June 18, 2012 – Five civil rights and education reform organizations today applauded the launch of a new website created by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) making disciplinary data in school districts across the state more accessible to the public and say it is an important step towards reducing the disproportionate discipline of students of color in Oregon public schools.
The launch of the state database came at the request of the organizations after the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon released its report on the School to Prison Pipeline in Oregon in 2010. That report highlighted dramatic disparities in disciplinary action for students of color compared to their white counterparts, as well as increased contact with the juvenile justice system.
In addition to the ACLU, other organizations that had called for the creation of the state website include the Urban League of Portland; Stand for Children of Oregon; the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality; the Tribal Government to Government Education Cluster of Oregon; the Portland Parents Union; Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO); Casa Latinos Unidos de Benton County; the Eugene/Springfield NAACP Branch; Youth, Rights and Justice; the Corvallis NAACP Branch; Immigrant Rights Advocacy Program (Amigos MSC); and Una Voz: Latino Leadership and Advocacy.
All of the organizations have been working to ensure that state education reform efforts address the high number of suspensions and expulsions of students of color in Oregon school districts because disproportionate discipline is a major contributor to poor educational outcomes and high dropout rates.
Working together with the ODE, the advocacy organizations recommended the development of a data tool to make yearly discipline data from school districts more easily available to members of the public, families and educators. The new state web site allows viewing the data broken out by race and ethnicity on a district-by-district basis in easy to understand charts and tables. The web site can be found at: www.educationdataexplorer.com
“This tool will highlight the need for all school districts to build more cultural responsiveness in their programs to help prevent more students from losing valuable school time and create more equitable practices to ensure students’ success,” said Inger McDowell, Community Organizer for the Urban League of Portland.
Eduardo Angulo, Executive Director of the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, also emphasized the importance of the web site for parents and families of students of color and English Language Learners.
“We will now be able to see how the treatment of our children compares to the overall discipline patterns in our individual school district as well as others around the state,” Angulo said. “That will help us actively engage schools in changing the conditions that lead to and perpetuate the systems of exclusion.”
ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque noted that making the discipline data more available has been a three-year effort by the ACLU and the advocacy groups.
“The numbers are clear not only in Oregon, but also in virtually every state around the nation, that students of color are treated more harshly than white students that engage in the same behavior,” Fidanque said. “This disproportionate pattern must change.”
For example, Multnomah County’s Commission on Children, Families, and Communities recently issued a report on “exclusionary” discipline in Multnomah County schools, which showed that African American students are suspended and expelled 2.5 times more often than white students for subjective infractions, such as “disruptive conduct” and “disrespect.” The same study found that Latino students are 1.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled for the same offenses.
April Campbell, participant of the Tribal Government to Government Education Cluster of Oregon, pointed to similar patterns affecting Native American students.
“Native American students attend public schools all over our state,” Campbell noted, “and many of our youth receive harsher discipline. Like other students of color, their needs are not being met and their achievement suffers. It is my hope to bring awareness to this issue as well as find positive solutions so that all students can be successful.”
Dana Hepper, Advocacy Director of Stand for Children Oregon, noted the clear link between discipline patterns and student achievement.
“This tool will help improve accountability among schools and hopefully lead to better outcomes for students of color,” Hepper said. “We can, and must, change discipline practices and create better support systems for staff and students. Doing that will improve the educational climate for all students as well as for teachers, administrators and other staff.”
All five organizations said they will continue to make the case with state education policy makers for improved policies and intervention strategies that have been successful in keeping students in schools and improving education outcomes.
“Discriminatory disciplinary action has negative impacts on our most vulnerable English Language Learners and students of color,” said Angulo. “These discipline practices increase the likelihood that students will drop out of school and that more youth will fall into the juvenile justice system and eventually our jails and prisons. We want policy reforms that use expulsion and suspension as the last resort.”