Perhaps Our Schools Being Broke Has Something To Do With All Those Suspensions?

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It was revealed yesterday that Texas educators are just a wee trigger-happy when it comes to student discipline, removing almost 60 percent of the state's students from the classroom at least once during middle and high school. Minority students are especially likely to get the boot, the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments study found, although that data's been around for years. But white kids? Getting suspended? That, ladies and gentlemen, is some breaking-ass news.

It was the first such study of its size, so it's not even clear whether Texas's suspension rate is higher than other states'. But judging by the sheer shock the numbers caused educators, Texas has to be at least threatening the league lead. And there's one factor that went mostly ignored in yesterday's coverage, a factor often invoked by noted discipline scholar Clifford "Method Man" Smith, PhD:

Dollar dollar bill, y'all.

Texas schools spend less than $9,000 per student, according to the most recent census data. Schools in all but eight states spend more. Why is Texas near the bottom, despite it's allegedly booming economy? Because about half of school funding comes straight from the state coffers, and our state leaders prefer their coffers sicklier than Jonah Hill 2.0.

Broke schools have less money to attract bright, experienced teachers and administrators. Broke schools have less money to teach those teachers how to keep a classroom under control. Broke schools have less money to fill their classrooms and playgrounds with support staff to keep basic kid stuff from escalating into suspension-worthy incidents. And on it goes.

To lend this already-arrived-at conclusion a manufactured air of journalistic credibility, I called a philosophically predictable advocate with an important-sounding title, hoping he would say exactly what I said, but in that cool way they teach at public policy school.

"As we talk about cutting funding for the schools, a lot of times that's going to mean classes that get larger and supplemental programs that get smaller," Richard Kouri, public affairs director for the Texas State Teachers Association, said, after waiting for me to adjust the tee to just the right height. "All of that has an impact on the number of incidents and how those incidents get handled."

Kouri also pointed out that diminished social services outside of our public schools -- early-childhood development, pre-k programs, child-protective services, etc. -- make kids more likely to act out when they get to middle or high school.

"You have an opinion out there that all of these things originate in the schools and can be fixed in the schools," he said. "No one wants to talk about the other piece of it."

The kids who need those services most are often black and Latino, which might explain why their teachers are chucking them from class so damn often. Also, Kouri said, the poorest schools often have the least experienced teachers, since veterans have an easier time moving to better-paying districts -- yet another reason minority students are disciplined at such a higher rate.

Lawmakers like Plano state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the chair of the education committee, can keep asking nebulous questions and proposing ultimately empty solutions, as she and Sen. John Whitmire did in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. But as long as they're ignoring the lessons of Dr. Method Man and allowing their fellow lawmakers to slash the state's school budget by the billions, the point-to-the-door method will still be a key weapon in the arsenal of Texas teachers.

*****

Like always, we'd like to include some supplemental material for you Friends of Unfair Park who want more on this important story. Here it is:

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scottindallas
scottindallas

I know I got hit with ISS a few times.  I wasn't a bad kid or student, I got suspended once for not knowing who did something I didn't see.  That sure left an impression. 

Watching
Watching

There aren't any white kids to kick out of the elementary schools near my neighborhood.  For that matter, there aren't many black kids either.  

TimCov
TimCov

Could it be the fact that the schools have very few options as far as punishing students goes. When all you have is a hammer (or suspension), then everything looks like a nail.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Educators face a high hurdle for punishing students, for a number of reasons but I'd say that parental objections rank as the most significant. A note home in my house was pretty severe and I can tell you that I'd refrain from that activity in the future. For many DISD parents, there is a "who cares" attitude about small issues because they don't see that they escalate over time to serious infractions. If something is semi-serious and merits a meeting between parents and an adult at the school, the parent is likely to be annoyed at being called in for the meeting. Sometimes that translates into conveying the message to the student that the behavior is unacceptable, but often times not.

