Schools Notebook: Suspensions down, but disparities remain

Also: A way to weigh-in on the superintendent search; and a Jefferson math teacher is honored

Minneapolis Public Schools suspended students less often last year, but wide race-based disparities remain in the use of punishments that remove students from the classroom.

About 70 percent of the 3,090 suspensions doled out in 2014–2015 went to black students. It’s closer to 80 percent when students whose families recently emigrated from Africa are included in the count.

Even so, fewer students were suspended in almost every demographic group. Total suspensions dropped by more than one-third when compared to the 2013–2014 school year.

Those findings were gleaned from an interactive database published in July on the district’s website (mpls.k12.mn.us/data_behavior). The database is just one facet of the district’s voluntary response to a federal investigation of its discipline practices.

After examining two years of discipline data, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found black students were not only disciplined more often, in some cases they received harsher punishments than white students for similar types of misbehavior.

A new behavior standards policy — in development even as the OCR investigation was ongoing — was implemented at the start of the 2014–2015 school year, but former Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s response to the investigation went even further. Johnson placed a moratorium on the suspension of pre-K­–grade 1 students for non-violent behavior last fall; then, joined by a team of high-level staffers, she launched a regular review of all suspensions of students of color.

Johnson resigned in December, but those practices continued under Michael Goar, the district’s interim superintendent.

By the end of the year, 9 percent of black students (not counting recent arrivals) were suspended at least once, down from 14 percent in 2013–2014.  Just 1 percent of white students were suspended last school year, down from 2 percent in 2013–2014.

“The disparity still exists, which means we have more work to do,” Robin Francis, a principal assigned to work on behavior issues, said. Francis was a member of the team that reviewed suspensions.

“This was a year of learning as we gathered data,” she said. “We were in constant evaluation mode … with the new behavior standards policy.”

Francis said teachers have asked for a “bigger toolbox” to manage student behavior, and they plan to introduce some of those tools next year. The district is also continuing to develop new student engagement and restorative justice practices, and is seeking partnerships to add mental health services to schools, she added.

Data scientist Luke Stanke of the district’s Research, Evaluation and Assessment Department said even small percentage-point reductions in suspensions have a large impact on student learning.

“It means the number of missed days is decreasing by a lot,” Stanke said.

According to district calculations, the decrease in suspensions translated to about 4,000 more days in school last year compared to 2013–2014.

 

Weigh in on superintendent search

The Minneapolis Board of Education released a detailed timeline for its superintendent search in June, including opportunities for the public to shape the profile of the district’s next leader.

An online survey is scheduled to go live Aug. 31 and remain open through Sept. 17. The survey is intended to give community members, students, parents and staff a chance to weigh in on a leadership profile.

That profile will help to guide the board’s search for a superintendent. A School Board presentation on the profile is scheduled for Sept. 29.

Candidate interviews are planned for November. Finalists come back for a second round of interviews in early December. The School Board aims to announce a superintendent Dec. 8 or shortly thereafter.

The district hired Rosemont, Ill., based executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to lead the search process, including community outreach efforts and identification of candidates.

Interim Superintendent Michael Goar has said he intends to be in the mix of candidates.

For an update on the superintendent search, go to board.mpls.k12.mn.us/supt-search.

 

Jefferson teacher honored

Jefferson Community School teacher Leif Carlson was one of 108 educators nationwide honored in July with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Carlson received $10,000, a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and a paid trip for two to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony later this summer. A middle grades math instructor, Carlson has taught at Jefferson since the fall of 2000, according to the school’s website.

Presented annually since 1983, the awards have honored more than 4,300 teachers in the past 22 years. The awards are presented to K–6 and 7–12 teachers in alternating years.