Tag Archives: education

The not-so-hidden racism of school discipline in Minneapolis and St. Paul

Total number of disciplinary incidents, including suspensions and expulsions, reported by Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts over the past five years

Total number of disciplinary incidents, including suspensions and expulsions, reported by Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts over the past five years

Last week’s news included the horrific video of a police officer throwing a 16-year-old girl across the school room — apparently because she only put away her cell phone, but refused to give it to her teacher. Bad as it is, the video shows only the tip of the iceberg of racially disparate school discipline, which persists across the country and here in the Twin Cities as well.

Vox compiled a series of seven charts showing racism in school discipline, using national statistics. I wondered how Minneapolis and St. Paul would compare, so I went to the Minnesota Department of Education website to find the numbers.

Vox reports that black students are suspended or expelled at higher rates throughout their school years, across the nation. That’s also true in Minneapolis and St. Paul. African American students are disciplined at a far higher rate than any other race or ethnicity reported. Here are the breakdowns for Minneapolis and St. Paul:

Mpls discipline disparities

St. Paul discipline disparities

The Minnesota Department of Education figures show the total number of “disciplinary incidents” by race and ethnicity. These include suspensions, expulsions and other reported incidents.

In Minneapolis, black students make up 37 percent of the student population, but 75 percent of the disciplinary incidents. In St. Paul, black students make up 30 percent of the student population, but 73 percent of the disciplinary incidents. In Minneapolis, Native American students make up 4 percent of the student population, and 8 percent of the disciplinary incidents.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reported last year on racial and other disparities in school discipline. They found disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color, disproportionate discipline for girls of color, disproportionate suspension of students with disabilities, and disproportionate arrests and referrals to law enforcement by race and disability status.

Racial disparities in discipline begin early and continue throughout school years. The disparities are not explained by differences in behavior. Vox explains:

“A common reaction to the discipline disparities is to suggest that something other than race is at work — that they’re a function of poverty, or that black students are simply more likely to misbehave. But analyses of the data have found that isn’t true. Black students and white students are sent to the principal’s office at similar rates; states report they commit more serious offenses, such as carrying weapons or drugs at school, at similar rates; and when surveyed about their own behavior, they report similar patterns. Even in cases in which black students do disproportionately act out — a 2008 analysis found twice as many black boys as white boys reported bringing a gun to school — they’re more likely to be punished than white students who committed the same infraction.”

Part of the problem is in the presence of police in the schools as School Resource Officers. Writing in the Hechinger Report, Beth Hawkins said that “even controlling for socioeconomic status, students at schools where there is an SRO are at least five times more likely than their peers to be arrested and sent into the juvenile justice system by the officers.”

Overuse of punishment to respond to discipline problems also may be correlated to the lack of counseling resources. Minnesota has one counselor for every 792 students, the third-worst ratio in the entire country.

Failure to educate students also contributes to racial disparities in discipline. Dropout Nation blogger Rishawn Biddle, writing about Minneapolis racial disparities in discipline last year, identified both a cause and a solution:

“[The] district is dealing miserably with the underlying illiteracy that is the key culprit for student misbehavior. …  This means intensive reading remediation, especially in the early grades when discipline issues can be headed off … Systemic reform, in short, is key to reducing overuse of suspensions for the long haul.”

In a press release from ISAIAH last year, Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds said the statistics on racially disparate suspensions “should break our hearts, and compel us all – especially the faith community – to act in a transformative way.” It’s time, and long past time, to act.

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Change must come to St. Paul schools

Steve Marchese and Zuki Ellis are two of the Caucus for Change candidates for St. Paul's school board.

Steve Marchese and Zuki Ellis are two of the Caucus for Change candidates for St. Paul’s school board.

St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) will have at least three and possibly four new members after the November 2 election. So who are you voting for? And will that make a change?  Continue reading

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Reading Horizons “proves” that Reading Horizons works (and I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you)

Page from one of the now-withdrawn Reading Horizons

Page from one of the now-withdrawn Reading Horizons “Little Books”

The million dollar boondoggle that is Minneapolis Public Schools contract with Utah-based Reading Horizons continues. Now MPS wants Reading Horizons to rewrite its offensive and racist “Little Books.” MPS insists that “research shows this program has been successful in improving student outcomes around the country, including outcomes in diverse districts like ours.” Where is the research that MPS relied on? Does it exist? And if it doesn’t, what is explanation for a $1.2 million contract? Continue reading

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Why you should read Sarah Lahm on Reading Horizons

Page from one of the now-withdrawn Reading Horizons  "Little Books" -

Page from one of the now-withdrawn Reading Horizons “Little Books” –

Sarah Lahm started telling the story in August: A corporate contractor got more than a million dollars from Minneapolis Public Schools and delivered offensive teacher training and racist books. Nine or ten blog posts later, the story continues to grow and now the Washington Post has picked it up, crediting Lahm for her investigative reporting, which uncovered the scandal. Continue reading

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Dirt Group grows gardens and kids

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Driving into the farm yard, we were greeted by a young man could have been a parking director for the State Fair or some sporting event — except that instead of using a flag or flashlight, he pointed the way to a parking place with a bright green cucumber in each hand. He’s a member of Dirt Group, a therapeutic program that grows gardens and kids. The cucumber-wielding teen welcomed us to an observation day for the program, which is directed by my brother, Kenny Turck. Continue reading

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St. Paul school board turns off television coverage of public comments

Parent speaking during public comment time at August 18 board meeting.

