Is Poverty Just an Excuse?

3:27 pm

In the effort to fight the “poverty is no excuse” crowd, education researcher Dr. David Berliner reviews a half-dozen out-of-school factors that have been clearly linked to lower achievement among poor and minority-group students: birth weight and non-genetic parental influences; medical care; food insecurity; environmental pollution; family breakdown and stress; and neighborhood norms and conditions. Additionally, he notes a seventh factor: extended learning opportunities in the form of summer programs, after-school programs, and pre-school programs. Access to these resources by poor and minority students could help mitigate the effects of the other six factors.

Here’s the link to the full policy brief. (712 KB PDF document)

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Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

filed under: Demographics, Equity, Reform

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79 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    What I am suggesting is that hundreds, probably more like thousands, of kids go to school with the intent of getting an education and often Portland’s schools do a poor job of making sure that takes place by not doing a better job of derailing classroom and school disruptions. The disruptions are not anywhere near as prevalent in upper income neighborhoods or middle income neighborhoods and don’t have nearly the negative effect that it does in lower income neighborhoods. The problem reaches its height in middle school and I imagine because of the drop-out problem lessens in high school.

    Now, I consider it somewhat racist and classist that we are willing to accept disrupted classrooms and schools in poorer neighborhoods than we do in other neighborhoods.

    Further, I think it is a school district problem because we don’t structure the schools to minimize the disruptions. Sure, teachers become adjusted to the disruptions, but mostly because we allow it, not because they don’t care about kids or in some way aren’t trying to do a good job. Putting the onus where it belongs is terribly important to solving the problem. So, of course, is teaching kids the importance of good behavior and not accepting disruptive behavior.

    Positive programs, such as Stephanie suggested, can have a huge effect on the behaviors I am talking about. But tolerating disruptions to the degree PPS is willing to do undermines a lot of the good work these positive programs do.

    Incidentally, I think a lot of moving to charters, sending your kid across town to a different school, fleeing the district all together, and using the focus options is based a good deal on perceptions, often accurate, that a neighborhood school is just too unruly.

  2. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    You know Peter this almost becomes a nature/nurture debate when it comes down to it. Poverty is a lack of something and I agree that not having basic needs met and then being expected to perform in a one size fits all model can be a set up to fail and poverty “is” a factor. You have people like me and Rose who have shared stories of pulling out of the muck but I also have to credit my keen adaptive skills that not only knew how to attach to safe people (teachers, neighbors) but I also essentially crafted my own educational experience by manipulating teachers with my social savvy and independence. In high school I would be able to turn a 20 page research paper into a 20 minute presentation that I cobbled together the night before with my adaptive skills learned from having to survive.

    I know people raised in wealth that I consider as experiencing poverty of learning the consequences of their actions. They were rescued by their parents over and over and now have to learn basic problem solving skills as an adult (Wall Street for example).

    The kid in poverty who is in the child sex ring sold for drugs every night and the kid in poverty who has a parent/grandparent/older sibling/foster parent giving them everything they can by scraping by is going to have a way different school experience.

  3. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Stephanie, a recent book I read made a good case for learning to manipulate your environment as the defining issue of success in society in general and that this skill is taught better in upper income and middle income families who are more used to doing this. Interesting to hear you say it was a major factor in your development. I try to teach kids in my classroom that the teacher is paid for by their parents’ taxes and the teacher’s job is to help them so they need to use him or her to get what they need to get a good education, not just respond to their lead.

  4. Comment from Stephanie:

    I am constantly amazed at the adaptive skills I see in children and maybe I just notice because I had to do it myself.

    For quite a while I had a huge gap between my developmental level and adaptive skills. My K-3 librarian and teachers saved me. I agree that kids (and ideally parents in a perfect world) need to be taught to advocate for the kind of education that works for them but I don’t know yet if boutique schools are the answer (still formulating). Teachers should of course introduce the concept of multiple intelligences and also recognize and nurture it from the get-go. When I was a supervisor I was very good to my staff but I also told them that they would never get a pass for expecting me to read their mind or see the inequities at work when I was so busy and barely there. If they did not call to my attention an unfair action or ask for the help they needed then it was not going to prevent me from following through with a disciplinary action if necessary. Now if I had a staff person that I did not think would do this but that had good qualites anyway I would adjust and ask my manager to keep an eye on them so I could help them before they messed up.

