Last month, The Gazette ran a story on how the Maryland State Board of Education is changing policies on school suspensions.
In a nutshell, the state hopes that its changes result in fewer suspensions for students of color, especially African American male students, who are generally suspended at much higher rates than other groups of students.
First, this outcome—the goal of suspending fewer black males—should not be news to Montgomery County Public Schools. One can go back through the MCPS archives and find documents from the 1970s stating that suspension rates for black males must be lower (check the original Black Action Steps). In the late 1980s, MCPS hired two national renowned black psychologists—Drs. Lawrence Johnson and A. Wade Boykin—to study why MCPS suspended more black males than, say, white males.
(Click here to read about Dr. Boykin. However, good luck finding a copy of the Johnson and Boykin report, which said racism played a significant role in disparities.)
Second, why would a school district that claims it closed the achievement gap—and MCPS is all over the map making this claim—be apprehensive about closing its suspension gap?
And according to the Gazette story, when the state Board of Education came to Montgomery County last week to talk about its new policies, some in the audience “snickered” at the idea that the suspension gap could be eliminated in three years.
So, how can we close the achievement gap and not be able to close the suspension gap? But more important than that, why would MCPS knock such a goal? Snicker at such a goal? And isn’t such a goal already in MCPS’s annual performance goals anyway? Yes, it is.
Click here and see pages iv and 6. The MCPS goal is the same as the state’s goal—everyone has equal suspension rates.
In life, I have never actually believed that societies achieve equal outcomes. Life just does not work that way. I rarely look for equal outcomes, but rather, I look for outcomes that seem reasonably close or equal. I think they call that fairness. And then it seems reasonable to me that a school district that claims it closed its academic achievement gaps ought to be able to do the same for its school suspension gaps—and along the way, make good on a promise first made more than 40 years ago to the county's black community.