Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Discipline Reform' Is in Obama Program to Help Young Men. What's That Mean?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Discipline Reform' Is in Obama Program to Help Young Men. What's That Mean?

Article excerpt

When President Obama announced "My Brother's Keeper" Thursday, he identified school discipline reform as one key to supporting the success of young men of color.

School suspensions and expulsions, which occur more often among black and Latino boys, make dropping out of school - and the host of risk factors that come with that - more likely.

"My administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines - not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior," Mr. Obama said in announcing My Brother's Keeper.

By building on the work already started - with some of the $200 million pledged by philanthropies for My Brother's Keeper - "we can keep more of our young men where they belong - in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed," the president said.

The Atlantic Philanthropies, for one, has spent $40 million already on reducing discipline disparities and has pledged another $70 million for that work as part of My Brother's Keeper. It gave $1 million to the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in Rhode Island to set up a network of four cities - New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; and Nashville, Tenn. - to share reform strategies and examine their policies.

For years, civil rights groups have been campaigning for schools to move away from zero-tolerance policies that have led to what they term the school-to-prison pipeline.

Some conservative critics and educators worry that a shift away from such policies, or too much emphasis on tracking the race of students suspended, might prompt teachers to allow more disorder. But increasingly, urban school leaders and state legislatures are turning to a range of strategies to make school discipline more positive and equitable.

Here are some examples:

- Making fewer offenses punishable by suspension or expulsion. Up to 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions are for nonviolent behavior, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a recent speech highlighting new discipline guidance disseminated to schools. "Being disruptive, acting disrespectfully, tardiness ... are all issues that must be dealt with," he said. But "is putting children out of school the best remedy?"

Nearly a decade ago, Baltimore public schools changed the code of conduct, added more mental health professionals, and offered more mediation for behavior problems. They lowered suspensions from 26,000 in 2004 to 8,600 last year.

The Los Angeles Unified School District passed a School Climate Bill of Rights in 2013, no longer allowing suspension for the broad category of "willful defiance," which activists say contributes to racial disparities. …

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