Parent speaking during public comment time at August 18 board meeting.

The St. Paul school board voted Tuesday to shut off television coverage of public comment, ending a decades-long tradition. Until now, the St. Paul school board televised its meetings, including the public comment time when regular people get to say what they think about the schools. The public comment time was part of the board’s regular agenda. No more — now public comments will no longer be televised and the comment section will come before the meeting, rather than as a part of the agenda. Continue reading

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St. Paul school board candidates off and running

Steve Marchese and Zuki Ellis are two of the candidates in a field of nine. Others: Jon Schumacher, Mary Vanderwert, Keith Hardy, Scott Raskiewicz, Aaron Benner, Greg Copeland and Linda Freeman.

Steve Marchese and Zuki Ellis are two of the candidates in a field of nine. Others: Jon Schumacher, Mary Vanderwert, Keith Hardy, Scott Raskiewicz, Aaron Benner, Greg Copeland and Linda Freeman.

With filing now closed, St. Paul school board candidates include one who eschews social media and another inspired by “The Untouchables.” The five most serious candidates are DFL-endorsed Zuki Ellis, Jon Schumacher, Steve Marchese, and Mary Vanderwert, all of whom identify with the teachers-union-backed Caucus for Change, and school board incumbent Keith Hardy, who is running without endorsement. The four who are elected in November will deal continuing problems, including student achievement, discipline and budgets, as well as middle school students leaving the district.

Zuki Ellis has deep connections to St. Paul Public Schools, as an alum of Webster Elementary and Highland Park Senior High School, and the mother of three SPPS students. Her web page lists detailed and thoughtful positions on key issues from the botched mainstreaming initiative rolled out a couple of years ago to iPads in classrooms and corporate talk in the district office. On mainstreaming:

“For both Special Education and ELL students, the word ‘mainstreaming’ has been used to disguise blatant neglect for individual student progress, and I cannot support the way it has been carried out.

“By cutting entire programs for the sake of ‘mainstreaming’ students, without any regard for the needs of individual students, the district has shown a total disregard for those students’ potential to succeed.  (They’re called Individual Education Plans for a reason.) “By providing additional support staff in the classroom, we can make steps toward making sure students are still getting the individual attention they need and deserve, and that our teachers are able to fully address the needs of all students.”

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Welding or history: What will MnSCU teach?

Welding vs. writing, machine shop vs. history — the battle for the souls of community colleges and state universities is on. The Star Tribune recently published a column by Fred Zimmerman, professor emeritus of engineering and management at the University of St. Thomas, who advocates an end to liberal education. Zimmerman urges legislators to:

“Work with the thoughtful MnSCU educators to improve relevance by shifting educational resources away from delusional and non-substantive, less-important general programs with questionable placement records toward the more sought-after technical programs such as welding, machinery and manufacturing, which are highly regarded by industry.”

Yep, that’s what I always thought college was about: welding and machinery and manufacturing. (Note that Zimmerman is not advocating that the University of St. Thomas or the University of Minnesota — both of which enroll students with substantially higher average incomes — abandon liberal education.) Continue reading

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Beyond Pre-K: What MN schools need from the special session

Photo by Barnaby Wasson, published under Creative Commons license - https://www.flickr.com/photos/barnabywasson/279911701/in/set-72157594345855838

Photo by Barnaby Wasson, published under Creative Commons license – https://www.flickr.com/photos/barnabywasson/279911701/in/set-72157594345855838

The debate over Governor Mark Dayton’s education bill veto focuses on the legislature’s rejection of his proposal for universal pre-kindergarten in Minnesota. But that’s only a small part of what’s wrong with the education bill. Continue reading

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MN education budget forces ‘a gosh darn lousy plan’ on schools

mct state capitolWith a two billion dollar budget surplus, the Minnesota legislature is poised to pass inadequate budgets that will force schools across the state to cut teachers and programs. In the House, Republicans have passed an education budget that increases per-pupil state aid by six-tenths of one percent. That’s far below the rate of inflation, and comes on top of years of failure to keep up with inflation. The DFL Senate does barely any better, with a one percent increase. Continue reading

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