Late Track – School Discipline & College Access

Inter century anthems based off inner city tantrums
Based off the way we was branded
Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon

When Yeezy raps, “Jerome get more time than Brandon,” he alludes to the severity and overrepresentation of African Americans in the criminal justice system. A criminal justice system with a direct pipeline to urban schools created by disciplinary policies and practices that hyper-criminalize black and Latina/o youth (Rios, 2006). Taking from Ye again, I think about his line, “the system broken, the school is closed, the prison’s open” illuminating the relationship between schools and prisons tied by through the discriminatory nature of our educational system. A system where children as young as five are suspended (Seattle Times, 2015; UCLA Center for Civil Rights, 2015), removed from school for several days, and robbed of their educational experience, creating a ripple effect across their lifespan development (Reyes, 2006; Rist, 1973).

School discipline is a new area of research for me, but the experiences themselves are not. I’ve seen these adverse disciplinary policies take their toll on my community, local schools, and even derail sibling’s high school experience. I’ve dedicated my work to college access and understanding ways to remedy the inequities in higher education. While at Penn, I’ve focused on understanding the impact of disciplinary practices on African American and Latino students in California high schools.

Disciplinary Action and College Access
It’s made me think about the ways in which discriminatory disciplinary policies affect college access for our communities of color. Historically, students of color have been excluded from higher education. We are under enrolled in postsecondary education, with limited access to selective four-year institutions, while concentrated in community colleges; much of this stems from socio-historical forces that structure/inhibit the educational opportunities for black and brown students.

As a team at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education we explore disciplinary rates for African American and Latina/o students in California high schools. As previous research demonstrates (Balfanz, 2012; Monroe, 2013; Sikba 1998, 2006, 2010; UCLA Civil Rights Project, 2015), we found that students of color, particularly African American students in urban areas, are severely overrepresented and disproportionately impacted when it comes to suspensions and expulsions. I’ve begun to analyze data, read up on literature, and work with colleagues committed to disrupting and dismantling the schools to prison pipeline.

In 2011-2012, over 3.4 million public school students had served at least one out of school suspension (OCR, 2014). Given both the number and average length of suspensions, researchers estimated that public school students, primarily our brown and black sons and daughters, lost almost 18 million days of classroom instruction (UCLA, 2015). 18 million days, that’s 18,000,000. In our analysis, we found a school where Black students were suspended 42 times their school enrollment rate. Another school had more black students suspended than enrolled in calculus. In addition, many of these biased and exclusionary disciplinary practices (Balfanz, 2012; Rios, 2006, Monroe, 2013) lead to days, if not weeks off-campus, in more severe cases, expulsion from HS or the district. What does that mean for those who aspire towards college? Missing 3-5 days of classes, content, and peer interactions; at times receiving little or no educational support while serving the suspension.

In terms of access to higher education, what good does redesigning financial aid, creating holistic admission practices, or expanding college knowledge, if we have racist policies that remove our students from school as early as pre-kindergarten. Balfanz, Brynes, and Fox (2012) found that out-of-school suspensions in the ninth grade significantly and negatively correlated with decreased high school graduation, as well as college enrollment and persistence rates. There is no college bound student without the opportunity to be in class, on campus, learning. Removing students via these disciplinary policies and practices perpetuates stratification in our educational system, create new barriers to higher education, furthers inequities in society, and stagnates our community’s push for civil rights and equality.

From the work at Penn, there is clear evidence of discrimination and disproportionality within disciplinary policies. Additional research provides evidence that our bodies, both black and brown, are discriminated against, are policed, and are pushed out of schooling and academic spaces. We need to name the disparities. Make explicit challenges to these institutionalized policies that destroy us, hate us. These policies sabotage our communities, our futures, and our progress.

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor reminds me :

The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. [Schuette Case]

That is my/our intent of this. To highlight the disproportionate impact that disciplinary policies have on our African American and Latino children. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights collects data on “Discipline, Restraints/Seclusion, and Harassment/Bullying” and provides a searchable database . This database is out there, but is it in the hands of parents, community members, or justice-seeking activists? It’s our hope that we name this problem and explicitly center our discussion on the racialized nature of disciplinary policies. While doing so, we also attempt to provide a framework for community stakeholders to ask more of their schools, administrators, and districts.

Why focus on race? I want to share one way naming the racialized experience of disciplinary action can create change. In mid-June, the Seattle Times reported on the school suspension rates based on OCR data. The headline ran, “Race dramatically skews discipline, even in elementary school” noting that “the racial gap starts as young as age 5.” Community members took the digestible data, tables, and insight to advocate for their children and community. At the same time, it seemed that disaggregating the data by race/ethnicity and illuminating the disproportionality, a paradigm shift occurred for educators, teachers, administrators, and board members alike.

At the July 1, 2015 meeting, the Seattle School Board added a discussion on these suspension rates where over a dozen community members provide public testimony on the subject. At that meeting the board passed a resolution (2014-15-35) placing a moratorium on out of school suspensions in elementary schools. The next step from this moratorium would be to change these policies, practices, and perceptions (Monroe, 2013) that lead to the disparate in disciplinary action for black and Latina/o students.

Institutional Accountability: The Role of Educators
I bold perceptions since Skiba and colleagues (2003) argue that teacher and administrators’ beliefs and perceptions perpetuate disciplinary disparities based on racial lines. The impact of educator beliefs is especially true in schools that instill a “get tough philosophy, with a relatively strict adherence to rules regardless of the context” (Skiba et al., 2003, p. 6). This is noteworthy as a large number of infractions that lead to suspension are based in student behavior that threatens teacher authority (Balfanz et al., 2012). In this context, it’s an educator’s disciplinary philosophy that disproportionately and discriminately punishes students of color. Given the documented history of school malaise, these acts of challenge teacher authority may be students of color resisting the oppressive nature of schooling (Dumas, 2014; Giroux, 2001; Gregory & Mosely, 2004).

It’s the City of Angels and Constant Danger
As my time in Philadelphia winds down [I’m back], I wonder how this experience will influence my work and what I do to address the issue back in Los Angeles. I’m situated at USC, many of the schools and students I work with have experienced and lived through these discriminatory policies. Zooming in on the data we’ve analyzed, we are home to some of the most severe cases of individual schools penalizing African American and Latin/o students, particularly within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Of the 37 schools where Latino students accounted for 100% of the suspensions, 24 were LAUSD schools. There were six schools where African American students were the only one racial group suspended, five were within LAUSD.

Examining the data for LA is a reminder of the ways race-neutral policies adversely impact students of color. The disproportionate impact experienced by students of color are a direct results of zero-tolerance policies and discriminatory beliefs held by teachers and administrators in regards to behavior, authority, and people of color. It’s also a reminder that there is no college bound student when they are continuously suspended under racist policies. Lastly, it makes me think of LA’s own, Kendrick Lamar and how he would respond to the disproportionate suspension rates of African American and Latinx students, maybe he’d say:

You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
And this is more than confession
I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion
I’m guardin’ my feelins, I know that you feel it
You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’

Kendrick’s words has me thinking, working, and advocating for ways to confront and dismantle the racist and discriminatory policies, practices, and beliefs that permeate our school systems, and society at large.


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