Ann Arbor schools starting new effort to close racial 'discipline gap'
Superintendent Patricia Green told the Ann Arbor school board that she's taking new steps to close a so-called "discipline gap" and expects by March to outline a comprehensive district-wide plan to reach that goal.
The information was presented Wednesday at a meeting when the Board of Education heard new student suspension data from the 2010-2011 academic year that shows consistent discipline disparity among students of different races and income levels.
It’s no secret the district traditionally has had a disproportionate number of black, special needs and economically disadvantaged students be removed or suspended from the classroom, said Board President Deb Mexicotte.
In 2010-2011, nearly 1,200 students were suspended from the district’s middle and high schools. Of those students, 42.2 percent were black and 20.5 percent were classified as “other,” a group officials said included many Hispanics.
Those numbers compare to 33.9 percent for white students, creating a disparity since 8,627, or 52.3 percent, of the district’s 16,509 students last year were white. Black students made up 14.3 percent of the entire student body.
The 2010-2011 data also shows that an average of about 35 percent of suspended students have special needs and an average of about 58 percent are economically disadvantaged.
Mexicotte said this issue is something schools nationwide struggle with. But Green has a track record for reducing the number of suspensions in the previous districts she has served.
“This makes me believe we really can do this in a way I never have before,” Mexicotte said, following a presentation Green gave to trustees.
“I believe in your leadership and experience and in the experience of our staff, both old and new.
"And I believe in this board. I believe we finally have all of the right components in place to actually address this.”
Green said improving consistency in school-wide practices and policies while educating teachers and administrators on the roles that social and emotional needs can play in misbehavior will diminish the “discipline gap” at AAPS.
Closing the discipline gap also is critical to eliminating the district’s achievement gap, she said.
“One thing that caught my attention (when interviewing for the superintendent’s position) was the achievement gap is being looked at on purely the curriculum side,” Green said.
“But the other components that are very significant are the emotional and social sides. Social and emotional learning will enhance safe and caring classrooms.”
She said students who misbehave are attempting to accomplish one or more of four primary goals: To get attention, to express anger or enact revenge, to show or gain power or to avoid failure. She said many educators fail to recognize and address the purpose of students’ negative behavior.
“There also needs to be an increased awareness of the potential for bias when issuing referrals for discipline,” Green said.
The superintendent is working on a more comprehensive course of action, but Green said she has two specific steps she would like to see the district do:
- Host professional development days to establish and coach consistent interpretation of offenses and
- Find ways to increase and promote student leadership opportunities for peer mediation and conflict resolution.
One piece Green already has begun is monthly data collections outlining attendance and disciplinary actions at each school building. She also is piloting a soon-to-be universal form for referring students for disciplinary action. She said the district had at least seven different forms it had been using.
A single, district-wide form is part of her plan to improve consistency and collaboration at AAPS.
Treasurer Irene Patalan said much of Green’s presentation resonated with her, especially the part about looking at the data more holistically and looking for patterns to see where the majority of student discipline referrals are coming from. She said, however, if students and staff are going to receive trainings on how to address behavioral issues, she would love it if the board could as well.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot seconded Patalan’s request. She added while she is happy the administration is developing a plan to address the disproportionality of student suspensions at AAPS, she remains upset by the data.
“The numbers are egregious,” she said. “They are embarrassing and distressing to me. I kept turning the pages (of the report) and was mad and sad and all kinds of things. The numbers are horrible. I can’t stress that enough.”