So you really can only discipline students for things that merit a harsh penalty like suspension. If your punishments for lesser offenses produce no result, is there any surprise that behavior gets to the point that suspension is the appropriate remedy? 

The report itself appears to confirm that the 60% figure is what we think it is, though I can hardly believe it.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Per DISD policy, high-effort kids who want to learn and like school have to endure everything except a fistfight  or thrown furniture before a troubled kid is suspended.  And then it's a 3-day reprieve from the thug at best.

Some behavior problems escalate because of poor classroom management on the teacher's part, but until DISD improves teaching conditions (NOT PAY), most good teachers will not stay.

If 15% or more of our students fail, we get called in and chewed out.Lesson for the kids: No need to work.   Play instead.  Go crazy.  Only the teacher will get in trouble.

Kids who fail are almost never, ever retained.Lesson for the kids:  No need to work.  Play instead.  Go crazy.

The kids are poor, but they are not stupid.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Money an essential ingredient in the success of a school, which is to say that operating a school requires money. But it's not the most important determinant of whether a school succeeds or fails. 

ParleyPPratt
ParleyPPratt

No one believes the 60% number.  Did they count the total number of suspensions and then divide by the number of students?  Maybe we need better math/statistics people...

Watching South Detroit
Watching South Detroit

Instead of always whining about no money, how about being smarter with the available money?How many conferences, luncheons, and other non-classroom activities is money being spent on?  This is Summer - how many schools are having unneeded paint, carpet, new furniture purchases, office refurbishment projects going right now?  Look at DISD - DISD execs having taxpayer paid steak dinners to discuss layoffs due to budget problems, meetings held at high dollar hotels, bloated adminisstrator salaries, corrupt administrators (see IT scandal) who waste money, bonus money paid to a departing adminstrator who should not have qualified, etc.  In other words, there is no use throwing more money at the problems if the adminstrators are going to waste it on themselves or some other stupid, non-classroom expenditure. 

cp
cp

There is a level of disconnect between the teachers and the admins. A teacher begging for money I can get behind; an administrator, notsomuch.

This is why we have a school board of ELECTED people, and sadly they are a part of the problem and not the solution. They manage the top administrator and do what they want. With few exceptions.

I was on a DISD Advisory committee a few years ago and it was a rather large committee with over 20 people. We always had dinners provided when we meet at 3700 Ross Ave. We also got all kinds of dumb trinkets like DISD THANKS YOU embossed calculators and the like. Once we had dinner at Papadueax's and well gee, every single member of this committee was present for that. I and one other guy, were the only two who either abstained from that dinner or offered to pay for ourselves, and still told, "no you don't have to pay for this". (we didn't need to be explained the difference between "needing" to do something and "wanting" to do something.) (besides I was more than happy to pay for my over-priced house Merlot if it meant not having to eat anything there because what I really wanted was down the street at Bob's....)

Anyway, multiply that by thousands of school board people all across the state setting these kinds of examples to their administrators and it adds up. I think if a superintendent has to have a lunch meeting, great- get those suits over at Dallas Achieves to cover it. As for the elected officials? They should pay for their own damn dinners- they want this job, well, this is what it COSTS. 

Guest
Guest

If there is a problem, then we have to look at the students' and parents' roles in all of this.  I know it isn't not a popular opinion, but it is foolish to exclude the most significant variables.  If a student isn't taught to value an education by their parents, the student usually won't value an education:  It doesn't matter what the educators do if the students and parents aren't on board.  A student that doesn't value an education is almost impossible to disipline within the school setting, and sometimes the best thing is to get that student away from the others who at school to learn.

But I also think it is sort of silly to make a big fuss about this statistic.  I was by all accounts a very good student, well liked by teachers, went on to college on academic scholarship, and then to a top law school on academic scholarship again.  I was suspended at least once in high school.  It wasn't because of a lack of funding or diminished social services (I was lower-middle class).  It was because I was a kid and did something stupid.          

