Wednesday Reading List: Curbing the Expulsion of Vulnerable Kids, Racism in Standards, and Poverty

I know what you're thinking: "Justin, there was no reading list yesterday! Why?"

Well, as the holidays approach, and family duties become more acute, I am going to preemptively apologize for unexplained lapses in blogging. I will do my best to provide content throughout the next ten days, though!

Emily DeRuy, writing in The Atlantic, looks at the Obama administration's legacy on school discipline reform. It's a long, multi-faceted piece, so read the whole thing. We know that Black and Latino students are both suspended and expelled at rates much higher than their White peers, even for similar behaviors. The Obama administration has tried to curb that reality, and it would be mega-surprising if the Trump administration prioritizes this issue at all. This part stuck out for me:

Steve Zimmer, the president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board of education, also attended the White House meeting [on school discipline]. While his district began rethinking its approach to discipline a year or so before Obama took office, he said recognition from the White House helped strengthen the district’s resolve to scale back suspensions and expulsions ... The transition hasn’t been entirely smooth or complete, however. Zimmer was blunt when he said there had not been complete buy-in from teachers, and he acknowledged that the district’s budget for reforming discipline is tight. A year ago the Los Angeles Times noted that just 307 of the district’s 900 campuses had been trained in restorative justice. In 2013, the district banned so-called “willful-defiance suspensions.” But Sylvester Wiley, a police officer in the district, told the paper that schools were more likely to call police to handle students who acted out after teachers lost suspension as an option. When California took up a statewide ban on the practice, the teachers’ unions initially balked and accused lawmakers of trying to take away a discipline tool without offering anything to replace it in return.

There are a lot of layers here, and you should read the whole article. Very few people are willing to defend the practice of throwing vulnerable youth out of school, but once educators have to find another way to deal with discipline issues, things get complicated. There's a lot of finger pointing across sectors on this issue (i.e. from traditional schools to charter schools and back), but everyone is culpable on this problem. There's no silver bullet here, and there's obvious racism at play.

Speaking of the racist underpinnings of education policy, Joshua Starr, the head of PDK International, "goes there," writing in Education Week about the relative successes and failures of education standards:

To be sure, states and districts must hold schools accountable for both the opportunities they provide and the outcomes they get, but why should they insist on a one-sized-fits-all approach to standards-setting? ... Even more important, I'm left with a troubling question about the ethical implications of the prevailing approach to standards-setting: By shutting local communities out of the discussion of educational purposes, doesn't the process, in effect, reinforce an underlying assumption of white supremacy? Yes, I know how loaded that term is, and I don't use it lightly. My point here isn't to suggest that the people who write standards documents explicitly contend that white people are better than others. But I do think it's urgent for educators to ask how the standards-setting process has been shaped by the institutional racism that pervades all parts of public life, including our departments of education and school districts.

I wish more educators would discuss White supremacy as Starr does, not as a moral judgment on individuals in the system, but rather as a factual description of how the system itself was designed. Are there educators who are racist as individuals? Of course. Just a big a problem, though, is the fact that the American education system presupposes that the contributions of White European cultures constitute the predominant lens through which children should understand culture and history. That's just a factual statement, and if you're uncomfortable with it, I'd love to see evidence to the contrary.

Monica Disare, writing at Chalkbeat, looks at academic segregation in the New York City's public high schools:

The city is engaged in a robust conversation about racial segregation in elementary school, which is driven largely by housing patterns. Yet high schools — which are open to students from every corner of the city — have maintained a parallel system of privilege by using academic “screens” instead of geography. “Academic screens are a mechanism for sorting the students who have had educational privilege into places where they continue to get educational privilege,” said Megan Moskop, high school admissions coordinator at M.S. 324 in Washington Heights “And the students who don’t have that privilege continue not to have it.” ... The city’s most elite schools — the specialized high schools where admission is based on a single test — have come under fire for having few students of color. Only 4 percent of specialized school offers went to black students this year and just over 6 percent went to Hispanic students, though roughly 70 percent of the city’s student body is black and Hispanic.

The same thing is true in Boston, where students organized in response to the overwhelming racial disparities in the Boston Latin School, America's oldest public school. It's important to remember that some of the mechanisms that we describes as "meritocratic" are actually designed to reinforce existing distributions of privilege and access.

Finally, the Center for American Progress held a panel discussion on how progressives should think about serving the working class in the coming years, on a range of social issues that affect vulnerable communities. The whole panel is interesting, and one of my favorite thinkers on topics of social justice - Michelle Taylor - talks about taking the stigma out of our discussions of poverty, and how we address it: