Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Disproportionate Suspensions Report

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has produced a report on the incidence of out-of-school suspensions with the data dis-aggregated by race and disability. Seattle Public Schools is included in this report.

From the press release:
This first-ever breakdown of nearly 7,000 districts found that 17% of African American students nationwide received an out-of-school suspension compared to about 5% of White students. The comparable rate for Latinos was 7%. The data analyzed covered about 85% of the nation’s public school students. The suspension rates were equally striking for students with disabilities and revealed that an estimated 13% of all students with disabilities were suspended nationally, approximately twice the rate of their non-disabled peers.

The real disturbing story, however, is at the district level. This review covers school districts across the country, from every state, and it found that in nearly 200 districts, 20% or more of the total enrolled students in K-12 were suspended out of school at least once. The numbers are more shocking when broken down by race and disability. For all students with disabilities, regardless of race, over 400 districts suspended 25% or more of these students. Black students with disabilities were most at risk for out-of-school suspension with an alarming 25% national average for all districts in the sample.
The data from the report is in a spreadsheet and it is easy to isolate the data from Seattle. That doesn't mean that the data is easy to understand. Some parts are clear. The suspension rate for White students was 3.4%, the same as it was for Asian groups combined and Asian and Pacific Islander. There were higher rates for Hispanic students, 7.9%, for American Indian or Alaska Native, 10.8%, and highest for Black students, 15.2%. Students with disabilities were suspended at higher rates than the total population, 16.0% vs. 6.5%. The highest rate of all was for 31.6% for Black students with disabilities.

Seattle's data, as you can see, is a bit higher than average for most other large districts.

I know that a lot of folks take this data as conclusive evidence of institutional racism. I don't dispute that, but I'm troubled when they don't see even more dramatically disproportionate discipline rates between boys and girls as conclusive evidence of institutional sexism. Whatever they say about this data and race can be said again about similar data and gender.

Here's what I do know. Out of school suspensions don't help students learn, don't strengthen the suspended students' relationship with the school, and don't help the students to adopt the school culture.

The question is not whether or not the students are breaking the rules at disproportionate rates. The question is whether or not the rules are consistent with the students's cultural and social norms outside of school. Institutional racism isn't the overt and intentional kind. We really need a different name for it that doesn't trigger such a strong defensive response. Maybe we should just call it ethno-centrism. It's more like the common and un-intentional presumption that other people are like you and most of the other folks that you know from your culture who do things your way, have your values, eat food like you, live in families like yours, consume media like you, and share your set of social norms for behavior and etiquette. All of those are not natural human things, but specific cultural things.

Let's put it this way. Which of these restaurants serve ethnic food:

  • The Mawada Cafe - serves shwarma and falafel
  • Hing Loon - serves salt & pepper crispy fried fish and hot pots
  • El Queztal - serves tortas and tacos
  • The Wedgwood Broiler - serves pork chops and roast turkey

The answer is ALL OF THEM. White is not some neutral state of non-ethnicity from which everything else is a deviation. Northern and Western European culture is just one among equals. It may be dominant here, but it is not exclusive.

As to the disproportionate discipline directed to students with disabilities, that's just horrid. Something seriously needs to be done. Our schools and our school cultures should better match the needs of the students.


Anonymous said...

The question is not whether or not the students are breaking the rules at disproportionate rates. The question is whether or not the rules are consistent with the students's cultural and social norms outside of school.

The main question, that should be asked in all cases: Does the suspension (the consequence) produce the desired effect? Does it work for anybody? Does suspending a student for tardiness, truancy, mouthing off, etc, actually reduce the behavior? And the answer is resoundingly NO. The most ridiculous suspension of all, suspension for truancy or leaving school. And yes this happens in SPS.

And the 2nd big issue is: Has the school implemented schoolwide PBS as recommended in report? (Positive Behavioral Supports) - the systematic instruction and language around teaching behavior and maintaining a good environment. Why would you suspend students if you haven't done your end of the deal?

As to students with disabilities. SPS grossly under-reports it's suspensions/expulsions against students with disabilities because it omits out all the "in house" suspensions, all the time-out rooms, all lockdowns - never recorded. It omits all the "Come get your kid." calls from the school. "He's having a bad day." All SPED parents know this call very well. Those deals are never reported as suspensions either. Nearly all these activities are direct results of a student's disability - and ARE the school's responsibility to educate. Conservatively, SPS under reports by half the number of "suspensions" against students with disabilities.

-Sped Parent

Mary G said...

