Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grievance Suspension

Suppose for a minute that your kid was struggling in school, had been suspended a number of times, and was thinking of dropping out. What would you do?

I asked this question of my wife, and she suggested (1) finding out who the kid is hanging out and causing trouble with, and getting the kids' parents together to stop whatever's going wrong, (2) working with the kid's teachers to get an assessment of what the academic/social problems are, and (3) getting remedial tutoring. I concurred.

But this is not the thinking of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. They are one of several groups holding a workshop at the Genesis Baptist Church for parents of at-risk minority kids in Guiford County, and here's what they're going to help parents to do, according to the N&R:

[At the workshop] parents can sign up to educate others about navigating the school system, appealing student suspensions and filing grievances with the district.
And that is a powerful indicator of the perceptual chasm that exists between white people like me and black parents in Greensboro.

It's pretty clear from this agenda that the Human Relations Commission believes that minority kids' school problems are mostly caused by institutional racism that results in unfair suspensions and treatment of students that merits filing a grievance.

And the fact that most white people -- me included -- would say that's way off base would only be further evidence to the Commissioners of our white racism, either conscious or unconscious.

But let's not have that argument today; it's boring and I'm tired of it.

Instead, let's see what works. Try out your plan, then assess its outcomes.

Compare the dropout rates of suspended students with those of students whose suspensions were appealed. Do the same for students whose parents file grievances and for those who don't, and for students whose parents take a workshop on navigating the bureaucracy and those who don't.

But also track the dropout rates of students whose parents formed networks with other parents, of students whose parents worked with teachers on their kids' academic problems, and of students whose parents actively sought remedial instruction for their kids, then compare them with kids whose parents didn't do those things.

Then, once we find which things work and which don't, make the results public and do the things that work.

Update: As if on cue, the N&R writes in an editorial this morning that the New Light Missionary Baptist Church will be offering a program of "one-on-one mentoring and tutoring" for students receiving suspensions, as well as alternative schools in Greensboro and High Point for students serving longer suspensions.

Assess, assess.


Juan Vasquez said...


Description of Straw Man
The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of "reasoning" has the following pattern:

Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
Person B attacks position Y.
Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.


David Wharton said...


You might also want to research non sequitur.

Juan Vasquez said...

just describing your argument.

David Wharton said...

No, you weren't.

I may have mischaracterized the thinking behind the GHRC's program (though I still stand behind my inference), but I didn't attack their reasoning or their workshop.

In fact one of the main points of the post was to get out of the endless loop of such attacks.

Didn't you read the part where I suggested they do what they proposed, and then see if it works?

Juan Vasquez said...

"But this is not the thinking of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. "

There is nothing in the article you cite that suggest that the commision is against any of the solutions your wife offered. Your reasoning is specious at best. Your argument is without merit.

David Wharton said...

I didn't say they are against those ideas; I said their thinking is different from mine. Obviously my wife's ideas are not high enough on the GHRC's priority list to include them in the workshop.

My argument is that it's probably a good thing to try different kinds of interventions with at-risk kids and assess the outcomes to see what works.

How is that "without merit"?

Joe Guarino said...

David, this was a very good post.

A couple of more items to assess:

1. The effect on the classroom of the two alternative approaches you discuss

2. The effect on the classroom of the HRC approach, vs. more long term suspensions, expulsions and/or reassignments to alternative facilities

3. The effect of the parents' mode of discipline

This is, of course, a classic case in which the right of the individual is being asserted against the long-term interests of the overall group. And while I am very much in favor of assessing outcomes of alternative approaches, I cannot help but wonder if we are not reinventing the wheel. Surely this type of research must have already been done elsewhere, and is already published. We need an objective approach.

But these challenges are not peculiar to Guilford County.

Juan Vasquez said...

HRC's Actual Agenda

The mission of the Human Relations Commission is to improve the quality of life for Greensboro residents by encouraging fair treatment and promoting mutual understanding and respect among all people.


Education Committee
Chair: Abdel Nuriddin
Mission: Encourage fair treatment and promote mutual understanding and respect in the
Guilford County Schools


Education Committee

Continue to celebrate Human Relations Month and build relationships with Greensboro City Schools
Build a relationship with the Guilford Education Alliance and National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ)


Anonymous said...

At the 12/19/2005 meeting, Dr. Becoats gave a report on the suspension statistics.

From the BOE minutes at http://www.gcsnc.com/boe/2006/1_10/minutes12_19.htm (the meeting summary is missing from the web site)

"Balanced Scorecard Update – Suspension Data

Dr. Eric Becoats, Chief of Staff, updated the Board on the long- and short-term suspension data across the district for the months of September and October 2005. He reported that the total number of students suspended has decreased as compared to September and October 2004 with the greatest decrease at the high school level. However, he noted that African American students continue to be suspended at a higher rate than other students.

The Board expressed their concerns regarding the high level of African American students being suspended and asked Dr. Becoats to keep them updated."

Dr. Becoats was requested to gather additional data on repeat offenders ("frequent flyers"), analyze the data for any indications of racial disparities (white teachers suspending black students, etc.) and report back to the BOE. Perhaps he could shed some light on this?

David Wharton said...

I guess Beacoat's data will show who is being suspended, but it won't tell us much about why it's happening, or what will work to address the problem.

If the school system is serious about fixing things, they'll gather data on outcomes of different anti-suspension policies.

If they're interested in politicking the problem, they'll just look at the race data and argue about it in public in order to appeal to their various constituencies.