Research on Racial Disparities Influencing Education

Part 2: Dan Losen covers school discipline, racial disparities, and more.

Posted Aug 13, 2019

Daniel Losen, used with permission
Daniel Losen, J.D., M.Ed.
Source: Daniel Losen, used with permission

In Part 1 of this two-part interview series, we learned about student discipline and racial disparities from Daniel Losen, J.D., M.Ed. Losen is the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, a Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) initiative that was previously affiliated with Harvard Law School, where he was a lecturer.

In Part 1, Losen shared information on two new reports coming out: one released with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the other to be released in two or three months and covering suspension rates and days of lost instruction due to discipline for every district in the nation. Losen also shared his testimony [written testimony can be found here; the full hearing starts around the 8:30 mark here] before the House Education and Labor Committee to discuss "Brown at 65: the unfulfilled promise."

Here Losen shares further insight on the role of research on racial disparities, involving his new research on education policy regarding school discipline.

Jenny Rankin (JR): As readers aim to fight school policies that promote disparity, what are some common misconceptions of which they should be aware?

Daniel Losen (DL): Kicking kids out is really a non-intervention. We need more involvement of well-trained adults, not less. At the hearing, there was some blaming of dysfunctional families. But public schools take all students. I think the blaming of families is overdone, but to the extent that there are dysfunctional families and kids exposed to domestic violence, sending the kids home cannot be a logical solution.

I also think it's noteworthy that there are some referencing themselves as "discipline hawks." I saw a recent twitter exchange with Checker Finn and reporter Matt Barnum. Finn used this term to describe himself, which I think is telling. He argues that disruptive kids should be educated elsewhere if schools can't get them under control. This is a typical deficit mentality. In contrast, a more holistic framework for evaluating schools calls for including school climate and that's reflected in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

JR: How does the “discipline hawk” approach fail to help?

DL: Basically, we know that kids need to feel safe, and it's true that we need to do more to prevent problems like bullying and disruption. So it's important to distinguish meaningful efforts to improve school climate for all children and the kind of response discipline "hawks" who create "got to go" lists. Basically, they utter the mantra "kick out the bad kids so the good kids can learn."

Schools shouldn't be obedience first training institutions. But the opposite of harsh authoritarian style governance is not chaos. But to the point, the famous study of Texas which tracked every middle school student for six years found that 60% of all kids were removed from class at least once on discipline grounds. 60%! That raises the question, besides where would we send them, who are these kids that discipline hawks suggest we'd educate elsewhere? It turns out it's most of the students!

Adolescent youth have a propensity toward rule-breaking. It's nonsensical and inefficient to suggest that we develop one set of schools for the consistently obedient and another for the majority who fail to meet behavioral standards now and then. What the Texas study found was that the main predictor of suspension was not poverty or race but school factors that contributed the most to whether suspension rates were high or low.

JR: Thank you for your time, and for all you do to help students. I hope all readers will take the time to read and/or listen to your informative testimony.

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