Part 3—Background on worst study yet: As a general matter, it’s a bad sign when kids get suspended, or even expelled, from their public schools.
Sometimes, principals have to do it. But in the overall scheme of things, it suggests that something’s gone wrong.
That said, a lot of kids get suspended from school in any particular year. Meanwhile, here’s another fact which has long been known:
For whatever reason or reasons, black kids are more likely to get suspended than other kids. Two years ago, a USA Today news report presented the numbers like this:
KELMAN (5/12/13): Black students are suspended more than three times as often as their white classmates, twice as often as their Latino classmates and more than 10 times as often as their Asian classmates in middle and high schools nationwide, a new study shows.We haven’t fact-checked those numbers, some of which seem amazingly large. That said, we know of no reason to doubt the size of the general disproportion. Earlier this year, a news report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune presented some numbers for the state of Minnesota, which is widely known to be in the north. “Black students accounted for 40 percent of all suspensions of a day or more in 2014, up from 38 percent in 2010, even though they make up less than 10 percent of the student population,” the Star-Tribune reported.
The average American secondary student has an 11% chance of being suspended in a single school year, according to the study from the University of California-Los Angeles Civil Rights project. However, if that student is black, the odds of suspension jump to 24%.
It has long been understood—black kids get suspended, and even expelled, at substantially higher rates. Presumably, it would be helpful to understand why that pattern obtains. Something which wasn’t especially helpful was the new study, released last week, by two professors at Penn.
For various reasons, the professors’ basic claims are rather hard to parse. But they seem to say that black kids get suspended and expelled at especially high rates in the South.
That doesn’t actually seem to be true. But it seems to be what the study suggests or alleges.
When this study was released last week, its findings were reported in the New York Times. From there, reporting jumped to other major news orgs—to NPR and PBS; to the Atlantic and the National Journal; to Education Week and Slate; to the Christian Science Monitor and many regional newspapers.
Next week, we’ll look at the way those major news orgs reported this Ivy League back-to-school study. For today, let’s present some basic background information—the kind of background information any journalist would have accessed in the course of reviewing this study.
What exactly are Professors Smith and Harper asserting? Below, you see the start of the statement on their cover sheet, which closely follows their executive summary. Headline or title included:
SMITH AND HARPER: Disproportionate impact of K-12 school suspension and expulsion on Black students in Southern statesAs you can see, the professors’ logic is already strained in that last highlighted sentence. Beyond that, a factual problem quickly arises:
Nationally, 1.2 million Black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year—55% of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states. Districts in the South also were responsible for 50% of Black student expulsions from public schools in the United States.
This report aims to make transparent the rates at which school discipline practices and policies impact Black students in every K-12 public school district in 13 Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Despite comprising only 20.9% of students in the 3,022 districts analyzed, Blacks were suspended and expelled at disproportionately high rates.
Inside their rather short report, the professors state, at several points, that black kids “were 24% of students in the 3,022 districts we analyzed,” not the 20.9 percent they present on their cover sheet.
Whatever! It’s close enough for academic work about black kids at an Ivy League institution!
At any rate, it would be easy to draw a false conclusion from this presentation. It would be easy to think that black kids get suspended at higher rates in those Southern states than in the rest of the nation.
The professors never actually say that, but it’s an easy conclusion to draw. The scholars keep stressing an apparent disproportion, a disproportion which seems to shock the conscience. That disproportion is this:
The professors studied just thirteen states, out of fifty states in all. But those measly thirteen states accounted for 50 percent of all expulsions of black kids—and for 55 percent of all suspensions!
It’s easy to think, from those statistics, that Southern schools are suspending black kids at higher rates than schools in other regions. Indeed, the professors seem to make that suggestion in some of their interviews about this study. And in their official press release, they seem to make the same suggestion:
SMITH AND HARPER (8/25/15): In schools across the United States, Black students are punished more severely than their peers. But nowhere are Black students suspended or expelled more than in the South. Fifty-five percent of the 1.2 million Black students suspended in the U.S. live in just 13 Southern states.Gosh darn those goldarn Southern crackers, what with their legacy of Jim Crow and slavery and their longstanding history of racial injustice!
“The findings in our report point to the residual effects of Jim Crow, slavery, and unequal schooling,” Harper said. “They are further explained by poverty trends, structural inequities in the education workforce, and a longstanding history of racial injustice that cyclically reproduces itself, especially across these 13 Southern states.”
Are black kids treated especially harshly in public schools in the South? Are they suspended more often in the South than in the rest of the country?
If you care about black kids, those are important questions. But as any journalist would surely know, we need some background information before we can answer those questions!
Duh! As any journalist would instantly see, we need this basic background fact: What percentage of black public school students actually live in the South?