    I want to clarify something else I said previously. I am leaning towards poverty is a factor but not an excuse. I firmly do not believe in punishment but experiencing the natural and logical consequences of your actions I do believe in. This is how people learn. Just because a Wall Street goon did not get to learn what failure was because his parents protected him from it and now he has no conscience does not mean he should not be held accountable for lack of scruples. Just because a child born addicted to drugs was put in multiple foster placements and became a murderer does not mean they should not be held accountable. I do believe in reform and rehabilitation though. When I teach parents in the family home I tell them, “There is nothing scarier than a calm and in control parent.” Having high expectations of someone that has never had that before actually causes challenging behaviors before it achieves success. Most people will not ride out the behavior though and give up too easy. When we give up the child relaxes and says, “Ok, I knew I was a piece of garbage. They had me worried there for a second that I was actually worthy of love.” It’s true folks. I see it day in and day out.

  5. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    I guess that the piece that continues to stick in my craw is that poverty equals dysfunction. The actual issue is that poorer you are, the more your behavior is labeled. The more you have “contact” with child wefare and other agencie.

    I worked at a domestic violence agency, and trust that it affects all income levels and ethnicities.

    Can you imagine what would’ve happen had a Jefferson kid sold drugs to another student, causing that student to overdose and die? Well, this happened at Lincoln and parents are still willing to do ANYTHING to get their kids in that school. Even after Lincoln students protested that their drug-dealing friends was forbidden from attending prom.

    For instance, in California, pregnant women on medicaid are random tested for illegal drug use. Pregnant women on private insurance are not. Poor people are targeted more often than their wealthier counterparts.

    So I will say again, that I reject the premise that poorer children are more disruptive than richer ones. I have known many middle class and upper class train wrecks.

    ::::::::shakes head:::::::

  6. Comment from Steve Buel:

    PPSexpatriate, you can reject the premise, but the question is how to account for the disparity then in schools from different neighborhoods. If you reject the disparity then I can’t agree. How you want to arrive at the disparities is a different matter. I just think that poor behavior has a tendency to become self-sustaining. It is worse to be unwilling to deal with it — doesn’t mean all children, doesn’t mean you label anyone. If a kid or adult is disruptive then you need to deal with it. Not let it go to create more disruption. Because disruption in a school setting does not work well and condemns children in those schools to a worse education. So why do we have to condemn poor kids to a worse education. That is what I am fighting against.

  7. Comment from Stephanie:

    Can we get clear on disruption perhaps?

    Disruption sounds to me like something that happens but is not a pattern of behavior. I do not think of disruption as violent or harmful but perhaps annoying and needing some additional training and skills to handle. Large class sizes for example make disruptions more impactful because if you take the time to set a firm limit with this child then another kid might use this opportunity to act up. When a kid is disruptive in my environment that means I failed to give them a motor break proactively and I need to remember to do that sooner. A pattern of behavior is something different altogether. That is why I bring up PBS in this thread because rich/poor/abused/spoiled you are treated equally if the curriculum is used as prescribed. PBS takes into account background but only as information to support you not judge you.

  8. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    In poor schools, it’s the kids’ fault and discipline starts.

    In richer schools, the kids’ creativity and energy aren’t being supported enough and it’s the school’s fault.

    Depending on where you fall on the SES decides whether you get labeled/punished or supported and challenged for the same behavior. Depending on what track you are placed on, you live up or down to expectations.

    I can’t make it any plainer than that.

    I’m fighting against pathologizing poor and/or minority kids. Period.

    With that I will stop going around this mulberry bush.

  9. Comment from Stephanie:

    Kids need defined limits, boundaries, high expectations, choices that are possible and supported, a sense of control over their life, and they need to be able to experience the consequences of their actions to learn problem solving skills – Child dev. 101. My point about behavior support is universal for all children and PPS needs to adopt a system that is consistent across settings. Part of that consistency is the reality check that we need to label kids based on their strengths, gifts, dreams, vision, and identifying how they learn. A child is not a “behavior problem” regardless of their school, color, or family income. A child is a learner and that is all.

    PPS_Expatriate is correct that the reality is that kids who are poor/minorities/disabled are pathologized and those who are not considered sensitive, gifted, spirited. We keep this myth going if we assume that “those kids” need our help because they are so disruptive. Can’t we just help them because it is nice to help people and clearly we all believe in equality? Do we have to ride in on our steed and wave our flag to save the poor kids from themselves? This just creates idiotic comments like the one from the open budget forums I posted above that PPS needs to get out of the feeding and transporting business. The public clearly thinks, based on that statement, that poor/minority/disabled students are taking the resources away from those who are more spirited, gifted, and sensitive.

