better chance of learning to read.
In Mississippi the children of the family would have a slightly better chance of graduating from high school. In Mississippi the young men of the family would be less than half as likely to spend time in prison.

What Nina Simone said about Mississippi decades ago remains true today: Everybody knows about Mississippi. But who knows about Milwaukee?

Cover photo courtesy of Radio Milwaukee

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Time to Stop Suspending Young Black Men Into Prison and Poverty

It has long ago been clear that the use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and other forms of harsh school discipline does little to help children succeed in school and in…

It has long ago been clear that the use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and other forms of harsh school discipline does little to help children succeed in school and in life. Far too many kids, regardless of background, are suspended and expelled from school. Children from poor and minority households are more likely to be suspended and expelled than middle class peers. And more often than not, the underlying reasons for such discipline have little to do with violent behavior. For young black men, in particular, the consequences of out-of-school suspensions, especially those meted out by teachers and leaders in the schools surrounding our poorest neighborhoods, is absolutely dire: Every suspension puts them closer onto the path to poverty and prison. Which, in turn, fuels the poverty that that mires the very communities in which they live — and the schools are located. 

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2.pngIn this latest adaptation from his new book, from his new book, The Black Poverty Cycle and How to End It, Dropout Nation Contributing Editor Michael Holzman focuses on how school discipline policies give far too much leeway to adults in schools to make decisions — and wrecks havoc on the lives of the young black men in their charge. Read, consider, offer thoughts, and take action. And don’t forget to buy the book.

Black students are “pushed out” by means of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions. In elementary and secondary school, out-of-school suspensions are a sensitive predicator of a student’s future failure to complete high school with a regular diploma. One authoritative study found that students punished with out-of-school suspensions were three times as likely not to finish high school as those students who were not suspended.[i] According to the most recently available national survey by the U.S. Department of Education (2006), an extraordinary 19% of all young black men were suspended from school that year. Out-of-school suspension rates for young Latino and men were much less than half that.

These racial disparities in the application of school discipline policies are visible early on. Back in 2005, Walter Gilliam of Yale University established that in many cases prekindergarten suspension and expulsion rates for male Black children are extremely high and not wholly attributable to the behavior of those children. They are, in large part, he finds an artifact of the attitudes and expectations of the teachers of those three- and four-year-old children, a finding confirmed by the fact that professional development for these teachers significantly lowers suspension and expulsion rates for their male Black students.

The Justice Center of the Council of State Governments and the Public Policy Research Institute has published a study entitled Breaking School Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement. The study, which focused on the public school careers of seventh-graders in Texas found that 83 percent of young black men had at least one discretionary violation during their secondary school career (compared to 59 percent rate for non-Hispanic white students), but mandatory disciplinary actions were invoked at similar rates for black and white students. The difference between discretionary and mandatory actions, in the study’s vocabulary, is that the latter are based on regulated procedures and policies, set by the state, while the former are based on locally determined procedures and policies which, in general, have few if any safeguards against arbitrariness.

In other words, the Justice Center documented a natural experiment similar to that of drug abuse arrests: given more or less equal propensities to come afoul of objective rules (“mandatory actions”), public secondary school teachers and administrators use their discretion at the school level to punish black students nearly a third more often than both Latino and white students, and young black men much more often yet.

These suspensions lead to severe consequences for the educational careers of young black men students in Texas. According to the study: “A student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was twice as likely to repeat his or her grade compared to a student with the same characteristics, attending a similar school, who had not been suspended or expelled”. Further, “a student who was suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation was nearly three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year,” and so into the criminal justice system later. (Note that these are the consequences, in the main, of “discretionary,” that is, unregulated, actions by local school personnel.)

Young black men who were subjected to discretionary suspensions by local school personnel were put on a path to incarceration. More than one-third of the cohort came into contact with the state’s juvenile justice system, only a slightly lower number than the number of male Black adults incarcerated in Texas. Being “known to the police” increases the chances that a person will be arrested. It is always easier to round up the usual suspects. That is why they are the usual suspects.

The national percentages for out-of-school suspensions were 19 percent for young black men, 7 percent for young white men, and 9 percent for young Latino men. Projecting on the basis of the national Latino numbers (because of the similarity of family economic status) would give us a figure of 400,000 excess Black male suspensions each year in the United States. Working from the Texas data, there is an excess of 250,000. Between the two, a conservative estimate would be 300,000 young black men punished with out-of-school suspensions each year, who would not have been removed from the classroom if they weren’t black.

Assuming that most suspensions are in secondary school, and counting six years of secondary school with a seven-percent chance of being suspended each year, it is likely that on a national basis Black male students have more than a 40 percent chance of out-of-school suspension for racial reasons during their secondary school careers. This happens to be approximately the percentage of young black men dropouts who might expect to experience incarceration as young adults.

Out-of-school suspension ratios at the district level vary from approximately 8-to-1 in Newark and Atlanta (and 6-to-1 in two other Atlanta metropolitan area districts) down to less than twice the percentage of young black men compared to male counterparts given these punishments in districts like Boston. Are young black men four times as well-behaved in Boston as in Atlanta?  The issue is one of district policies.

This push-out of black children could be ended by school district administrators any afternoon they chose to do so. Doing so might well increase the number of young black men with high school diplomas by a quarter of a million or more each year


[i] Teachers College Record, Volume 87 Number 3, 1986, p. 356-373

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