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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: race

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December 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Using discipline to help kids feel better about school, not worse

Nicholas Bradford, founder, Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest

Nicholas Bradford, founder of the Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest. Courtesy photo.

Schools nationwide are facing the hard-to-refute fact that using suspension to discipline students doesn’t do much to improve their behavior — and may make it worse.

But what if there was a way to nudge kids who disrupt classrooms or bully peers to atone for those violations by confronting them?

What if the atonement itself actually strengthened the relationship between students and their schools?

Nicholas Bradford, a member of the Coast Guard Reserve, says such a technique exists, and it’s called Restorative Justice. Maybe that sounds a bit kumbaya, but the approach has been used successfully in tough Oakland schools and in some prisons.

Bradford spoke with Education Lab about this practice, and its implications for students here.

Q: What exactly is Restorative Justice, and why do you think it’s a smart way to approach school discipline?

A: It’s an approach to conflict that holds a youth accountable for harm, while simultaneously building relationships. The usual way — suspending kids — just pushes them out and further damages the relationship between student and teacher.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, Nicholas Bradford, race

November 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Not a pretty picture: A call to action for black girls in school

Update, 11:05 a.m.: This post was updated to include information about students at Chief Sealth High School winning a film award related to race and education.

Across the country, educators are talking about new ways to handle student discipline, and while there is broad acknowledgement that punitive, zero-tolerance policies have fallen disproportionately on African-American boys, a recent report points out that black girls are suspended at a rate six times that of whites — and at rates that also surpass those for Latino, Asian and white boys.

Though research shows that they do not engage in more frequent or serious misbehavior than other groups, African-American girls account for 43 percent of all female students arrested at school. They constitute only 17 percent of the nation’s female students.

Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity,” authored by the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, highlights these facts and attempts to quantify some of the long-range costs.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, race

October 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tossed for disrespect? It happens even to kindergartners

Even at the highest levels of government, among people programmed to duck controversy, there is no mincing words on the problem of school discipline: Racial discrimination seriously skews who gets punished, and for what, says U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

He was speaking to educators in Maryland, where kicking kids out of school starts as early as kindergarten  or earlier. In that state, 91 preschoolers were suspended or expelled during the 2011-’12 school year, a disproportionate number of them African-American.

The city of Seattle tops that figure with its kindergarten and first-graders, temporarily tossing 104 of its youngest students out of school in 2012-’13.

What could a little kid do that’s serious enough to get suspended, even for a short time?

Statewide student discipline categories, 2012-’13 school year. Courtesy OSPI.

Statewide student discipline categories, 2012-’13 school year. Courtesy OSPI.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, race

September 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Race and education: Henry Louis Gates to headline UPS conference

Henry Louis Gates. Courtesy: University of Puget Sound

Henry Louis Gates. Courtesy University of Puget Sound

Among many hot-button issues in higher education, few reach the stratospheric temperatures of affirmative action, though one of the country’s most celebrated educators comfortably counts himself a beneficiary of quota politics.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  Harvard history professor, author and, most recently, television producer  will speak about his own journey from curious 9-year-old to public intellectual at the Race and Pedagogy Conference held Sept. 25-27 at the University of Puget Sound. Gates joins a high-profile lineup that includes political activist Angela Davis and environmentalist Winona LaDuke.

United under the theme, “What Now is the Work of Education and Justice?” the conference aims to engage educators  from kindergarten through college  around this question.

Race, however, is rarely an easy topic to tackle.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Henry Louis Gates, race, University of Puget Sound

June 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM

U.S. graduation average improves, but with wide racial disparities

US graduation rates graphic

Screen grab from the Education Week report

As high schools graduate students across the region this spring, parents may be wondering how Washington stacks up against other states. A handy interactive map published by Education Week shows six years of graduation rates, state-by-state, ending with the Class of 2012.

For the first time in American history, the national graduation rate hit 81 percent, meaning that more than eight in 10 students completed high school with a diploma.

Washington state, with a published graduation rate of 79 percent in 2012, hovers just below that milestone. (And the rate dipped in 2013, to 76 percent, according to data from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.)

But when rates are examined by racial or ethnic groups, wide disparities appear.