  10. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – I think the perception amongst lots of middle-class whites is that low-income, high minority schools are filled with lots of kids that “misbehave.” I’d argue this is one of the major drivers behind the transfer option. I don’t think this is because the majority of middle-class whites are racist. I think they are ignorant, plain and simple.

    So what, in your opinion, is the best way to break through this ignorance? How can this stereotype be revealed as a stereotype and not “the truth”?

    One major challenge: do you think all the data that Carrie mentioned — black students make up 16% of the PPS student population but account for 36% of the suspensions and expulsions — can be attributed solely to racist attitudes of teachers and administrators? If so, then how do you rise above simply calling these folks racists? How can we get people to see their actions as racist and then stop repeating (largely unconscious) behaviors?

  11. Comment from Steve Buel:

    PPSexpatriate, when you are standing up fighting against pathologizing kids I will be standing right there with you.

  12. Comment from Rose:

    This is such a huge topic I don’t know where to start.

    Stephanie and I both have talked about coming from horrendous backgrounds. She credited her adaptive skills for her survival.

    I should do the same. I consider myself lucky. I’m lucky I had enough smarts and I am lucky for whatever reason I had a survivor mentality. One of my siblings was not so lucky: he committed suicide.

    But we can’t expect all kids to be as adaptive.

    It is equally unfair to think that most kids in poverty experienced the same abuse and neglect. I know PLENTY of poor kids who have fantastic parents. In fact, those homes were my refuge growing up. As PPS Expat says, poverty is not the same as poor parenting.

    And as she says, people see behavior through a different lens. Drinkin’ Lincoln gets laughed off for its not-so-funny cocaine problem, and the students there sure don’t get arrested for measure 11 offenses, even when they are holding way serious drugs.

    I think this is what it boils down to for me: life is harder for poor kids. It is harder because you often have less help, less sympathy, less leeway.

    Poor families have more stresses too. Lack of health care, untreated illnesses, lack of good healthy food…the list goes on.

    There are times when poor children do suffer greater problems. One example is the under-reported problem of lead poisoning among minority children in Portland.

    Another issue that can’t be dismissed is the impact of meth abuse among poor families. It is a nasty awful drug that makes adults hurt children.

    So…I suppose for me it is both. We need to stop seeing poverty as a pathology. But we also need to realize being poor can be oh so very hard.

    And while we are talking about poor children we really should note most poor kids in Portland are white and live near Gresham.

  13. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Peter – You requested that I adhere to the comment policy and attack the argument, not the person. Your request reminded me of something that happened to a friend recently. My friend is a black male PPS employee who was visiting a black female friend at the central office. They were having a conversation in the foyer along with several other groups of people (all white) while a meeting was taking place in the boardroom. A high level central office employee walked up to them and “shushed” them. As a white person, I wouldn’t have thought anything of that if it happened to me. This week as I sat at the back of the BESC foyer watching the board meeting, I saw the same central office employee single out another group of blacks for shushing.

    I agree that you have been very good about attacking the argument and not the person but I disagree that my peers have all done the same. Help me understand how I went astray of the comment policy.

    It seems to me that poor children have been repeatedly attacked on this website and nobody was reminded about the comment policy. Are attacks on groups or classes acceptable?

    How about if I use charter schools to illustrate a point? Just so you know, I absolutely understand both sides of the charter school issue. When the charter school bill was introduced in Salem years ago, I testified in opposition to it for the very reasons that Steve Rawley has cited. As years passed and I became exhausted by efforts to improve the quality of education in PPS, I struggled with the decision to flee Portland. My family ended up moving to the suburbs where my kids attended better schools but we lost many of our friends because of that decision. I did what I needed to do to take care of my kids and continued to volunteer as an activist in Portland. We all want the best for our kids.

    That said, here’s my example of the way poor kids have been treated on this site (cut and pasted from comments):

    “Charter school children who grow up without parents readying them for school are always going to be harder to teach. That’s not a reason to give up or fail to emulate models that have achieved results, but it is a reason to moderate one’s expectations.

    What civil rights groups and others should do is urge charter parents to take care of their own children and value learning. The single greatest cause of poverty and ignorance is charter schools. What about the charter students who don’t care and have parents that don’t care? These kids are the rule not the exception in PPS.

