Monday, September 08, 2014

Fayette Equity Council members voice displeasure with lack of real progress

End to out-of-school suspensions urged for Lexington public schools

Another brick on a big load for FCPS Superintendent Tom Shelton. As I recall, his data isn't very different from former Superintendent Stu Silberman's. But coming after Silberman's long honeymoon with the Equity Council - and perhaps adding some credence to those who argue that Shelton isn't half the politician Silberman was - it would seem that years of patience on equity issues have run out.

Props to Dunbar Principal Betsy Rains who seems to understand (what too many high school principals don't) that suspensions ought not be automatic, disciplinary responses should be tailored to the individual and the offense, and that the student shouldn't be removed from the educational process if at all possible. If a student is not a danger to others, every effort should be made to keep them in school. But that means every school needs a strong set of in-school supports for keeping unproductive, disobedient, and sometimes violent, students in the building.

This from Valarie Honneycutt Spears at the Herald-Leader:
After years of talk, it's time for action.

That is the sentiment members of Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council expressed during a meeting last week. Several members say they have lost patience with a district that has made little progress in eliminating gaps for black, Hispanic, poor and disabled students.

Members of the council, charged with analyzing equity gaps and advising the Fayette County Board of Education, made the comments after reviewing a draft of the district's fourth annual equity scorecard. The scorecard, which includes the 2008 through 2013 school years, is a snapshot that tracks student performance. It is a joint project between the district and 16-member Equity Council, which include citizens and district officials such as school board chairman John Price.

At a meeting Tuesday of the Equity Council, several members said years of recommendations, programs and new initiatives have done little to help students advance and close a learning gap that has lingered for years.

"We've talked and we've talked and we've talked," council chair Roy Woods told the Herald-Leader. "We have no forward movement. Programs are out there, but it's not working for all kids."

In fact, the scorecard showed that the achievement gap widened. Data detailing the gap between white and minority students who were ready for careers and college were described in the report as "disheartening."

Ron Langley, an equity council member who worked on the report, said the data raised the question of whether some minority students were placed in special education erroneously. Last year, 13.8 percent of black students were identified as having a disability; 9.1 percent of white students received that designation.

(In 2012-13, 57 percent of the student population was white, 22.3 percent black, 12.4 percent Hispanic and 4.2 percent Asian. Overall, 50.6 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunch.)

But the scorecard did not just point out issues with students. It also showed that minority groups were significantly underrepresented among teachers and principals.

Other highlights from the scorecard:
■ The number of distinguished and proficient students on the state's new K-Prep tests for all groups was lower than previous years. Most of the gaps were larger than previously observed, some significantly.

■ On the positive side, the scorecard said, all groups made improvements during 2012-13 in reading, and most made improvements in math. The exception was that the percentage of distinguished and proficient students in math who were black, Asian or had an identified disability remained the same or declined slightly. In 2012-13, 33.3 percent of black students scored proficient in reading compared to 68.4 percent of whites.

■ Higher percentages of students from all groups, except for Hispanics, were more college- and career-ready than in 2012. But almost all the gaps increased.

■ Aside from a small increase in enrollment for most groups in 2009-10, there has been a decrease in participation in gifted and talented programs for almost all of the subgroups, except for Hispanics and students who did not receive free or reduced-price lunch.

■ Enrollment gaps for those taking high-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses increased between white students and most minorities. There also were gaps between socioeconomic groups and students with identified disabilities.

■ In the area of staff diversity, the most diverse group of employees in the district continues to be paraprofessionals or unlicensed employees and service employees, including cafeteria and janitorial staffs. While that group mirrors the diversity of the black student population, other minority groups are significantly underrepresented.
No specific solutions have been offered. But the Equity Council will spend the next month reviewing the data in preparation for an Oct. 13 meeting with the school board.

The Rev. C.B. Akins of First Baptist Church Bracktown expressed frustration at last week's Equity Council meeting.

"If you're telling me that you've got a lot of efforts in the district that have brought about no substantive change in five years, it would seem to me that somebody ought to say, 'We need some new efforts because what we are doing is not working,'" he said.

Price, the school board chair, told the council he was open to any recommendations. "It seems we've been intentional, but we've had no results," he said.

Superintendent Tom Shelton, in a letter attached to the scorecard, was apologetic.

"The numbers you will find in this equity scorecard haunt me," Shelton said. "The simple truth is that we are not reaching all kids."

The goal of the scorecard is to eliminate race, economic status, disability and gender "as predictors of success in the Fayette County Public Schools."

The scorecard outlined several programs the district initiated to close the gaps.

Shelton said in his letter that progress was being made, "but we are past the point of incremental gains. Our kids have waited too long for substantial progress.

"We have to recommit ourselves each and every day to think differently about learning, to reinventing how we approach education and to insisting that every classroom is a place worthy of all of our sons or daughters." 
And this:
Members of Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council are calling for the district to eliminate most out-of-school suspensions and suggesting that principals be held accountable for students they discipline.

