Dan Rambler wrapped up a presentation on Akron Public Schools’ new code of student behavior at the Mountain of the Lord Fellowship Church on Copley Road on Monday night. Then he opened the floor to questions from the crowd of about 25 parents and students — all but two black.
He didn’t dodge the first question or its implications.
“The statistics tell us that kids who are black get suspended more in Akron,” the director of student services said, responding to a grandparent’s question about why it seems that some kids are singled out. “There are absolutely some things that we need to work on.”
Following what administrators have called a “challenge for us across the years” and “a color-blind issue” — Akron again ranked higher than most Ohio public and charter schools in dealing out discipline to black students.
A Beacon Journal analysis of 2010-11 school year data published in January indicated that Akron disciplined black students at the highest rate of the eight largest urban districts in Ohio. Akron remained atop that list when 2011-12 data were released.
Last year, Akron made some improvement.
Down from 187.6, 165.4 disciplinary actions were issued for every 100 black students. Still, Akron ranked higher than all but four public schools — Youngstown (a fellow Urban 8 school), Warren and Euclid city schools, and Meigs Local in Appalachian Ohio and seven charter schools — many catering to at-risk or disabled students — in disciplining black students.
In terms of overall discipline for all students, Akron reported a higher rate than all but 27 Ohio public and charter schools in operation last year. That’s an improvement from last year, when Akron ranked 17th.
On the whole, charter schools expelled students at an average rate four times greater than public schools and issued disciplinary actions twice as frequently as public schools, according to analysis of disciplinary data released last week by the Ohio Department of Education.
Educators, however, have pointed out discrepancies that question the veracity of the data.
Discipline actions — which include in- and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and alternatives — are self-reported by schools, though the ODE requires schools to report each time a student is removed from normal instruction because of bad behavior. How individual schools deal with specific issues also varies as some have extensive resources; others do not.
Overall disciplinary actions continue to fall.
After peaking in 2008 at more than 20,000 in-school and 20,000 out-of-school suspensions, disciplinary actions dropped last year to 11,489 out-of-school suspensions and 11,381 in-school suspensions. Expulsions also dropped from eight per 1,000 students to fewer than one per 1,000.
Officials cite relationship building, increasing mentors in schools and adjusting the code of student conduct as some of the reasons for the continual decline in the need to discipline students over the past five years. While raw numbers have declined, suspensions are still disproportionately given to black students. That’s common among most urban schools in Ohio.
In 2008, Akron issued 264 disciplinary actions for every 100 black students compared with 166 issued overall for every 100 students. Last year, 165 actions were issued for every 100 black students compared with 106 overall disciplinary actions for every 100 students.
Roswell Kent Middle School, Akron Opportunity Center, and Jennings and Innes Community Learning Centers posted the highest rates for disciplining black students.
High schools ranked farther down the list.
Akron Opportunity Center — with nearly 100 more disciplinary actions per 100 black students than the next highest school — had the highest frequency of disciplining black students in the state. That school serves middle school students with behavior and academic issues.
Rambler hopes to pre-empt bad behavior by reaching out not only to children but also to families, too. It’s about building trust, he said. “We’ve got to be more proactive.”
He said the district is exploring additional options in lieu of suspension or expulsion. He also stressed communication, saying that parents often call in without reaching out first to the principal who suspended their child.
Along with community outreach, Rambler said the district must continue to improve on identifying students who need help and placing those students in appropriate programs.
If educators wait until students are teenagers, it may be too late.
That’s why students with poor behavior, low attendance or bad grades are referred to specialty schools like Akron Opportunity Center, which enrolls K-8 students. Among Ohio’s 9,889 school buildings, Akron Opportunity Center posted the highest discipline rate for black and white students. For every 100 black students, 650 disciplinary actions were issued. For every 100 white students, nearly 600 disciplinary actions were issued. The statewide average is 68.6 actions per 100 black students and 14.2 per 100 white students.
There is a silver lining, though.
While Rambler “hates” to administer any disciplinary actions, there is some conciliation to see discipline largely used as a last resource in a school designed to accommodate at-risk students. That means many troubled students are increasingly finding their way into programs that could help.
“I think it shows that we’re giving them every step to learn from their behavior,” Rambler said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.