The Civil Rights Data Collection recently released data collected from nearly 100,000 public schools and it’s troubling. Black and Latino students are more likely to be harshly disciplined and less likely to attend schools with experienced teachers than their White counterparts.
For many students kindergarten is their first time in a classroom setting. So students who do not attend preschool or pre-kindergarten learn how to behave in school for the first time when they enter kindergarten. During my short time teaching kindergarten, I taught a 5-year-old boy who had been expelled from multiple preschools.
His past was hard for me to reconcile because he spent many hours in my classroom and I never had a problem with him. He was very smart but behind, likely because he had spent so much time out of the classroom. He experienced the trauma of being told he did not belong in school through a series of suspensions and expulsions.
The data tells us that the experience of this little boy is the experience of many Black students. Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than White preschool children. And while Black girls make up only 20 percent of preschool enrollment, 54 percent receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.
Current school discipline policies are sending the message to Black students that they do not belong in school and this is not just a preschool issue.
Through exclusionary disciplinary policies, Black, Latino and Native American students are disproportionately suspended throughout K-12, with Black students being almost twice as likely to be expelled from school without options for transfer or other educational services.
The good news is that this is something that schools can change.
The Difference That Teachers Can Make
Studies have found that teachers with more experience have the ability to do more than just boost test scores; they can also limit absences and disciplinary infractions. Yet, students of color are more likely to attend schools with high concentrations of inexperienced teachers.
This is not to say only experienced teachers can teach students of color but rather teacher training programs and schools can do a better job at preparing and supporting first-year teachers in classroom management. Few teacher training programs provide teachers with the skills they need to manage their classroom and teach a diverse body of students. Therefore, teachers learn these skills while they’re on the job.
Research shows that teachers in schools with high concentrations of Black and Latino students leave in their second year just when they are becoming effective. They do not leave because of behavior problems or poor pay like many assume. These teachers say they leave because of dysfunctional and unsupportive working environments.
The constant hiring of new teachers not only drains district funds and resources, but also has negative effects on students who constantly must adjust to new teachers and changing school culture as a result.
Teachers can help support students best when they have strong and supportive leadership, opportunities to collaborate, and receive meaningful professional development.
An Adult They Can Trust
While school counselors are trained to solve problems with students and offer solutions and support rather than excluding them from school, 1.6 million students attend schools with a school officer but no school counselor. And though some schools have a counselor on staff, they do not have enough to reach every student. In Houston, there is one school counselor for every 1,175 students.
Many students who exhibit behavior deemed not appropriate for school do so because they lack supportive adults who they can trust. In school districts with no counselors, an out-of-school suspension serves as a band-aid and fails to get at the root of the problem.
Exclusionary discipline policies can be limited with a combined effort between teachers and counselors. Counselors and teachers can work together to create educational and behavioral solutions that keep students in the classroom. Students are at their best in environments where they feel like they belong and have adults they can trust.