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Worcester Suspension Rate for Latino Students 10th Highest in Country

Friday, January 11, 2013


Worcester Public Schools had the 10th highest suspension rate in the nation for Latino during the 2009-2010 school year, according to a report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project.

In "Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School," authors Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillespie found that 29.9 percent of Latino students in Worcester were suspended, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group in the district.

Nationally, the suspension rate for Latinos is just 7 percent, or 1 in 14 students. Holyoke schools suspended 34.8 percent of Latino students in the 2009-2010 school year, the 4th highest rate in the nation. However, the Hartford, Ct. School District topped the list, where 44.2 percent of Latinos were suspended.

The rate of Black student suspensions in Worcester was slightly lower at 27.7 percent, followed by Native American/Alaskan Native students at 19.4 percent, white students at 16.8 percent, and Asian American students at 9.6 percent. The total district-wide suspension rate in Worcester schools was 22.7 percent.

"This certainly is a topic that anyone in education needs to be concerned about," said Worcester School Committee member and former principal John Monfredo.

"The bottom line with all of this is: what can we do to make sure our students are getting the best education possible? If they're not in school they're not learning."

According to the Civil Rights Project's report, over three million K-12 students nationwide are estimated to have lost class time due to suspension during the 2009-2010 school year. The findings were based off of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) figures released by the U.S. Department of Education in March 2012.

"One thing that has become very clear through our work at the Civil Rights Project is that it is critically important to keep students, especially those facing inequality in other parts of their lives, enrolled in school," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, in the report's Foreword. "This relates directly to the common and often highly inappropriate policy of punishing students who are already at risk of dropping out by suspending them from school."

Cultural Differences

"I think that there's a lot of cultural situations that happen with Latino students that are not well-understood," said Hilda Ramirez, assistant director at the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University.

Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic group in the Worcester Public Schools, accounting for 38.4 percent of the district of 24,411 students in the 2011-2012 school year. White students account for 36.4 percent of the student body, and African American students represent 13.6 percent.

Ramirez noted that Latino students tend to be a little louder and more expressive in their interactions than students in other racial or ethnic groups. A teacher or authority figure may then correct the student in a way that makes them feel badly without even realizing it, and the student and adult may end up caught in a back-and-forth that can escalate quickly and result in negative consequences for the student.

"There's a tendency to escalate matters instead of de-escalate," she said.

But both teachers and students could stand to benefit from taking a step back from the situation and pulling students aside in private to talk to them about their behavior in a less emotionally charged situation.

"Those are the little cultural nuances that we need to understand. How do young people socialize? What is their youth culture?" Ramirez said. "Those are all teachable moments."

Solutions That Keep Kids in the Classroom

"The bottom line for us has really been to try to keep students in school in one respect or another," said Worcester School Committee member Brian O'Connell.

One of the main alternatives to disciplinary exclusion that Losen and Gillespie put forth in their report--and one that is already in effect in Worcester Public Schools--is the use of system-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which focus on changing attitudes and policies surrounding behavioral issues in schools on both the student and teacher sides through a systemic and data-driven approach.

"We've had that program in place for a number of years. It works very well for us," said O'Connell. "The emphasis is on having behavior that is truly positive."

For more serious incidents, such as weapons offenses or assaults on teachers, Worcester works through the Central Massachusetts Collaborative, which has a number of alternative education sites in the region. O'Connell said that in all situations, an emphasis is placed on keeping students in an academic environment.

"We have never, to my knowledge, put a child totally out of school, but we will place the child in some academic environment that usually removes the child from his or her current classroom but keeps the child in school."

However, in cases when students do receive out-of-school suspensions, Ramirez said that Massachusetts does not require that educational alternatives be provided to the students during their time away. Students may end up drifting further from an educational environment without any supervision or recovery programs during their suspension.

"Thinking about this data should create a sense of alarm about this group of students and others experiencing high rates of suspension," Orfield continued. "Putting students who face serious challenges on a path that leads them to detach from school or cut the already weak ties that prevent them from dropping out is a misguided practice."

Ramirez noted that Worcester Superintendent Melinda Boone has worked to improve the in-school suspension rate, keeping students in touch with academic environments.

