And the winner is… Kern County!

5 Apr

Kern County is California’s expulsion capital. Kern is the clear winner with an expulsion rate 4 times higher than the state’s (Kern beat out LA County, which has 9 times as many students!) and 7 times higher than the nation’s (as of last count in 2006). And those aren’t colorblind statistics. The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation of student expulsions and suspensions showed that:

[M]ost of the expulsions were discretionary and that the schools had unusually high rates of expulsion for defiance, disruption and obscenity. More than 1 in 4 expulsions statewide for obscenity or vulgarity took place in Kern County.

… The new federal statistics do contain ethnic breakdowns and confirm some parents’ concerns [about racial bias in decisions to expel and suspend students]. They show that in the Kern County city of Bakersfield, black students at Bakersfield High School were 15% of the school’s more than 2,700 students in 2009-10, but represented 25% of all out-of-school suspensions and 29% of all expulsions…

The data also show that 30% of black males in that school were given more than one out-of-school suspension, compared with 12% of all males in the school. Suspensions can last up to five days at a time. Nearly a quarter of black males were expelled.

Strikingly, little more than 1% of black students in the school were expelled for “zero tolerance” violations that leave little or no room for administrators to keep students rather than removing them for a semester or full year. The rest of the expulsions involved discretionary decisions by administrators (http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/minority-expulsions-high-kern-county-new-data-confirms-15318).

When you consider the statistics on the number of black internet company founders (1%, compared to the 87% who are white and 12% who are Asian)–see yesterday’s post–the CPI’s data on racial bias becomes more significant. Not only do Kern County’s disproportionately overrepresented, suspended and expelled black students miss days of school, they tacitly learn that they aren’t good students. And while stereotypes threaten the kids, their teachers, who are also learning about the colors of good and bad students, are more prone to committing racial microaggressions and creating a climate that is counter to black kids learning.

Wait a second, you might be thinking. The study focuses on one tiny farming community, not the whole US, right? Well, while Kern County appears to be an outlier, the public school system there is hardly alone. Numerous studies across the US have revealed parallel biases in other schools: black students in Chicago public schools are 3.5 times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/06/chicago-public-schools-discipline-gap-education-department_n_1323681.html) and black and Latino students in Texas public schools are more likely to be disciplined than their white peers (http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/07/eric_holder_calls_alarming_texas_suspensions_of_black_students_a_wake-up_call.html). [Note: To my knowledge, comprehensive studies of bias in discipline in private schools have not been conducted. Please let me know if you come across that data.]

Sadly, Kern County and the state of California don’t seem very interested in the numbers. While the county denies any racial bias in its student discipline, the CA senate seems to turn a blind eye to the issue. CA Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg advocates colorblind action, declaring, “Schools need to attack the root problems by working with students and parents through programs to improve student success.” Sounds good, but without owning the racial bias that already determines which students and parents the district is willing to work with, I wonder just how successful black students can be.

For more on California’s “epidemic of expulsions,” you might want to check out: http://www.iwatchnews.org/2011/12/11/7625/epidemic-expulsions

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