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MCPS Needs to Make Good on a 40-Year-Old Promise

A school district claiming it closed its achievement gaps ought to be able the close its suspension gaps—a promise first made to the black community more than 40 years ago.

Last month, The Gazette ran a story on how the Maryland State Board of Education is changing policies on school suspensions.

In a nutshell, the state hopes that its changes result in fewer suspensions for students of color, especially African American male students, who are generally suspended at much higher rates than other groups of students.

First, this outcome—the goal of suspending fewer black males—should not be news to Montgomery County Public Schools. One can go back through the MCPS archives and find documents from the 1970s stating that suspension rates for black males must be lower (check the original Black Action Steps). In the late 1980s, MCPS hired two national renowned black psychologists—Drs. Lawrence Johnson and A. Wade Boykin—to study why MCPS suspended more black males than, say, white males.

(Click here to read about Dr. Boykin. However, good luck finding a copy of the Johnson and Boykin report, which said racism played a significant role in disparities.)

Second, why would a school district that claims it closed the achievement gap—and MCPS is all over the map making this claim—be apprehensive about closing its suspension gap?

And according to the Gazette story, when the state Board of Education came to Montgomery County last week to talk about its new policies, some in the audience “snickered” at the idea that the suspension gap could be eliminated in three years. 

So, how can we close the achievement gap and not be able to close the suspension gap? But more important than that, why would MCPS knock such a goal? Snicker at such a goal? And isn’t such a goal already in MCPS’s annual performance goals anyway? Yes, it is.

Click here and see pages iv and 6. The MCPS goal is the same as the state’s goal—everyone has equal suspension rates.

In life, I have never actually believed that societies achieve equal outcomes. Life just does not work that way. I rarely look for equal outcomes, but rather, I look for outcomes that seem reasonably close or equal. I think they call that fairness.  And then it seems reasonable to me that a school district that claims it closed its academic achievement gaps ought to be able to do the same for its school suspension gaps—and along the way, make good on a promise first made more than 40 years ago to the county's black community.

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jag June 18, 2012 at 02:57 PM
?? I don't know why you'd doubt it, but for the record I spent K-12 in MCPS and plan on sending my kids to MCPS too, of course.
Joe Thomas June 19, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I am talking about as a teacher. Unless you have tried to maintain order in a public school classroom you have no clue about why the suspension rates are they way they are.
jnrentz1 June 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Mr. Hawkins: Who are "students of color?"
Joseph Hawkins June 20, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Who are "students of color?" Generally, when I use the description, I'm specifically referring to black (or African American) and Latino students. Back in the day, and I'm old enough to have lived through that time period, I was labeled "colored." I actually never had a problem with the description because my skin had color. I still like using the description.
The Big Egg June 20, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Interesting--I hadn't ever considered "colored" to include Latino. I thought colored was another term for black. Doesn't the use of "colored" for non-white suggest that white is the normal, or baseline, race, and others are a departure from it? After all, white is a color too, but you're not including white people in your "colored" category. Since, in terms of evolution, blacks came first, we should consider black to be the baseline and whites to be "colored."

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