Discipline problems set Cape, Jackson schools apart

Thursday, December 11, 2003
Jackson High School students left the campus after classes on Monday. A recently released report shows Jackson's discipline incidents were three times less than the state average.

Two Missouri school districts -- they're neighbors, about the same size with similar academic programs and extracurricular activities.

In both districts, more than 96 percent of classes are taught by highly qualified teachers. Students in each score higher than the state and national average on college entrance exams.

But the Cape Girardeau School District suspended five times more students than Jackson School District last year.

Recently released annual school report cards show that Cape Girardeau's discipline incidents were higher than all but seven of the 38 Missouri districts its size, while Jackson's incidents were three times less than the average.

"This is a concern. We'd be burying our heads in the sand to say it isn't," said Cape Girardeau superintendent Mark Bowles.

School districts with 3,000 to 6,000 students averaged 54 major discipline incidents last year. Jackson reported 17 and Cape Girardeau reported 87, up from six and 65 the year before.

Bowles and other officials in both districts offer a variety of explanations for Cape Girardeau's higher incident rate: Perhaps Cape Girardeau's discipline policy is more strict. Maybe other schools under-report incidents. Or it could be because Cape Girardeau schools have more low-income students and less parental involvement.

Rick McClard, who has worked in Cape Girardeau schools and now serves as Jackson High School principal, said there is no secret as to why his school has so fewer suspensions.

"Even though we're just eight miles apart, we're in different worlds," McClard said.

Cape Girardeau ranks higher than the state average in both minority and low-income students. The 2003-04 school report cards show that 26 percent of the district's population is made up of minority students, and 41 percent is low-income students.

Jackson is well below the state average in both, with only 2.66 percent minority students and 22 percent low-income students.

The difference those two factors make in student behavior and school discipline has been the subject of extensive research over the past 25 years.

Data from the U.S. Education Department shows that nationally, black students are suspended twice as often as white students.

The Indiana Education Policy Center, a nonpartisan education research group, released a policy report in 2000 called "The Color of Discipline" that focused on disparities between white, minority and low-income students in school punishment.

Among other things, the report suggests that minority students may be suspended more often not because of racial bias but because of a higher rate of poverty among minorities.

In 1995, the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a complaint against the Cape Girardeau School District with the Office of Civil Rights for suspending a disproportionate number of black students.

As a result, the district began identifying the race of teachers making discipline referrals and the race of students receiving the referral. The district satisfied the federal investigation, which ended in March 2002.

A lack of parental involvement often comes with the high minority and low-income population in Cape Girardeau. In Jackson, 60-percent of parents showed up parent-teachers conferences at the high school last year. Only 22-percent came to conference at Central.

According to McClard, students who get in trouble at school in Jackson will most likely get in trouble at home as well.

"There's not a lot of tolerance on the parents' part," McClard said.

That may be more difficult in Cape Girardeau where a higher lower-income rate means more single-parent families and more parents working two jobs.

Judy Evans, whose son is a junior at Central, said she was surprised at the disparities between Jackson and her district.

"Maybe those numbers say that instead of trying to deal with the issue, they just try to get rid of kids," Evans said of Cape Girardeau's results. "Kids don't care if they get kicked out. It's a day off of school."

All Missouri districts with 3,000 to 6,000 students that had 87 or more discipline incidents last year also have student bodies composed of at least 40-percent low-income students.

Most Central students said, despite having to avoid the occasional fight in a hall, they feel safe in their school.

"I think the problems start at home, not at school," said 17-year-old Kopper Thatch, a Central senior. "What goes on at home makes a big difference in what happens at school."

Calandra Jones, another Central student, said she doesn't think of the incidents at her school as anything more than typical teenage behavior.

"There's definitely more diversity here than Jackson, but I don't know how much that impacts discipline," the 17-year-old Jones said.

This is only the second year school districts have been required to report the number of major discipline incidents -- those that resulted in suspensions of 10 days or more and expulsions -- in their annual report cards.

