Sunday, September 28, 2008

Raise and Reduce

In an effort to raise test scores, East Hartford, Connecticut's school district is investing nearly a million dollars (largely from outside sources) into " teacher training, consultants, books, curriculum and materials" according to the Hartford Courant. Tucked into the agreement is the aim to reduce the number of suspensions of "black, Hispanic and special education students."
I wonder what the plan includes for reducing the number of susupensions, and I also wonder why they don't want to reduce the number of suspension of white and Asian students?
The district's student population is approximately 1/3 black, 1/3 Hispanic, and 1/3 white and Asian.
The inference is that the black and Hispanic students are the ones getting into trouble, or at least are the ones getting reported. I suppose the problem is a mixture of the two, which begs the question: How does a school reduce the suspension rates for 2/3 of the student population?

More to the point, if the inequity of suspensions is a result of teachers and administrators "missing" poor behavior by white and Asian students, then the suspension rates overall should go up. But if the white and Asian students are making better choices than the black and Hispanic students, what can reasonably be done to influence those students to make better choices?
Because I teach at a school with a similar ratio of black and Hispanic to white and Asian, I can attest to the existence of students who feel "targeted" by adminstrators and teachers. I cannot attest to the veracity of those feelings.
Let me pretend that we teach at a school with a similar ratio of 67% black and Hispanic to 33% white and Asian. There are 100 student suspensions during first semester. Of those 100 suspensions, 67 of them are of black or Hispanic students and 33 of them are of white or Asian students. From a strictly numbers perspective, there are twice as many suspensions of black and Hispanic; from an outsiders view, inequality exists. From a reality standpoint, the numbers are even because of the percentage. In this situation, I don't see the need to directly target suspension reduction for one or two of the groups. I might see a need for reducing the overall number from 100 to 75.
Now, if we take the same scenario, changing the numbers to 85 black and Hispanic suspension to 15 white and Asian, then I see the need to target suspension reduction for the black and Hispanic students.
But the question remains, How? How does a school reduce suspensions, while maintaining high behavioral standards, for two specific racial groups?


At 11:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have some questions. Do white teachers report more black and Hispanic students for suspendable offenses than black and Hispanic teachers do? Are black and Hispanic students being routinely suspended for offenses for which white and Asian students merely receive a reprimand? Do teachers of all races who have greater experience working with black and Hispanic cultures seek suspension of fewer students than those teachers who are less familiar with these cultures?

I don’t know the answer to these questions as it pertains to your district. But if the answer to them is”yes” then race is an important factor in the number of suspensions handed out to black and Hispanic students, and a good program for staff development may be helpful and we should be grateful that money is forthcoming to reduce yet another evil of racism.

At 6:10 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Joe, as always you bring good thoughts to the discussion. Your first question brought rise to a related question of mine. In my predominantly Hispanic school, how many teachers are Hispanic as well? Off the top of my head, I count less than five. One in the guidance department, two in the foreign language department, and one bi-lingual instructor. I will need to find the actual answer to this question.
But for me, it raises questions similar to yours. Would suspension rates drop if the cultural gap between teachers and students was reduced? Would a faculty make-up that more reflected the students body make significant impacts on student learning and behavior?

At 10:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard people say that you must be from the same cultural background as your students to really understand them and teach them well. I have heard others say that cultural background is of minor importance; what matters is knowing your subject and being pedagogically sound. I believe that there is a real value in having a solid contingent of teachers who look and sound like the majority of the students—it can be both comforting and inspiring. But understanding is something you acquire; you are not born with it. In a classroom students appreciate teachers who explain the subject well, anticipate their needs, value their voices, provide both a challenge and support in helping them meet that challenge. Oh, and they like teachers who make them laugh provided it is not in a mean-spirited way.

A teacher who is willing to learn how to do these things can succeed no matter what his/her/the students’ background.

Outside of the classroom, though, students feel more likely to be understood and protected by teachers who share their background. This may not be the case, but they generally believe it will be so and often will react accordingly. A tongue lashing, delivered in mama’s tones may be easily accepted by the same student who snarls at a minor rebuke from a teacher he/she considers an outsider.

So, it seems to me that (so long as we remember that cultural similarity may be of value but guarantees nothing--Harry Potter and Prof. Snape are of the same background and hate and misunderstand each other heartily), we should recruit, if we can, teachers who come to the school with a background that shares much with the students. And other teachers should be open to learning from them and from the students.

At 1:55 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Funny you should mention the "mama's tone." Today, my second period group had no desire to participate. I could not coax them into the lesson or the classwork. I refuse to yell or raise my voice, instead opting for a more serene approach to classroom discipline. When they finally sensed my frustration, which took much longer than it should considering I don't hide my emotions well, one girl said: "Mister, you need to be more strict with us."
"I am strict," I replied.
"No you're never yell at us."
The conversation went downhill from there as various students explained how their parents handle discipline.
Every student in the room agreed that I need to yell at them in order for me to get my point across. Now, I don't actually believe that would work, but that's what they said.

At 11:38 AM , Blogger Alex said...

Mr. McNamar, I've a suggestion if you want to try it...

When they say they want you to yell, what they really mean is that they want clear feedback on what you think of their behaviour. That means more than just *telling* them that they're behaving unacceptably; you also have to change your voice, change your expression, and change your stance so they can tell: "something's up."

So, you don't have to yell to control them. But, sometimes you do have to *change*, to go into "angry mode" where you talk differently and it's clear that they've crossed the line. That could be what they mean when they say they want you to seem more strict.

At 5:02 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Alex, thanks for the idea.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home