Monfredo also pointed to high absenteeism rates among the district's Latino population beginning in the early grades as another critical issue facing Worcester students. In kindergarten, 22.8 percent of Latino students were absent more than 10 percent of the school year, or more than 18 days. In middle and high school those numbers climb even higher, with 30 percent of Latino students absent more than 10 percent of the school year.

"Looking at how we can improve the quality of education for our students definitely needs to be addressed with parents and alerting them about situations," Monfredo said.

"What can we do to make sure that our children are getting an education?" 


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Stephen Quist

Ones race should not matter in America today when taking personal responsibility for ones own actions..........to make this article about race to obfuscate the simple fact that no matter who the student is, what race a student is the simple fact of the matter is: you do the crime you do the time.......why should well behaving students suffer at the hands of those not wanting to be in school

anna pierce

Might there be no aberration in the suspension levels? Aren't Hispanics the majority (race) in our country? Only stands to reason that the "majority" will therefore have the highest numbers.

Iron Mike Farquhar

OMG! I find myself [shudder] agreeing with Mister Quist – race should NOT even be tracked. Deal with individuals as individuals.

But if you MUST look for causes that fall loosely along ethnic lines, consider perhaps the level of welfare fraud and voter fraud that kids are seeing in their communities, - and the resulting loss of respect for any authority.

Don Carlos

Get rid of the riff raft so the other students can learn. Some kids dont want to study.They will learn the hard way, but thats life.
These education liberals want to spend more money, that is their ultimate goal, increase the size and budget of the school system, increase the power of the teachers union and promote higher wages for teachers.

Lagoona Blue

I'm sorry, but this is drivel. First, race and culture have nothing to do with how behavior is perceived. It is written here that people coming from the Latino culture tend to be louder and more expressive – that's wonderful, I love enthusiastic people! However, they are not being suspended because of their race, or their culture, or their loud, expressive nature. They are being suspended, I'd imagine, for letting that part of their culture disrupt and distract the class on a continuous basis. It should be considered that we have something called “American Culture” too, part of that is to be respectful and polite to other human beings. If a student is talking loudly and distracting other students regularly, that is disrespectful to the teacher and the rest of the class. They are supposed to be there getting an education of some sort, it's not social hour.

This article is putting the blame on teachers and administrators, which is all too common nowadays. These kids need to be held accountable for their actions, whether their Latino, White, Black, Purple, or Green. You can not make them “exempt” from the rules because “their culture is loud.” - that's absurd. Everyone needs to be held to relatively the same standards.

There are far more pressing matters for the Worcester Public Schools to be concerned with, anyways. I've never seen such a poor school system. I attended a Worcester Public High School for a little over 2 years – I can tell you, I didn't learn anything but how to skip school and avoid adults. The classes are too large, the behavior issues are many, and the teachers spend more time dealing with the behavior than actually teaching. I voluntarily moved to an alternative school here in Worcester my junior year, and it was the best decision I'd ever made. Small classes, personalized lessons, WONDERFUL teachers and administrators, tons of resources available to the students, etc. My oldest child now attends one of the public Elementary Schools – and I'm just as unimpressed as I was with the Public High School.

Furthermore – the statistics you're showing are from almost three years ago. If this is such a concern, why is it just being discussed now? What a joke.

D Stanley

It is unfair to the good kids to have disruptive students in the classroom. It is also frustrating to try to teach children (of any ethnic group, white included) who do not respect the value of education, and worse, who do not respect the right of other students to get an education. Some form of EFFECTIVE discipline is required for sure; I do not know what that is but lots of different things should be tried. Perhaps the parents of these children should be compelled to attend a “parenting class”. Or schools should be rigidly segregated by age.
The paradox is, to the taxpayer, that crime goes down when attendance goes up, so out of school suspensions make us less safe (no matter how deserving the student is) and are more expensive in property loss, injury, prosecution and incarceration than having the child in school. I know that there is an anti-intellectual culture in just about all ethnic groups; that is probably part of the problem. Junk food, bad diet, lack of exercise, smoking and drugs most likely contribute too.
Maybe the WPS should invest more time in the early grades explaining why an education is important (marketing), since the parents and peers obviously are not.

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