Jim Morris, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said reporting of such incidents has become more consequential for public schools with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002.

Among many other things, the new federal legislation focuses on safety issues and makes allowances for students to transfer out of schools deemed "persistently dangerous" under definitions set by individual states.

In Missouri, a school with 1,000 or more students receives the "persistently dangerous" label if it has more than 15 expulsions during any two of three-year period.

Only five of Cape Girardeau's discipline incidents were expulsions. Jackson had none. The majority of Cape Girardeau's incidents were related to violence and drugs. There were two alcohol offense and eight weapons offenses.

"There's a natural reluctance among school officials to publicize unhappy facts about their district," Morris said. "But it's important to get a grip on this data, because the school and its community can't know if there's a problem if they don't have accurate data. And they can't verify that they're making headway if they don't have accurate data."

Outside of the discipline referral changes and trying to pay extra attention to at-risk students, Central High School officials say they have no solutions to cutting back on the suspensions.

The school does have in-school suspension, which officials say provides some advantages to students who get into trouble.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128


HOW AREA SCHOOL DISTRICTS FARED

Here are the scores for districts in our area and statwide. For complete district or individual school report cards, visit the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Web site at www.dese.mo.gov or stop by a local school board office for a copy.CAPE GIRARDEAU SCHOOL DISTRICT

Enrollment (Total)3,998
White -- 73.79%
Black -- 23.56%
Hispanic -- 1.43%
Asian -- 1.15%
Indian -- 0.08%
Average Daily Attendance92.20
*Graduation Rate80.5
*Drop-out Rate (Total)5.66
White -- 3.79
Black -- 12.76
Hispanic -- 41.18
Free/reduced lunch count41.16%
Post-high school data 71% of students go on to a 2- or 4-year college
ACT score average 21.7 (out of a possible 36)
Discipline (Total)87 incidents (10 days or more)
In-school suspensions -- 17
Out of school suspensions -- 65
Expulsions -- 5JACKSON SCHOOL DISTRICT
Enrollment (Total)4,623
White -- 97.34%
Black -- 1.73%
Hispanic -- 0.39%
Asian -- 0.50%
Indian -- 0.04%
Average Daily Attendance95.3
*Graduation Rate90.4
*Drop-out Rate (Total)2.05
White -- 2.05
Free/reduced lunch count22.45%
Post-high school data 63% of students go on to a 2- or 4-year college
ACT score average 22.5 (out of a possible 36)
Discipline (Total)17 incidents (10 days or more)
In-school suspensions -- 0
Out of school suspensions -- 17
Expulsions -- 0SCOTT CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Enrollment (Total)1,025
White -- 99.22%
Hispanic -- 0.78%

Average Daily Attendance93.80
*Graduation Rate97.2
*Drop-out Rate (Total)0.57
White -- 0.58
Free/reduced lunch count41.48%
Post-high school data 70% of students go on to a 2- or 4-year college
ACT score average 18.8 (out of a possible 36)
Discipline (Total)5 incidents (10 days or more)
In-school suspensions -- 0
Out of school suspensions -- 4
Expulsions -- 1MISSOURI
Enrollment (Total)893,575
White -- 78.4%
Black -- 17.67%
Hispanic -- 2.27%
Asian -- 1.29%
Indian -- 0.33%
Average Daily Attendance93.7
*Graduation Rate84.3
*Drop-out Rate (Total)3.38
White -- 2.96
Black -- 5.42
Hispanic -- 5.13
Free/reduced lunch count39.21%
Post-high school data 65% of students go on to a 2- or 4-year college
ACT score average 21.4 (out of a possible 36)
Discipline (Total)12,430 incidents (10 days or more)
In-school suspensions -- 936
Out of school suspensions -- 11,141
Expulsions -- 123

*These rates are based on a formula created by the state to account for students transferring in and out of school districts.

Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

SOURCE: Missouri department of Elementary and Secondary Education

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