    The issue of poor behavior in charter schools is very pervasive and is maybe the most important issue in PPS. It really manifests itself in the middle grades and is extremely influential in affecting the drop-out rate. What I am saying is that on the average in classrooms in charter schools there is much more misbehavior. This creates a worse learning environment and makes it much more difficult for students to learn and teachers to teach. More kids in these schools are less engaged in school, have sporadic attendance problems, worse school skills, and misbehave in class more.”

    A friend told me about the PPS Equity site and said that Steve Rawley had taken up the work that the Crisis Team used to do. I was happy to think that the work continued but I’m having doubts about that. PPS Equity may welcome all civil discussion but I don’t feel that everyone’s voices are being heard.

  14. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Peter you said:
    I don’t think this is because the majority of middle-class whites are racist. I think they are ignorant, plain and simple.

    So what, in your opinion, is the best way to break through this ignorance? How can this stereotype be revealed as a stereotype and not “the truth”?

    You’re right about it being ignorance most of the time.

    In my opinion we think preventatively and presently all the time. All the wise people on this site can expose their kids to community service. Take your kids to play with children at Doernbecher and Providence, become a paid county respite provider and take in a foster child for a few hours so the foster parent can get a break, become a foster parent, volunteer in the ELL or life skills classroom to experience a day in the life, volunteer at a shelter. Your kids will grow up appreciating what they have and knowing how to help others. If we all do it then it might have a domino effect. That’s thinking preventatively. Thinking presently, perhaps Steve R can get a calendar feature going and we organize to work on individual issues together that we are interested in. We all agree on one thing. Kids deserve a chance and we want to give them all an opportunity to succeed. Let’s champion some policy changes and show up in large groups to have our voices heard and bring our ideas.

    Peter – I appreciate that you always bring it back to being solution-oriented.

  15. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    It is alarming that Black students comprise 16 percent of the student population but 44 percent of the suspensions and expulsions.

    Discrimination is of course a possible explanation. And in my opinion whenever that possibility arises finding out whether there is discrimination or not should be of the highest priority.

    At the same time it’s important to examine whether PPS is doing enough to help minority students buy in to school.

  16. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    PPS_Parent – I completely agree with you. It is alarming. I think there are multiple factors associated with the disproportionate discipline rates. One factor that I believe to be especially critical is the disproportionate student/ teacher ethnic population rate. From the ODE Oregon 2007/08 State Report Card:

    “From 1997-98 to 2007-08, the percent of minority students went from 16.3 percent to 28.9 percent, while the percent of
    minority teachers increased slightly from 3.9 percent to 5.3 percent”

    I spent four years in PPS HR department and have seen firsthand the barriers PPS creates for minority applicants. There are programs in place designed to increase the percentage of teachers of color but the programs are being ignored and nobody tracks their effectiveness.

    The disaggregated suspension/expulsion data is even more worrisome. Not only are students of color being disciplined at disproportionate rates but there are incident areas where they are under-represented and do not receive the support that they need.

  17. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I have many times tried to get PPS to consider a plan I have put forth which would increase the numbers of outstanding teachers of color. They haven’t been interested.

  18. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Steve B. – We’re in agreement on that!

  19. Comment from Steve Buel:

    These suspension rates are alarming. As a co-author of the desegregation plan which made huge strides in more equitable treatment for African-American children I have been very upset at the terrible job we have done in allowing education to deteriorate in lower-income neighborhoods. As resources have thinned we have protected schools in upper and middle income neighborhoods. It doesn’t surprise me that children in educationally deteriorating schools have larger suspension and expulsion rates. They have had those rates for years. The question for me has always been what to do about them. Step one is to make every effort to meet the needs of kids in all our schools, particularly by improving those schools. Does anyone know how the suspension and expulsion rates break down by family income? Would be an interesting statistic. Seems like you could cross reference with free and reduced lunch. It is certainly a much more quantifiable unit than ethnic background.

  20. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Carrie, I alone am not capable of carrying on the work of the Education Crisis Team that you were a part of, and would never claim to be worthy of that.

    I’ve paid tribute to the work of that group as part of the continuum of struggle for civil rights in our schools. I don’t know how to carry on that work. I place high value on your experience and opinion in that regard. I hope you’ll continue to contribute here.

    You and others have taken issue with Buel’s characterization of the problems he describes in poor schools in Portland. I get that.

    I don’t really want to get in the middle of something between you and Buel that may extend beyond comments here, or interpret what he’s written, but I think you may be speaking past one another.

    As I read it, the problem he’s talking about is precisely lowered expectations for poor and minority kids, something I think we all agree is a serious problem.

