I recently reviewed an analysis of suspension and expulsion data completed by Education Week.   These data originated from the U.S. Department of Education, wherein they examined race trends.  Some pretty savvy comments and questions were posted by readers.  They questioned the “lumping” of numbers, the gender inequity, and the lack of profiling schools as charter or public. That made me think a bit more deeply about this race-based accountability dance we have been doing.

The past decade we have been using the term, “achievement gap” quite a bit.  That gap has come to be understood as a deficiency in learning for students who seemingly cannot achieve “proficient” on standardized achievement tests.  The students in this category are primarily black and Hispanic.  Well isn’t that a coincidence!?  The Education Week article clearly states (in bold, red lettering), “Black students are overrepresented in disciplinary actions schools took in the 2009-10 school year.”

With black students representing only 18% of the data collection, 41.5% have been expelled.  When added to out-of-school suspensions, 76.8% of black students have missed school in 2009/2010.  (For how long, the data does not reveal.)  White and Hispanic students are also missing instruction, with a combined total (out-of-school suspension and expulsion) of 71.1% and 47.7% respectively.  That means these students are out of their classrooms and away from what should be a stimulating learning environment…. But are we creating classroom cultures that are stimulating and caring?

In many ways our ability to quantify data in sophisticated ways has propelled us into the promise of technology.  While data is plentiful via the information super highway, schooling practices are meandering along one-way cobblestone paths.  We continue to teach in a very traditional style, asking students to sit quietly while we “engage” them with teacher speak.

All of this makes my head spin.  What are we doing with this information?  In some ways in only serves to promote the idea that black and Hispanic children are intellectually less capable than others.  We put things in bold letters and feed into the rhetoric of “gaps” and interventions.  Is that really the issue here?  I hear screams when I see these data- the voices of bored children who are disconnected and uninspired.

By Marisol Rexach, Ph.D. in Education Student