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

The challenge w/ Texas schools, especially in urban districts, is the fact many teachers are not given the power to actually educate and enrich young people. Instead, its all about "The Test", one thing ive said for years is that standardized testing has caused more problems than its solved. Instead of teaching to the lowest common denominator, as what happened in atlanta, we should radically rethink how we run our public schools.  One party I spoke to recently on our talk show suggested an idea of letting young people home school 3-4 days a week, then meet once a week w/ teachers to dicuss and exam on what they have learned. Its a radical idea, but it may be one that can save both dollars, but young minds as well..

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I disagree that not spending enough money is at the heart of the problem.I think we give schools enough, but very little of it trickles down to kids and teacher pay.  It's how the money is spent--on off-campus people and their whims--that is the problem.Behavior and achievement track closely with family socio-economic level.The numbers of black and Latino kids from low SES homes is high.And yet these realities are just ignored.  

Teachers in suburban districts aren't better teachers; they are less stressed by unrealistic expectations AND they have more stable, higher SES kids to deal with.  

Unrealistic performance expectations creates a testing-driven school day.The sleepy kids with all the emotional baggage tune out and become behavior problems.Strong teachers bail for better conditions.

There are IMMEDIATE solutions, but they would require spending (not on teacher pay, btw), which would not leave enough for the off-campus bureaucrats to live like kings.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

DISD has never seen a curriculum product it didn't like.  And most of it is just the same stuff repackaged.  You could save millions right there just freezing spending on this crap.  Plus tech spending, which again, DISD has never met tech it didn't like.

Also, get rid of instructional coaches as a position, and instead make it a rotating assignment among veteran teachers.  It would keep vets from burning out, save the district hundreds of thousands, and probably be 10x more effective than anything the current coaches do.

Get rid of all local assessments.  Teachers already have a local assessment system, it's called a gradebook.  Plus, the state EOCs make ACPs redundant.  Again, thousands, if not millions, saved, plus hundreds of person-hours saved.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

My suggestion has been for years w/ DISD is to just split it up into smaller, neighborhood level districts or charter/privatize the entity to allow them to have more control over how they educate children.. DISD, outside the magnet schools and a few specific campuses, is an utter failure when it comes to urban schooling.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Trust me:  charters are just another layer of bureaucrats with their hands out.  Kids who do not want to conform to their rules opt out of them, so they might appear to have better results.  They do not.  They generally don't have to put up with problem kids (like privates and magnets).

If we can't have smaller districts, we could at least get with the 21st century and do current districts differently.  Let's address the very different needs of our students.Here's what I think we need:-Remediation "Magnets".  MS/HS kids who fail 2 core classes OR the state test get to spend the entire next year being retained and remediated at an alternate campus.  The slackers, facing an actual consequence, will step it up and the true strugglers will get help.  Pay teachers at these campuses $20K extra, use TFA teachers for 1/2 the faculty (their short-term tenure won't matter as much at these type of campuses), and let the campuses ignore most of the "new ideas" like stupid Learning Walks that emanate from 3700 and IFL.-Behavior "Magnets".  Sell drugs, fight, disrupt, steal, etc and you go to a Behavior Magnet for the rest of the school year and the entire next school year.  Again, extra pay to attract seasoned teachers, mix in TFA, and spend on mandatory counseling to help these troubled kids.-Vocational HS.  Colleges and the people who sell the SAT won't like this, but quit pushing college on disinterested kids.  Let them choose a trade they like and will enjoy.  Drop-outs pushed out by all the testing won't go to college anyway; let's at least get them to graduate.-Won't need new buildings since "high effort" schools will now have lower pops and can be combined.  -Won't need more teachers since number of kids isn't changing; they're just shifting.-Sports teams can be solved by using stu address, as we already do.None of those ideas require educrats, edubabble, and pricey multi-million dollar IFL programs.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Sorry for the vast paragraph; it doesn't show the spacing as I typed it.

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