    Buel wrote: “When we allow the disruption of schools that I have described, then as an institution we are saying that lower income kids are not capable of behaving well.”

    He’s placing the blame squarely on the schools, not the students.

    Now, like PPS_expatriate said, we’ve been around the mulberry bush several times. I think most of us here are actually on the same side, even if we quibble on the language.

  21. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Lincoln spends $5300 per student and Jefferson spends $8300 per student. Ockley spends $6300 per student and Mt Tabor spends $5200, so I don’t see that schools in lower-income neighborhoods are getting shortchanged – at least not on the face of these statistics.

    Zero expulsions at Jeff and 1 percent at Ockley, though the suspension rate was high at both schools – 29% at Jeff and 27% at Ockley.

    I don’t envy the task of school administrators in finding the right balance between protecting the rights of students to an orderly and safe school environment and instituting overly strict disciplinary policies. Still, differences of the size I see here are troubling. I hope the district is giving a high priority to reviewing the whole situation – things like this can get lost whenever there is turmoil around the budget.

  22. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I think poor kids have been attacked on this website. I spent 14 years teaching the 6th grade in the suburbs behind Intel and 10 years teaching in a far out southeast Portland school where at least two of those years the school had the lowest poverty rate in the state. The kids themselves were innately the same, but the experiences on average they brought to school were incredibly different. These manifested themselves in the school in a myriad of ways. Unless we recognize that children bring different backgrounds and make adjustments then we end up teaching only for those kids who come with the school skills honed already. This is part of the charter school argument. This is part of the drop-out problem. This is part of the misguided testing programs. Etc. So, if it is an attack to point out the need for understanding and to push for equity based on where inequity has been established, then it is. But I have found most of the people on this website to be very non-racist, non-sexist, and non-classist, but also willing to explore the real basis for problems. That is why I spend the time here — if it was differnt I wouldn’t.

    So when it is pointed out that black students comprise 44% of suspensions and expulsions it is not seen as an attack on black students, after all it is saying they get suspended and expelled more often, but a situation which needs to be explored openly and hopefully honestly. And just maybe someone will take some action which will help fix it. This site isn’t the action — it is the discussion. Running for office, getting on committees, openly protesting injustice, standing up in your life, and voting are the actions.

    Sorry, Steve and PPSexpatriate but it is a mulberry bush worth going around a few times more. And, Steve, thanks for your explanation of what I am saying; it is much appreciated and if there was anyone who could speak for me it would be you.

  23. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Steve Rawley – I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you alone was capable of (or should be) carrying on the work of the crisis team. You’ve been very clear from the beginning.

    I’ll clarify. My expectation based on what my friend had told me was that this was a vehicle for addressing the disparity in the quality of education that poor students and students of color receive in Portland. The discussion is more limited than I expected. I can accept that.

  24. Comment from Steve Buel:

    PPS_parent, your reading of the statistics is correct. Though there would be some question about how they were arrived at. This disparity goes throughout the school district in reverse of what you might imagine. I think another telling statistic is the number of high school offerings in say Lincoln and Madison, about double in Lincoln and this statistic also goes throughout the school district in reverse manner. I imagine the answer is in the economies of scale, a situation which is brought on by the transfer process. If kids went to school in their own neighborhoods then the money and the offerings would better balance off.

    A similar issue is raised when it is pointed out schools in lower income neighborhoods get Title 1 money, but this doesn’t break down exactly that way either evidently. And that money helps kids who are struggling so it is not added into the general population of students.

    If you read about 100 different posts on this site you can document a lot of the inequities which exist in many areas.

  25. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Madison spends $6500 per student and Lincoln spends %5300 per student. It isn’t clear to me what economies of scale you are talking about or how having a permissive or restrictive policy on school choice contributes to those economies.

    I suppose you could argue that putting more kids in Madison would make it a better school, or you could argue that more kids would go to Madison if it were a better school

    Madison receives no Title I dollars even though it enrolls a significant number of ELL students and two-thirds of its students are eligible for subsidized lunch. I wonder how you would explain to Madison students why they do not receive Title I funds and the responsibilities for the district and the state to improve Madison that go along with it.

  26. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Madison spends more per student than Lincoln but offers vastly less opportunity. What part of “economy of scale” escapes you?

  27. Comment from Rita:

    Carrie Adams noted some disturbing statistics on disproportionality in school discipline. I think this is a huge, but largely ignored issue for minority students, especially African American males. Brian Baker at Juvenile Rights Project has done some wonderful work on this topic and some of his findings are stunning. JRP published a formal study last year that brought together national and local research. (See “Eliminating the Achievement Gap: Reducing Minority Overrepresentation in School Discipline,” Juvenile Rights Project, 2008.

