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—– By: Ann Miller —–
Will the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) defend Maryland teachers against the unfounded charge of racism? The Baltimore Sun’s Editorial Board [“There are better ways for Baltimore County to promote school discipline than suspending students,” Oct. 30, 2018] refuted my statement that “we should not assume that a disparity reflects discrimination without evidence” by referencing an article about a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The study concluded that disparities in discipline administered between black and white students is due to teacher discrimination, not because there was evidence of teacher discrimination, but because the disparity existed in both poor and affluent schools. That was the sum total of the evidence the GAO required to convict our nation’s teachers.
The study was not limited to similar consequences for similar offenses, just the sheer number of suspensions and disciplinary actions by student demographic group. Further, did the study take into consideration repeat offenses? For instance, if Student A committed an offense and Student B did the same offense for the fourth time that month and was disciplined more harshly and happened to be black, was that viewed as discriminatory?
Wrongfully labeling appropriate discipline as discriminatory is as harmful as real discrimination. When students are not disciplined when it is warranted, those needing supports and interventions are not identified. This disproportionately harms our at-risk students the most. Focusing on reducing discipline disparity rather than the actual behaviors is creating a double-standard for discipline that’s escalating behavioral issues in both severity and frequency.
The Sun’s Editorial Board, in leaping to the same conclusion as the GAO, ignores the many other factors that studies have shown influence student behavior, including poverty, fatherlessness, food insecurity, behavioral and academic challenges, lack of parental involvement, illiteracy, emotional trauma, mental health issues, special needs, and drug use. They wish us to simply accept as settled fact that our teachers are racist.
The MSEA has been noticeably silent on the issues of discipline reduction pressure and teacher racism accusations. This is hard to fathom, as behavior issues are one of the top reasons teachers leave the profession. Baltimore County Public Schools’ Stakeholder Survey last year cited student assaults on a staff member as the number one reason for suspensions. I have personally spoken to several teachers who were put on disability from student assaults. While teachers are not only mentally and physically harmed by unaddressed student behavior, and are now being blamed for it, the MSEA is silent.
Ann Miller is an at large member of Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education. The views expressed above are her own, and were not submitted by her as a board member or on behalf of the school board.