Brian Hodge, chairman of the council's suspension committee, is suggesting that principals sign a letter of agreement that requires them to track suspensions for students who are black, Hispanic, poor and disabled. Principals would appear before the equity council to explain the data.

"We have asked the district for solutions while trying to be patient, and it appears all we get are promises that things are gonna get better, but yet they never do," Hodge said in a letter to his fellow equity council members. "Simply put, this is a freight train that's running down the track and going nowhere fast."

Hodge made the comments during an Equity Council meeting Tuesday, the same day the council met to discuss results from the 2014 Fayette Equity Scorecard that showed "there has been slow progress" closing the suspension gaps between white students and those who are black and Hispanic, between economic groups and between those who are disabled and those who are not.

If out-of-school suspensions were mostly eliminated, it's likely that schools would model their programs after one that began last year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

For most rules violations at Dunbar, students, instead of being suspended, serve their punishments in school under close supervision, keeping up with classroom work and receiving interventions that could help them avoid more trouble, school officials have said.

In November, just a few months into the 2013-14 school year, Dunbar reported there were 25 students who had committed rules violations that previously would have resulted in out-of-school suspensions. Only two of them broke the rules again after being placed in the alternative punishment program at school, the Herald-Leader reported last year.

No Dunbar students were suspended during 2013-14, compared with 161 in 2012-13, according to data released last week to the Herald-Leader.

"It is working," said principal Betsy Rains. "We aren't seeing as many students who are doing offenses that would result in suspensions."

Offenses such as fighting, drugs and alcohol can land a student in the program.

Kids don't want to enter the in-school program, so it's a deterrent. "We really look at them and analyze them and dig in deep as to why they are behaving the way they are," said Rains.

In 2012-13, 13.7 percent of black students were suspended compared to 3.5 percent of white students. The scorecard showed 7.6 percent of poor students were suspended compared to 4.3 percent who were better off financially, and 14.4 percent of disabled students were suspended compared to 5 percent who were not disabled.

The number of suspended black students decreased from 15 percent, or 1,361 in 2011-12 to 13.7 percent or 1,264 in 2013-14, but Equity Council members said that was not good enough.

Council member Ron Langley, who worked on compiling the scorecard, said of most concern was that suspensions resulted from "subjective" decisions.

School Superintendent Tom Shelton has said he would consider expanding the Dunbar program district-wide.

School board chairman John Price said at the Equity Council meeting that he hoped more schools would move in that direction.

The Equity Council, which monitors and analyzes equity issues, advises the Fayette County Board of Education and advocates for achievement for all students, is set to discuss the suspension issue with the school board at a planning meeting Oct. 13.

"Our kids cannot learn when they are not in the building," Price told the council.

The number of suspensions at each of Fayette County's high school declined from 2012-13 to 2013-14, according to data released by the district. The data did not include information about minorities.

Price told the council that one possibility the board could consider would be to require teachers to undergo training to increase their understanding of various cultures.

Equity Council chair Roy Woods said cultural training might help teachers make better decisions about discipline, which could "help the suspensions go down."


Anonymous said...

Has the years of patience on equity issues run out or is this simply just election year politics? Seems quite convenient that this Equity Scorecard and the resulting backlash is coming out now that Cleveland and Murray are running as a tag-team for school board while campaigning on equity issues. If you watch the Equity Council meeting on the FCPS website, that meeting was packed. When was the last time attendance of that council's meeting was so high in anticipation of the release of a draft report?

The timing of all of this has "influence an election" written all over it.

Anonymous said...

Having observed firsthand the parenting style of Betsy Raines, I can only say that I am leery of her so-called reforms.

I, too, think that in-school suspension is preferable to suspension, but what will the District do when students threaten the safety of others? Does the school escort students to class? Are they under the watchful eye of a security guard? This article says very little about what Dunbar is doing. I'd like to know how Dunbar handles delinquent children of any race. How many students are referred to the alternative schools? How many fights, threats, acts of violence are not being reported? Does this report mean the demise of Martin Luther King Academy? How will the SAFE schools people be able to look at truth in reporting violence in FCPS?

This is a distrurbing report indeed. I'd love to hear how other readers feel.

Anonymous said...

I attended the SBDM meeting at LTMS last night and heard something interesting. LTMS is hosting a community forum at the Lyric Theater on September 25 to talk about goals for the school. From what I could understand, one of the teachers at LTMS recruited Roger Cleveland to moderate the event. Cleveland was in the process of filing for school board at the time or had already become a candidate when he was approached about doing this event. The SBDM spent a lot of time discussing this last night.

I thought Kentucky law prohibited a school or school employees from providing any assistance to school board campaigns. This looks highly inappropriate under any circumstance.

Anonymous said...

I am not completely sure how a school district can control demongraphic changes in growing urban population. Regardless of a students religious, racial, SES background, if the household doesn't value the process and goals of education- not sure how an educator can ever be successful no matter what equity frame you try to impose on the school system.