Comments | More in News | Topics: graduation rates, race

May 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tough talk (from the left) on race and Seattle schools


Our city’s history of racial segregation via redlining is well-documented. But Seattle’s present-day race divide, most visible in its schools, goes less discussed.

Not so during a discussion on “Race, Class and Education” that I took part in on Wednesday night. In politically correct Seattle, the gloves came off.

Sponsored by Humanities Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering conversation about culture and community, the talk took place at the Royal Room in Columbia City, the heart of rapidly gentrifying South Seattle.

I anticipated an audience full of parents wanting to discuss South End schools. But it was mostly teachers. And they had plenty to say.

For instance: Affluent parents who talk about equity in public education don’t really want it. They may like the way it sounds, but won’t embrace the hard fact of what it means to treat all students equally.

“It’s easy enough for everyone to say I’m down for equality,” observed my co-panelist Wayne Au, a former school teacher and now professor of education at the University of Washington, Bothell. “But when it comes to, say, de-tracking ninth-grade English, they go, ‘Wait a minute, you’re going to take away the honors program? Is that going to mess up my kid’s chance to get into Brown?’”


Comments | More in News | Topics: race, Seattle Public Schools

May 16, 2014 at 5:56 PM

New York Times dives deep into grad rates and achievement gaps

Sunday’s New York Times magazine features an extensive story about how the University of Texas is working to help its low-income students fight the odds and graduate on time. At the center of the effort is chemistry professor David Laude, who started a special interdisciplinary program for low-income, high achieving students 15 years ago.

Today, his program has expanded across the university’s Austin campus and assists students by providing them with smaller classes, peer mentoring and extra tutoring. Administrators identify candidates for the program using an analytics tool that considers factors like a student’s family income and SAT score to establish the probability he or she will graduate in four years.

Many of the statistics and themes included in the story have appeared in previous Education Lab coverage, including Claudia Rowe’s recent piece about how outside guidance programs are helping more low-income students get into college.


Comments | More in News | Topics: graduation rates, higher ed, race

March 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

A year later: What’s up with school discipline case in Seattle?

Illustration by Paul Tong / Op Art

Illustration by Paul Tong / Op Art

A year ago this month, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education publicly acknowledged it was investigating racial disparities in student discipline in Seattle’s public schools.

So is the investigation close to completion?

No clue. The silence from the federal education department remains as thick as it was a year ago.

“About all we can tell you is that the compliance review remains under investigation,” a spokesman said Wednesday.

Seattle Public Schools officials say they don’t know the status of the investigation, either.    But they also say they are working to  reduce the number of suspensions in their schools.

Federal investigators last visited some Seattle schools late last year, saying they wanted to do more interviews, said Pat Sander, a district  administrator. But they have not called to set those interviews up, she said.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, race, Seattle Public Schools

March 5, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Workshop to examine racial equity in education

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

A workshop on racial equity in education will be held Saturday at Cleveland High, sponsored by the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators and Seattle Public Schools.

Bernardo Ruiz, the executive director of race and equity in Seattle, is the keynote speaker. Jeri Harris, a retired Seattle Public Schools education coach, will talk about cultural responsive teaching and the Common Core Standards.

The event also will include a panel on equity and race, with Kyana Cavaiani from the Seattle Office of Civil Rights; Nikkita Oliver from the University of Washington’s Law, Race and Justice clinic; Polly Davis from the King County Office of Alternative Dispute; Reverend Carl Livings from Seattle Central Community College; and Donald Felder, a  retired Seattle principal.


Comments | More in News | Topics: race, Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators, Seattle Public Schools

November 19, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Guest: Baltimore provides model for school-discipline reform

Andaiye Qaasim

Andaiye Qaasim

Students can’t learn if they aren’t in school. Yet, in Seattle, one in four black middle-school students is suspended each year. In March, racial disparities in student suspension and expulsion rates prompted the U.S. Department of Education to launch a civil rights investigation into Seattle Public Schools.

The League of Education Voters recently traveled with community and education leaders to Baltimore to learn about best practices in discipline. Since 2008, Baltimore City Public Schools decreased suspensions from one in five students per year to one in eight; a similar drop occurred in expulsions.

Baltimore school administrators and education advocates were clear: the decrease was due to the importance of culture and policy; relationships and practice.


Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: discipline, guest opinion, League of Education Voters