The answer to that is a buzzkill. According to the NCES, 58 percent of black public school students lived in the South in the 2011-12 school year, the year the professors are discussing. Nationally, there were 7.803 million black public school students that year, 4.545 million of whom were living in the South.
Those federal data include three jurisdictions the professors didn’t include in their study—Oklahoma, Delaware and the District of Columbia. But those three jurisdictions seem to have totaled only 140,000 black public school students in the year in question.
Subtracting those kids from the federal government’s regional total, we find that roughly 56 percent of the nation’s black kids were attending school in the thirteen states the professors cover in their study.
Let’s be clear! This basic background information doesn’t change one important fact. In those thirteen Southern states, black kids were suspended from school more often than other kids.
On the other hand, this basic background information does debunk an impression which is easily drawn from this fiery new study:
The thirteen states the professors studied contained 56 percent of the nation’s black kids—and they produced 55 percent of black student suspensions! This seems to mean that black kids were getting suspended in those Southern states at roughly the same rates which obtained in the rest of the country.
After Labor Day, we’ll show you how the nation’s journalists reported the findings of this study, whose incompetent construction ought to embarrass Penn. In turn, the performance of those journalists ought to embarrass the nation’s press corps, although it has long been clear that nothing can or will.
For today, let’s focus on one more bit of background information. This relates to a troubling claim the professors fed to the press.
How bad are things in those Southern states? The professors decided to highlight this troubling fact, and the journalists bit:
SMITH AND HARPER: In 84 districts, Blacks were 100% of the students suspended from public schools.Presumably, this fact was intended to shock the conscience. In 84 districts (out of more than 3000), “Blacks were 100% of the students suspended from public schools.”
Inevitably, that fact sounded very familiar, and also very bad. But as any journalist automatically would, we made a command decision.
We decided to review those 84 districts in the state-by-state data the study provides. When we did, we quickly noted two facts:
First, many of these “100 percenter” districts are small districts which are essentially all-black. Almost surely, they aren’t the sorts of districts which came to mind when journalists read (and repeated) the professors’ troubling factoid.
Consider Alabama. Alabama boasted ten of the districts in which every student suspended that year was black.
Those districts included Wilcox County, whose schools were 99.3 black; Sumter County, 98.5 percent black; Greene County, 98.4 percent black; Fairfield City, 98.0 percent black; and Macon County, 97.3 percent black.
Also included was Linden City, with a student enrollment of 515, 97.3 percent of whom were black. In short, Linden City had 14 white kids in its schools that year, none of whom got suspended. Meanwhile, how many black kids got suspended in Linden City that year?
That information isn’t included in the report. It could be as few as one.
Here’s a second fact we noticed—many of the districts the professors list aren’t really “districts” at all. Instead, they’re small, stand-alone charter schools, whose student populations may be wholly black.
Louisiana boasts sixteen of the “100 percenter” districts about which the professors warn us. Twelve of these “districts” are charter schools, not actual “districts” at all. Eleven are located in New Orleans, with small student enrollments which range from 97 to 100 percent black.
One such Louisiana “district” was New Vision Learning Academy, a charter school in Monroe with 364 students, 100 percent of whom were black. Another such “district” was the Friends of King charter school or schools in New Orleans, which had 464 students that year, all of whom were black.
The professors want us reeling in horror at the news that, in these Southern “school districts,” 100 percent of the students suspended that year were black! It’s hard to have sufficient contempt for professors who behave this way, or for a university like Penn, which releases their con to the nation.
After Labor Day, we’re going to review the way our journalists reported this deeply incompetent study. Perhaps we should put the word “journalists” in quotes, just as we did with “districts.”
Trust us—it only gets worse as we review the work of the journalists. Essentially, we live in a land where no such people exist.
Our elites are full of contempt for black kids. It starts at our loftiest pseudo-liberal sites and includes the work of multimillionaire heroes like Maddow.
The contempt begins at schools like Penn. It oozes from every pore.
Tomorrow: Heading toward the weekend
Another outrageous school district: As noted, Alabama boasts ten of the professors’ “100 percenter” school districts. They tend to be small rural districts whose students are almost solely black kids.
Another one of the “100 percenter” districts really did stand out. We refer, of course, to the Brantwood Children’s Home, “a home for abused and neglected children who need one.”
The Brantwood Children’s Home is located in Montgomery. It attempts to find adoptive parents for its homeless children. In the school year in question, it had a total enrollment of 15 kids—eight black kids, seven white.
At least one black kid got suspended that year. None of the white kids did. That turned it into one of the districts the professors warned us about.
At some point, CBS News did a three-minute report on this troubling Southern place. Do yourself a giant favor.
Go ahead—give it a look.