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CONTENTS
Vol. 28, No.4
Summer 2014
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Pre-K Suspensions

More than 8,000 public preschoolers were suspended at least once in 2011–12, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection gathered by the U.S. Department of Education. As with other aspects of the school-to-prison pipeline, African American children were the most affected; they represent 20 percent of all preschoolers, but close to half of the children suspended more than once. More than 80 percent of those suspended more than once, a total of more than 2,500 children, were boys.

These findings correlate with research on preschool expulsions conducted by Walter S. Gilliam, now director of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. In 2005, he found that pre-K students are expelled at a rate more than three times that of children in grades K–12. Expulsion rates were lowest in classrooms located in public schools and Head Start, and highest in faith-affiliated and for-profit childcare.

According to Gilliam, the most critical factor affecting rates of expulsion was teacher support for challenging behavioral issues: “No one wants to hear about 3- and 4-year-olds being expelled from preschool, but it happens rather frequently. Pre-K teachers need access to the support staff they need to help manage classroom behavior problems. . . . When teachers reported having access to a behavioral consultant who was able to provide classroom-based strategies for dealing with challenging student behaviors, the likelihood of expulsion was nearly cut in half.”

According to Christina A. Samuels’ reporting in Education Week, Gilliam also found that large class sizes and long preschool days were correlated with higher rates of expulsion. Other correlated factors included classrooms with frequent use of flashcards and worksheets, with less time devoted to make-believe play; and teacher reports of high job stress.  

 

Brooklyn Teachers Boycott Standardized Test

Almost all the teachers and staff at International High School in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights refused to administer the New York City English Language Arts (ELA) performance assessment exam on May 1. “We are standing in solidarity with the more than 50 percent of our parents who have opted their students out of taking the test,” they announced. The sole purpose of the ELA is to rate teacher performance; it is part of a new teacher evaluation system imposed by the state last year.

According to Emily Giles, who teaches at IHSPH, classes proceeded normally the day of the test. The assistant principal administered the exam to the small group of students who were not opted out. According to district regulations, if fewer than 75 percent of students take the exam, the results are invalid and cannot be used toward evaluations.

“This is taking back the whole conversation around education,” IHSPH teacher Rosie Frascella told Sarah Jaffe from In These Times. “You can fail me in my evaluations, but you are not going to hurt my students.”

Messages of solidarity have poured in for the teachers. As we went to press, there has been no word of consequences for the action from the administration or the department of education. We’ll keep you posted.  

 

Poor Quality Education in Juvenile Facilities

Students in the juvenile justice system are getting a substandard education at a time when they need a good education the most, according to Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems, a new report from the Southern Education Foundation. In fact, juvenile justice systems contribute to alarming recidivism rates. Most students are initially sent to youth jails for minor offenses but then continue to lose ground. Sixty-three percent of all children and youth in youth facilities are there for reasons that do not involve wrongdoing against another person. In a 2007 survey, 66 percent of the youth were children of color; in 10 states, 75 percent or more were youth of color.

It’s difficult to even assess the extent of the problem. There is little coordination or accountability among the wide range of juvenile justice facilities run by states and local jurisdictions across the country. But, according to the most recent data, roughly two-thirds of all students who were tested when they entered state juvenile residential institutions were already behind grade level in reading and math. Thirty-seven percent reported problems with their hearing, eyes, or teeth. Once in custody, only a small proportion of the students for which there is data complete even a single course. Most juvenile justice schools don’t have quality curriculum and many are not led by certified principals. A large proportion of the children and youth have learning disabilities, but these educational programs have had persistent shortcomings in how and whether they deliver special education. As many as two-thirds of youth who leave the juvenile justice system drop out of school.

The impact of losing educational ground has escalated sharply. As recently as the 1970s, a head of household without a high school diploma made 60 cents for every dollar earned by a college graduate. In 2012, the median family income for someone who dropped out of high school was only 30 cents for every dollar earned by a college graduate.  

 

Climate Change Responsibility Coming to the Bethlehem Schools

The Bethlehem Area School District passed a formal commitment to climate and sustainability in April. The Pennsylvania district’s plan includes integrating climate, sustainability, and eco-literacy into curriculum at all grade levels; improving energy efficiency and sustainability in facilities, transportation, and construction; and public engagement.

According to Peter Crownfield from the Alliance for Sustainable Communities, who spearheaded the project, “Several Rethinking Schools articles by Bill Bigelow helped us raise awareness for teachers to address climate and environmental stewardship issues across the curriculum.” The district hopes their leadership in this area will encourage other school districts to adopt similar plans.