Modern education has begun to catch up with other industries in terms of recognizing and dealing with glaring flaws that have persisted for years or decades. In fact, some issues in schooling, such as the massive deficits in funding for poorer schools. These financial issues can create disparities between schools, even in the same district, based on race and income level, leading to a subpar education for many students.
In many of these schools, the number of suspensions has gone up dramatically in recent years. It can be all too easy for administrators to dismiss these problems as originating from children, when in fact many of the punishments are meted out for highly subjective slights. Terms such as “disrespect” and “insubordination” are often used to describe the infractions committed by these students, but a large proportion of the students are African-American.
David Grosso, the chairperson of the DC Committee on Education, weighed in on this problem, which has worsened in the past decade.
“The current state of affairs is reinforcing the racial inequalities and biases that plague our education system—black students are nearly eight times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than white students. It is unacceptable,” he said.
For many impoverished schools, failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Disciplinary practices, meant to keep some semblance of order in schools, instead contribute to dropout rates and expulsions that can prove detrimental to a student’s life and career.
Some schools, such as those in the DC area, are considering reforming the way they handle discipline. Many administrators are even considering the efficacy of the age-old practice of out of school suspension, arguing that it accomplishes nothing and sets students even further behind. Other initiatives center around setting more specific standards for punishment, where subjective infractions won’t merit the use of suspension or severe punishment.
The idea behind these changes is to keep students active in the education system while still maintaining discipline. These “restorative justice” programs emphasize student engagement, with trauma awareness, specialized education options, and cultural sensitivity. However, there’s a lot of history to overcome; the limited funding that these schools have access to makes it difficult to enact swift change. One-time changes will not be enough; it is up to these administrators to continue to conduct research and identify areas of bias or shortcoming that can be changed to support these students.
Organizations outside of these schools have stepped in to provide support. The Children’s Law Center, in particular, has sworn to support legislation that provides fair access to schooling. DC has come a long way in recent years by reevaluating the way it administers its schools, one success story being the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. The school, entirely comprised of students of color, focuses on knowing the lives of the students that attend—and using that information to interact with them in a positive way.
These solutions are not perfect. Not every student is going to be willing to engage, and new legislation will need to include the resources necessary for schools to carry out these programs. However, DC is setting an example for other schools demonstrating that archaic notions of what constitutes “proper” discipline don’t necessarily apply in a modern school system.