    I think it might be helpful to the discussion to cite some of the findings here. They focus on rates of exclusionary discipline – suspensions and expulsions – since they are the most disruptive of a student’s educational progress.

    Nationwide, minority students are suspended and expelled from school at two to three times the rate of Caucasian students and at rates significantly higher than their percentage of the overall school population. This disproportionality has increased in the last 15 years, and holds true across rural and urban districts.

    But the most significant finding, to my mind, is that numerous studies conclude that the higher rates of discipline do not reflect higher rates of disruptive behavior by minority students. In fact, studies show that African American students are more likely to receive harsher discipline, such as suspension or expulsion, than Caucasian students referred for the same or even less serious infractions.

    “…Studies find that harsh disciplinary procedures, cultural and language barriers, and racial bias result in the disproportionate exclusion of minority students from public school. In fact, research suggests that African American students tend to receive harsher punishments for less serious offenses than their Caucasian classmates. In an analysis of the reasons that middle school students in one urban district were referred to the office, one study found that Caucasian students were more often referred to the office for vandalism, smoking, endangerment, drugs and alcohol. African American students were more often referred for loitering, disrespect, excessive noise, and interference. This is just one of many studies concluding that there is no evidence that African American students misbehave at a significantly higher rate than other students.”

    Note in particular that the white students’ offenses tend to be factual, while the black students’ infractions are more subjective and therefore much more likely to be influenced by cultural and linguistic differences.

    The numbers on PPS are largely consistent with national trends, but have been actually worse. Looking at the 2002-03 school year, African Americans made up only 16.5 percent of the PPS student population, but accounted for 43.5 percent of all major disciplinary referrals, an overrepresentation of more than 260%. Stats for suspension and expulsion were even worse, with African American students overrepresented by almost 400% (8.13% of all African American students in PPS compared to only 2.24 % of Caucasian students).

    The JRP study notes in particular that zero tolerance policies have dramatically increased the incidence of the most extreme disciplinary measures, with no apparent improvement in student safety, school climate, or student performance. I would note that schools that use the most regimented instructional models, including little or no recess and PE, tend to have higher rates of behavior referrals. I’m guessing that’s not by accident. And it’s also not by accident that those schools tend to have predominantly minority and poor students. Add to that PPS’s dismal record on recruiting and retaining minority teaching staff, increasing the likelihood of cultural misunderstanding, and the fact that minority schools tend to have less experienced teachers for whom classroom management is an issue and I think you have a perfect storm for disproportionality.

    The JRP study also notes that minority overrepresentation is a society-wide phenomenon. “In child welfare, for example, African-American children account for 44 percent of children in foster care, although they represent only 15 percent of all U.S. children.” In Oregon, African-American and Native American children are 3-6 times overrepresented in foster care, a rate that puts us at the bottom of yet another national list. And there’s more: “In the juvenile justice system, minority youth are disproportionately arrested, adjudicated and incarcerated. Minority youth represent one third of juveniles in the general population, but two thirds of those in secure detention. Similarly, African-American youth ages 6 to 21 make up 14.8 percent of the general population but 20.2 percent of special education students. African-American youth are overrepresented in 10 of the 13 special education disability categories. Compared to Caucasian children, they are 2.9 times as likely to be labeled mentally retarded, 1.9 times as likely to be labeled emotionally disturbed, and 1.3 times as likely to be labeled learning disabled.”

    All in all, I think these numbers nicely put to rest the mainstream media’s contention that we live in a “post-racial” society. My fervent hope is that this administration might actually start paying attention to these things.

  28. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Thank you Rita. The JRP is awesome. I have always been so impressed with the work they do.

  29. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Has there been a study of the underlying reasons for different rates of disciplinary actions for children of different races and ethnicities in PPS? I mean an analysis of the causes for referrals and an analysis of whether students receive the same consequences for the same actions? And does anyone know if there is a district plan for addressing the issue or how the district responded to the issues raised by the JRP report?

    As to the Lincoln-Madison comparison, is the issue that Madison does not have enough resources or that it is not making best use of the resources it has? Either way, I don’t see this as an economy of scale issue. Compared to Lincoln’s attendance area a relatively large proportion of students in the Madison attendance area do not attend Madison. I’m still not clear as to how compelling more of them to attend Madison (as if that were possible) would make Madison a better school.