I agree with Sped Parent. Not only does SPS under-report all suspensions for kids with disabilities, it reports ZERO incidences of restraint and isolation. Zero. Here is the data for Seattle Seattle Restraint & Isolation compared to the data for Bellevue School District. Bellevue Restraint & Isolation It doesn't even have a system in place to track them. Before Chris Williams (the SPS attorney for Special Ed issues) left, he stated that he was trying to get the software vendor for SPS to include a system for tracking this data, but this was still in process in June of 2012. The problem is that there is no enforcement. The DOE and the State of WA have no way to enforce SPS to collect and report the data, as no funds are connected to the collection of such data. In addition, SPS isn't motivated to report such data either, because the less they report, the better they look. For these reasons, I think it is very likely that any data reported by Seattle Public Schools regarding discipline is highly suspect.

SeattleSped said...

Thank you for posting this Charlie. With regards to SpEd, it goes beyond ethno-centrism - I would call it neuro-centrism. Do principals and teachers (especially minimally-trained ones) recognize why a disabled child acts out? And have they any clue as to an appropriate response (beyond calling mom to pick up yer kid). And with reduced investments in counselors and SpEd experts, how do we support a child who needs help. Suspension sure isn't the solution. (My theory is that many staffers feel education is wasted on our children. The standards don't apply to them - so a few hours a day in the rubber room won't hurt).

I know of a child who was constantly berated and physically threatened by a bully. Admin knew this. Did nothing. When the child wrote in his journal that he hated the bully and wished this bully was dead, the victim was suspended. Those responsible for discipline in this district must place themselves in the mind of a child, and use best practice to support, nurture and educate her or him.

Floor Pie said...

Hey, I just wrote about this report on my blog today.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to special ed parents in Seattle that our kids are disproportionally suspended. So many teachers, principals, and parents simply read typical ADHD/autistic/Aspergian behaviors as "bad" and respond by cracking down instead of thinking it through to positive, effective solutions. They can't or won't understand that undesirable behavior is related to the disability, and that the more they stress the kid out, the worse the kid is going to behave. It's so frustrating and sad. It feels an awful lot like discrimination, really.

I keep insisting that the answer is more support, more IAs, more training. But I doubt we'll see it. DeBell wants to find ways to spend less money on special ed, and I'm sure he will.

The reality is, it's on us special ed parents. We have to be the good will ambassadors, the ones who raise awareness and empathy, the ones who work like crazy to teach our kids effective coping skills and tools to survive in a counterintuitive and often unsympathetic environment. And hopefully, at some point, society will catch up.

Anonymous said...

More commentary and analysis here:



Anonymous said...

The current drive to educate all special needs kids in neighborhood schools has diluted each schools' ability to meet the needs of high needs kids. Honestly, not all special education teachers can meet the needs of all special needs students (most extreme examples excluded.)

There were some really excellent trainings in crisis prevention that would be useful for all teachers, IAs, and principals to take. I'm sure that it would help many parents, too. It also takes time and experience to recognize and prevent an impeding meltdown.


Anonymous said...

Let's remember, nearly 3/4s of the students with disabilities in SPS have learning disabilities, not developmental disabilities. My guess is that 16% suspension rate (of REPORTED suspension) targets that remaining 1/4. So more than 1/2 of the students with development disabilities are being subjected to suspension and removals, v 6% of students without disabilites. What will Supt Banda and whatever new management team he puts into place do about this?

Our special needs kid has been subjected to countless "inhouse" suspensions and none enter into the formal discipline reporting for the district. This is a very common practice along with the "come get your kids" call.

Remains to be seen if Banda and his new management team --surely he is not going to keep these Ed Directors on the payroll?-- will do something to make change.


Anonymous said...

I have some serious concerns with how this report is interpreted and used. Frankly, I think that there is already a lot of pressure among administrators to not suspend minorities now, so as to not have disproportionate numbers. What message does it send to teenagers when they know they probably won't be suspended or seriously disciplined even for serious offenses - and I'm talking about drug use on campus, violent assaults, etc.
There's been talk about Broadview K-8 recently and it seemed that many of the problems a few years ago stemmed from not being willing to discipline the middle schoolers, especially the minority students. So the students were running through the halls (including knocking down and injuring a teacher, putting her on disability) and there were frequent assaults on other students. The result was that many students simply did not feel safe at the school.
Any group of kids (including rich, white kids) that thinks that they can get away with anything is going to be tempted to try. That's not a responsible position for any of our administrators to take - it's just plain destructive to the kids who get in trouble as well as the ones who are victimized by it.
NE Mom of 2

John Cummings said...

