Do schools flunk test of fairness?
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead Are public schools in Fargo-Moorhead -- and, for that matter, in Minnesota and North Dakota -- flunking a fairness test involving discipline? The unsettling question leaps from statistics that reveal gaping disparities...
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead
Are public schools in Fargo-Moorhead - and, for that matter, in Minnesota and North Dakota - flunking a fairness test involving discipline?
The unsettling question leaps from statistics that reveal gaping disparities in handing out suspensions in local public schools. It’s a reality that clashes with the metro area’s view of itself as a warm and accepting community.
The recurrent theme: Students of color are consistently removed from classrooms at rates higher than white students.
Much, much higher rates, as shown by an analysis of statistics by The Forum’s K-12 education reporter, Helmut Schmidt.
In Fargo public schools during 2013-14, for instance, black students were suspended 5 1/2 times as often as white students, American Indians five times as often, and Hispanics 4 1/2 times as often.
The pattern was even more sobering in West Fargo public schools, where black students were suspended more than eight times as often as white students in 2013-14, and Hispanic students almost six times as often.
In Moorhead, an initiative has succeeded in reducing the suspension gap by lowering the number of major behavioral problems, but minority students still are removed from classrooms at rates significantly higher than white students, American Indian students more than five times the rate of whites and Hispanic students almost three times as often.
Similar patterns can be found for Minnesota and North Dakota. What’s going on here? Lots of questions arise, some troubling.
Is Fargo-Moorhead, which has seen an influx of refugees from troubled corners of the world, doing a poor job of integrating its New Americans?
Is the education establishment, molded by white, middle-class values, penalizing students from different cultural backgrounds because they are different, and act differently in the classroom?
Or are minority students, whose households are more likely to suffer from poverty and the associated stresses and strains, bringing those challenges with them into the classroom, where they can be difficult to deal with?
The short answer: Nobody knows for sure because nobody has studied the gaps. That must change.
Exiling a student from the classroom is a disciplinary tool that should be used sparingly, reserved for the most serious problems, such as bullying other students. When a student is removed from the classroom, he or she is not learning or dealing with the root problem.
Experts say that other steps, notably getting the student engaged in activities, are far more effective.
Now that the issue has risen to the surface, school boards, administrators and teachers must dig into the causes of the suspension gap. Fargo-Moorhead has grown and become more diverse. As a result, there are different notions about appropriate behavior.
The yawning gap in suspensions between white students and their minority peers is a warning signal for society - a red flag that we could, in fact, be flunking a disciplinary fairness test - and shouldn’t be ignored.