After giving a recent education reform speech in Georgia, a thirty-something man approached me to discuss my views on the increasing school expulsion rate for kids, particularly boys of color. He told me that his wife was a special education teacher; that she worked with troubled kids and she had developed a close relationship with a young boy who had been expelled several times from his school.
The man’s wife said that she had been asked to work with the boy because his classroom teacher suspected that the boy had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Apparently, the boy had been having fits and would, on occasion, throw chairs around the classroom. The teacher reportedly was fearful for her safety and the safety of the other kids in the class.
The man then told me that his wife found out that the boy was consistently abused at home and had no outlet to get the counseling help that he needed.
As she began to work with the boy, his behavior improved and his attitude towards school improved. When I asked the man about the boy’s grade, he smiled and said, “Mr. Chavous that is why I wanted to talk with you. The boy is only 4 years old, and he did not have ADD. My wife can’t believe that she keeps getting more and more of these intervention calls from preschools. What can be done about this?”
In 2005, Yale professor Walter Gilliam shocked the nation with the first research showing that preschoolers are expelled at three times the rate of children in kindergarten through 12th grade. He showed that young African-American boys like the boy referenced above are most vulnerable to what he calls “the capital punishment of schools.”
And while preschooler’s expulsion rates continue to outpace their K-12 school counterparts, the fact is that all school expulsion rates are growing along with the high school dropout rate. All of which begs another question, “Who will educate the kids that nobody wants?”
In answering both questions, we must be honest about who will not educate these kids: most local school districts. It is increasingly clear that the vast majority of local school districts – especially in urban America – are either unwilling or unable to educate the growing number of kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. And since our teaching core has begun to feel the pressure of having their students do well on standardized tests, they do not have the energy or often the skill set to address the needs of our most challenged school population group. As a result, the average local school district resorts to easy special needs labels as a way to get these troubled kids out of the classroom so they won’t affect the other students. As the saying goes, ‘one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch’. So, they kick these kids out of school.
Fortunately, around the country, there are a number of schools who take pride in educating the kids that nobody wants. Schools like the Hope Academy Charter School in Kansas City, Maya Angelou Charter School in D.C. and the Legacy Charter School in Greenville, S.C. Each of these schools, and several others like them, make it their mission to value all of the kids they serve and they refuse to write kids off based on their background, home life or previous school experience. Knowing that schools like these exist, wouldn’t it make sense for our most challenged school districts to eagerly embrace these alternative programs?
Recently, charter school authorizers in Philadelphia rejected the application of Ligouri Academy, who made that city the same offer that Hope Academy, Maya Angelou and Legacy made to their cities: let us teach the kids who are the kids toughest to educate. Ligouri, through its founders Mike Marrone and Pat Wright, planned on using a model that included a Personalized and individualized curriculum, which has been proven as an effective strategy for all students, but especially critical for disengaged learners. The proposed Liquori model has yielded impressive results for the most challenged students in places like Fresno, CA, Buffalo, NY and Chester, PA. Still, the authorizers in Philadelphia denied Liquori’s application – even though, according to research conducted by the National Center for Dropout Prevention Network, 5000 9th grade students within the School District of Philadelphia, have a less than 1% chance of graduating high school.
At some point, our education elite will wake up to the fact that one size does not fit all. And that having a menu of education offerings available to educate kids with different needs helps not just those kids, but all kids.
Kevin P. Chavous is a noted attorney, author, and national school reform leader. He currently heads The Chavous Group, an education consulting firm, and is a founding board member and Executive Counsel to the American Federation for Children. He also presides as board chair for Democrats for Education Reform and is a former board chair for the Black Alliance for Educational Options.