Discipline More About School Authorities Than Student Behavior

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Students at South Allegory High School rarely get suspended. Meanwhile, across town at North Allegory High, kids are suspended left and right.

Wow. North clearly has some serious discipline problems. The school must be overrun with hooligans. You should definitely send your kids to South.

Then again, the suspensions at North could say more about the administrators than it does about the students.

The Washington Post reports researchers in Texas are exploding some myths about academic discipline. One of the biggies is that schools with a lot of suspensions and expulsions have more discipline problems than seemingly quieter schools.

Not really, researchers for the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Texas A&M University's Public Policy Research Institute found out. It really depends on who is cracking the whip.

"The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies," researcher Michael Thompson tells the Post. "School administrators and school superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact."

Researchers looked at nearly a million kids in Texas. Some of the kids found themselves in schools more tolerant of misbehavior or with educators better able to manage their classrooms. Researchers accounted for such variables as race, economics, test scores, attendance, teacher salary and experience and expenditures per student.

"It's a really important finding," Russell Skiba, an Indiana University professor who has studied discipline issues for 15 years, tells the Post. "It says it's not totally about what kids and communities bring but it's a choice that schools make."

Researchers claimed their study was the first of its kind -- analyzing the records of all of Texas' 6.6 million seventh-graders in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and tracking them for the next six years or more.

Researchers uncovered a disturbing level of injustice in the way school authorities treat kids.

They found African-American students had fewer of what are called "discretionary" offenses than Hispanic or white kids. (Discretionary offenses can include serious fights but more often refer to classroom disruptions and insubordination.)

Even though African-American students had fewer of these offenses than their classmates, researchers found they were 31 percent more likely to be punished for them.

"The numbers are heartbreaking," Matt Cregor of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund tells the Post. "What we're seeing in Texas is no different than what we are seeing nationally. We're not going to close the so-called achievement gap or end this graduation or dropout crisis until we take a hard look at the numbers like these and the practices and policies that created them."

Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, the chairman of the state Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, tells the Post the report confirms his growing belief that school discipline is broken. Safety is important, he says, but too many students are suspended for typical teenage lapses.

"It's just become the easiest thing to do," Whitmire tells the newspaper. "It's easier than working with kids."

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