I was a sped teacher in the district and my co-teachers and I confronted this discipline disparity head on at our school. We worked with the kids who were at the top of the list in terms of frequent referrals and suspensions. The truth behind the numbers is that the overwhelming majority of sped kids getting discipline referrals and suspensions have add/adhd and/or are classified as EBD. African American male students who are EBD or have ADD/ADHD are referred and suspended at rates that far exceed their numbers.

It is a crime against an entire group of students that the district has been aware of for years yet has only paid lip-service to correcting.

It's heart-breaking to see students with real disabling conditions be treated as if they misbehave willfully when all they are doing is showing the behavioral symptoms of their disability. It is important to remember that there are consequences besides missing school and failing classes that accompany frequent discipline referrals. The students are viewed negatively by staff and other students. Their interactions with teachers and administrators become mostly negative. They become the 'usual suspects' whenever something bad happens at school and end up getting in trouble for things they haven't done. The damage this does to a child cannot be overstated.

And, perhaps the saddest part of all this is that it is easily correctable with some training, for both the kids and staff. I know because in one year my co-teachers and I reduced the number of discipline referrals that our kids (African American, Latino, white, Add/adhd, EBD) received by 75%.

Carol Simmons said...

Dear John Cummings

Thank you for your comments and your good work with our most vulnerable and underserved students.

Floor Pie said...

I'm with John Cummings (and I second Carol's thanks!). I've said this many times on here, but the difference between my son's 1st grade and 2nd grade behavior was like night and day.

Yes, he was a little older and more mature in 2nd grade, but he couldn't have changed *that* much. The difference was simply having teachers who understood his disability and knew how to work with him effectively.

And that doesn't mean throwing discipline out the window! It means taking the time to understand the function of the undesirable behavior and to come up with strategies that actually *work* while helping the child feel safe and unstigmatized. It's not rocket science. It's just patience, empathy, and a knack for intuiting the counterintuitive.

Jan said...

I second what Floor Pie says. Anyone with a SPED child whose disability can result in misunderstanding, becoming frustrated with verbal instructions, commands, regulation of impulsivity or emotional levels, etc. knows EXACTLY what good can come of finally (and serendipitously) getting a good teacher, who understands (or is willing to learn to understand) the disability and work with it. Night and day! Once you have seen good SPED teaching in action, it is beyond difficult and heartbreaking to watch the next set of clueless folks screw your child up again.

One of the best teachers I had for my child when he was in preschool had no formal SPED training (but years of classroom experience). When no other teacher wanted to be bothered with my child, she specifically asked to have my child in her classroom, and simply said -- I will figure this out. I will make this work. And, she did.

dan dempsey said...

I am watching George Sugai (Director of University of Connecticut Center for Behavioral Research and Education) speaking on C-Span at an Education Department conference on school discipline. He stated that the number 1 tool in promoting better school discipline is effective academic intervention for each struggling student.

My contention is that for at least 15 years the SPS instead of providing effective academic interventions for struggling students just passed a large number of struggling students to the next grade level. Social promotion was rampant as existing promotion/non-promotion policies (which required effective interventions) were ignored.

So let us take a look at OSPI testing and the percentage of students by group scoring at level 1 far below basic in reading and math.

Math grade 3 2011 MSP
White - Black - Hispanic - Indian - Asian
12.4% - 31.4% - 28.5% - 35.3% - 10.8%

Reading grade 3 2011 MSP
White - Black - Hispanic - Indian - Asian
5.9% - 14.0% - 13.5% - 17.0% - 4.9%

Math grade 4 2011
White - Black - Hispanic - Indian - Asian
20.5% - 45.7% - 42.4% - 51.7% - 16.5%

Reading grade 4 2011
White - Black - Hispanic - Indian - Asian
6.1% - 16.4% - 15.8% - 19.5% - 5.7%

Perhaps the appearance of disproportionation disciplinary actions is just a symptom of the disproportionate education offered to students.

Attention span and training students to pay attention may be very important.

Study: Preschool attention span is a predictor of college success
A recently released study has found that children who were rated high on attention span and persistence at age 4 were more likely to graduate from college than their less attentive peers. Researchers at Oregon State University, who assessed 430 students at ages 4, 7 and 21, determined that the most accurate predictor of a future college career wasn't a student's math or reading skills but the ability to pay attention and complete tasks as a preschooler, says Megan McClelland, lead author of the study that was published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

SeattleSped said...

I'm a dittohead. My child's first grade teacher's solution to ANY discipline matter was to YELL. That works great for kids with emotional and sensory issues. Ugh. Thank gawd the teachers after that were MUCH better.

Anonymous said...

Principals are not required to report out about suspensions and detentions of disabled students if they do in house events or the famous call home to the parents to come and take the student home.

