Excluded from Class: Race, Discipline and Our Lack of Improvement
From 2015 to 2018, Kentucky’s African American students faced “in-school removals” at astounding rates. Outside Jefferson County, there were more eighty removals per 100 African American students every year, with no net improvement over the four years. Jefferson County deserves separate attention because the reported removal rate there moved from 64 to 158 per 100 African American students. Whatever produced that change, the 2018 Jefferson rate is a catastrophe, and the pattern in the rest of the state also stinks.
Here are the numbers, and then I’ll add a couple of comments.
In addition to massive removal rates for African American students, these charts show students subjected to in-school removals more three times more often than their white classmates in all four years. Hispanic students and students of two or more races had rates much closer to white students in this set of data.
Were there bright spots in individual districts? Yes and no. Kentucky did have 34 districts where the in-school removal rates below 50 per 100, with African American rates no more than 25% higher than white rates. But only four (Eminence, Kenton, Montgomery, and Muhlenberg) had more than 100 African American students, and all 34 together served only 1,681 (2%) of Kentucky’s African American students.
Meanwhile, 72% of Kentucky’s African American students went to school in districts where the African American In-school removal rate was above 100 per 100. In addition to Jefferson County, rates like that occurred in Ballard, Carter, Christian, Fayette, Harlan Independent, Henderson, Nelson, Paducah Independent, Rockcastle, Scott, Somerset Independent, and Trigg.
Rates this high are sure to include some African American students who have been removed more than once and many who have never been removed.
But I keep thinking that whole classrooms notice a step like that. Rates like these means that huge majorities of African American students know classmates who look like them who have been missing from their desks—and many also know that far fewer white classmates have been absent that way.
I can’t imagine that not shaping many African American students’ sense of whether students of color are fully welcome in their classrooms. How could a pattern that big not having an impact on their everyday classroom experience? How could it not matter for their engagement and participation? How could a pattern like this not create a school climate of arctic unease for this group of students?
I’ve focused here on the most common way students leave their classrooms for disciplinary reasons. Students are also subject to out-of-school suspensions and to expulsions, and adding in that data would show problems even deeper than the data shared here.
I haven’t focused on the behaviors that were listed alongside the removal decisions, and that’s because when rates are this disproportionate, I mean to call out the adults and not the students. Even if African American student conduct is this different from other students, that’s a sign of relationships gone wrong, and adults need to take the lead in putting those relationships right.
The first step here is to face problem, and the second step is to agree that adults have primary responsibility for solving it. If you want to see rates for your own school district, here’s a chart of the 2018 data. Let’s end this grim pattern of wildly unequal participation for African American students. Let’s find the approaches that welcome them fully, engage them fully, and support the full realization of their talents. Let’s deliver for each and every child.
Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.