Note: This is a guest post by Darryl Williams, principal of the Brighter Choice Charter Schools for Boys' elementary and middle school programs in Albany, New York.
In a recent study highlighted by Dan Barrett in The Chronicle of Higher Education, it is suggested there may be a correlation between boys' propensity for suspension and their absence from the college ranks. When citing previous research, Mr. Barrett proposes, "As the likelihood of suspension increases, student's chances of making it to college decreases." We all know that our boys, especially minority boys, are more likely to be suspended from school--four times as likely than girls in much research--yet this particular article fails to address one critical factor that must be considered whenever you're talking suspension from school--loss of academic learning time.
When you consider that suspensions require scholars to miss considerable academic learning time, and that most suspensions are given to repeat offenders, it shouldn't surprise anyone that suspensions may negatively impact a scholars chances of attending college.
Blame The Environment...
The article goes on to state that boys' behavioral problems are subject to influences from the environment, particularly from the home. The study offered, "Parents of girls, for example, are much more likely to have books in the home and to read to their children than are parents of boys. Parents are also more likely to take girls than boys to a concert, or to sign them up for an extracurricular activity," the authors note, citing the U.S. Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey. Furthermore, family structure also correlated strongly with the behavioral challenges of boys, according to the article. The authors of the study write, "Boys that are raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) fare especially poorly...Boys raised by teenage mothers also appear to be much more likely to act out." We all know that our scholars have circumstances that may expose them to habits, behaviors and tendencies that are not conducive to success in school, however, we (our Nations' educators) cannot allow those harsh realities to influence what we are able to accomplish within our school walls.
Implications for Schools
For educators, this article further demonstrates why our schools (beginning in pre-school) must remain persistent in teaching scholars the habits and behaviors that will support their successful navigation through the expectations set forth by their given schools. At Brighter Choice, we know some of our scholars have developed maladaptive behaviors as a result of their environmental circumstances. Therefore, we take the first three weeks of school to teach our young men the procedures and routines expected in our program. Everything from walking in the hallways, to asking for a pencil, everything is carefully taught, practiced and continuously reinforced until it becomes routine. The reason many boys, especially our minority boys, are suspended from school is that they have not been explicitly taught how to meet the expectations of their school programs. As educators, we often take for granted that our scholars simply "know how to behave." As we tell all of our teachers, particularly our kindergarten teachers, "assume your scholars know nothing regarding your classroom expectations. Be prepared to teach them everything: how to ask for help, how to share manipulatives, how to retrieve a sharpened pencil etc."
One of the greatest benefits of serving an all-boys population is that our faculty never have the opportunity to compare our boys' behavior to female classmates. The inclination for teachers to develop biases and compare our boys' behaviors to girls is not present in our building. We set high expectations for our scholars and we work hard to be clear and firm with families in why our expectations are necessary. We never want to make excuses for why our scholars cannot have access to college.
Put great teachers in front of our scholars and suspensions will become much less of an issue in our most needy schools. I know, I know--easier said than done.