These are common practices. Of course, they are very corrupt workarounds and Ed Directors know all about them too. Try asking your student's principal for the disproportionality data sped v nonsped in your school. You will hear that there is no obligation to share it.

Does Mr. Banda know about these practices and conventions? Does he have advisors who have a little more integrity than these principals? Does he understand the complicity and apathy of the Education Directors? You have to wonder how long it's going to take for him to start cleaning house on this front. Our students should not have to be subjected to these practices when they return to school on Sept 8th.


Anonymous said...

Does anyone have good suggestions for north end (or near north end) SPS elementaries/K-8 or middle schools for kids with disabilities where the kids are actually included socially and challenged academically? Mine is academically gifted and in a regular class, but has autism-spectrum issues. My child gets bullied, but accused of being the bully (and was suspended).
My child is isolated at lunch and on the playground and staff seem mainly unwilling or unable to help, at times making the problems worse.
We've stuck with our current elementary mainly because somewhere else could be worse and moving a kid with an IEP means choices are limited, but my child does not want to go back to school and I don't feel especially welcome there either anymore.
Or maybe someone has ideas of how to advocate more? I've spent more time than I care to count in meetings with staff, consultants and so on, but with little result.
--Sign me, Lots of exceptions

SeattleSped said...


I'll make sure he hears from me that this should be high on the list of "reforms" (hey, A4E/S4E/LEV/etc, pay attention)

Anonymous said...

What is up with Bihoa Caldwell who is supposed to managing special education for the time being? What I hear, she kicks families back to the people who could not/would not help in the first place. This is patronizing and unhelpful.

It seems like the new superintendent is just closing his eyes and hoping for the best. Who is he listening to? Has he reached out to Special Ed PTSA or SEAAC? To any families at all? To anybody other than the people who brought us these problems in the first place?


Floor Pie said...

@ Sign me...
We had a great first year at B.F. Day last year. I've heard good things about North Beach and Bagley, too, but no direct experience there. Salmon Bay is supposed to be good for middle school.

@ Worried
I believe that Bihoa Caldwell is only going to be in that position through the summer. We'll see, I guess.

Floor Pie said...

Through September, I mean.

Floor Pie said...

@ Sign me...

I should have mentioned at the outset that changing schools has to be done through the IEP team with a consulting teacher from the school district. You can initiate the meeting and offer input, but ultimately the district chooses which school your child gets reassigned to.

You might also try giving Roger Daniels a call. He works in the Advanced Learning dept. and is very dedicated to helping twice exceptional students (academically gifted + special ed). He might have some ideas for how to proceed.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Why change schools? Why not change the school? If I were in your boat sign me, I would get a lawyer. This is a public school district. Your student should not be driven out because of her/his disability.

Too bad, it's really the only use that principals have for the sped department.

Fed up

Mary G said...

@ Floor Pie, It's interesting what you said about B. F. Day. Despite my good intentions and almost daily communication with the teachers, in the 2009-2010 school year, without my knowledge or consent, my NOT academically gifted 49-pound 3rd grader with PTSD was laid on by a special ed teacher and an IA, for up to 30 minutes at a time at B. F. Day--and where he would spend much of many days in the time-out room. That teacher and IA and that principal have all left now, though. The attitude I got from them was that it was my problem that I got upset about it. None of them saw the problem for what it was-an inappropriate, illegal, and dangerous response on the staff's part to his behavior that stemmed directly from his disability. You can advocate all you want, but if your kid is getting abused and he has an expressive communication disorder, you won't know about it. I wish I had dropped my good intentions way earlier and gotten a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

Mary G - I wish you could present this information to Mr. Banda. Have you presented this to any Board members?

Mr. Banda really needs to get off the dime here. He appears to be disinterested in hearing from Special Needs families or advocates and his interim manager does not seem to have been given the mandate to do anything more than manage the status quo.

You'd think Banda could make at least a few statements to set a different tone for special ed for the start of the school year. I think he is making a really bad mistake here, handing things off to an interim manager who does not want to work with families.


Floor Pie said...

Mary G, yes, B.F. Day's special ed dept. went through some major changes right before we started there -- changes for the better, from the sound of it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Floor Pie and others. I know the process for changing schools is more complicated with an IEP--it's another factor that holds us back. We've worked to change the culture and issues at our school and had some progress, but not really enough to help our student succeed fully.
I doubt a lawyer would help much and that's not really the route I want to go, but it is an option, of course.
--Sign me, Lots of exceptions

Anonymous said...

Sign me -

We need a new normal for special education. We need a superintendent who will speak to creating that new normal. Fast. What the heck is he doing? Who is he listening to?