A year ago, the Oakland Unified School District entered an agreement with federal civil rights officials to reduce the number of suspensions of African-American students in Oakland schools and eradicate bias in discipline.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights had found that African American students were subject to racial discrimination in discipline practices in that they were suspended much more frequently than their white and Asian schoolmates. Although African American students made up one-third of the OUSD student population, they were two-thirds of the students suspended, in 2011-2012. In fact, suspensions were used so casually and frequently, that one in three African-American middle school boys had experienced suspension that year.

Oakland schools have made great strides in changing these outcomes in the year since the district signed its agreement with the Department of Education Civil Rights office. Led by the chief of its African American Male Achievement office, Chris Chatmon, who reported these compliance gains to the board of education this week, the effort has reduced suspensions by 25 percent with some schools ending their use altogether.

In their place have come Restorative Justice programs in which students discuss conflict and make restitution for offenses. Teachers and principals have received new training. Meanwhile, African-American students on average have been doing better academically, increasing their grade point averages, Chatmon said.

Progress has been substantial. “Improving the outcomes and opportunities for African-American males has been at the forefront of our district since 2010,” Chatmon told the board.

Yet all of this was done without a dime spent by OUSD.

The African American Male Achievement program is completely through the philanthropy of nearby businesses and foundations ever since it was set up two years ago.

The restorative justice programs are supported by the Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth program, which in turn is funded by the City of Oakland’s Measure Y and philanthropists.

Wednesday, the board of education took up a measure to fund its work to comply with the civil rights voluntary resolution with a $700,000 appropriation. “We are entering year two of the agreement and to date there is no line item budget investment in this work, in effect making it an unfunded mandate,” said acting superintendent Gary Yee, who proposed the funding.

The Board voted unanimously to approve spending $700,000 this year to establish an infrastructure to do what OUSD promised it would do. The money will be spent on building district-wide systems, such as school discipline guides for students and parents, resource tool kits for teachers, and data systems to track how discipline happens in classrooms and track accountability to the agreement. A big chunk of it also will be used on staff training.

The question is whether $700,000 is even enough and why is OUSD so late in putting its own investment in this.

“I want to remind you what is at stake here,” said Fania Davis, executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. She said not only is compliance at stake but a “moral obligation that we in this district are very clear about eradicating discrimination,” because its youth are at stake. “The whole nation is watching” what Oakland does, she said. She also said that $700,000 could be spent very fast and suggests “this is really just not that important,” to the board.

Kim Shipp, an educational consultant in Oakland, held up a copy of the now famous book, “The New Jim Crow,” in which author Michelle Alexander talks about a school-to-prison pipeline in the United States in which underfunded schools that rely too much on suspensions for discipline are grooming students for prison by taking them away from their education.

10 Responses

  1. Sojourner Truth

    Yeah, the big problem with Oakland is not the poor, black, young males being suspended to often, it’s the lowest of low expectations from the district. There are no expectations of behavior, and now that the target is to lower suspension rates of young black males, the district will fall even further into the morass created by pampering and mollycoddling these little thugs, who completely disrupt classrooms with defiance and misbehavior.

    The soft racism of low expectations from a district that stinks to high heaven.

  2. Oakie

    Ok, no one seems to have any backbone challenging this nonsense, so I’ll give it a whirl.

    So maybe there are a bunch of potential reasons why AA male students are being suspended at disproportionate rates.

    The two most likely are:

    The AA male student population at OUSD are disproportionally misbehaving and thus deserve the punishment meted out to them. Unless, of course, you believe this group should be exempt from behavior standards demanded of the other students in the district.


    The teachers and other OUSD staff are out and out racists and are unfairly punishing these students when their behavior is not severe enough to earn the punishment they are given.


    I have seen no evidence whatsoever that option 2 is the explanation. In fact, I have seen absolutely no claims to justify this other that the OUTCOMES, which prove nothing.

    If it were demonstrated that it were so, based on EVIDENCE, it should be easy enough to identify those members of the teaching staff and administration who have meted out these unfair punishments, and to investigate further to identify those that are behaving as racists. Fire their butts. There is no room for racism in any school.

    So although there is no presentation whatsoever that the teachers or staffing are demonstrating SPECIFIC racist behavior, and no effort is being made to do that…. what is being done is an explosion of feel good “progressive” activism with a ton of funding diverted from, you know, teaching.

    Now I was under the impression that OUSD does not have sufficient funding to actually, uh, educate our students. And yet here we have an example where the precious funding they do have is shunted aside for some ridiculous hand holding feel good nonsense with vague claims of positive affect on student performance. Well, golly gee, I’d sure like to see some hard, objective data to support these claims. But I can guarantee you that no request will be made for that data nor will it be forthcoming. It is, in fact, a charade. And everyone here plays along. If anyone were to object, quite clearly, that will be “proof” that the objector is a racist. Of course.

    Instead, yet again, school funding is diverted for ill conceived soft programs that squander money and, in the end, do nothing for those it claims to serve.

    I am so glad I chose to not put my kid in this dysfunctional school district. What a pity it is only the policing power of the state that allows them to forcibly extract tax money from those of us who have a modicum of critical thinking who bother to challenge the blather. If your side programs are so effective, why don’t you put out a tin can and fund it yourselves. Then, I wouldn’t have any objection.

  3. livegreen

    This budgeting is in response to the findings of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, as the article points out. They are the ones responsible.

    One should read the link to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights findings to see if they are based just on stats or truly on evidence.

    Regardless, without denying the truth of the findings, I find it interesting that the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights targets Oakland first, rather than wealthier Cities that also have disproportional use of discipline & suspensions targeting AfAm males.

    Of course OUSD should not discriminate. But it is harder for OUSD to pay for the reforms than wealthier cities with the same problems. Yet the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights ignores wholesale the wealthier cities and makes Oakland it’s target.

    Discrimination indeed.

  4. Barbara Grady

    Across the nation, educators are realizing that suspensions are a very harmful way to punish children because it means children miss classroom instruction, which makes it harder for suspended kids to keep up academically. Across the country, and here in Oakland and California, the recession’s harsh budgetary cuts to education left more schools and classroom teachers resorting to suspensions when situations in crowded classrooms got more than teachers could handle. Yet suspending kids and harming their education because the state and district could not afford enough teachers for the number of students it has is hardly fair. Across the country, educators, government officials are waking up to the disproportionate use of suspensions on African American and often Latino students for such minor infractions as defiance – when in reality the situation was a teacher in an overly crowded classroom in a school strapped for cash by the recession.
    I highly recommend you read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” to understand what is going on.

  5. Marcus

    Black Boys having disciplinary problems at school most likely have disciplinary problems at home. Why is this?

    Because 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock.

    During the 1950’s the amount of Black vs Whites being born out of Wedlock was about the same. It was highly frown upon at the time.

    What changed between over the last half century? Welfare. Welfare allow women to financially raise children without the traditional Husband and Man around the house. This all contributed to the dismiss of the Black Community.

  6. Bob

    As an Asian student in the Oakland Unified School District I often felt that we were often being dismissed by the School District. I always feel other ethnicity’s are given preferred treatment by the district because the district needed to justify why they were under performing. As a result, I always felt the district was punishing me for doing my best while rewarding others for their poor performance. Although the district claim this was not the case, the end results speak for themselves, more funds allocated to certain group than to others.

    I somehow believe this is contrary to MLK’s dream.

  7. Len Raphael

    The temptation for OUSD will be to do something expedient that changes the stats to show lower suspension rates but will do little to raise academic success rates for both the boys who previously would have been suspended and essentially discarded or their classmates who might not have to deal with a disruptive classmate. When someone says the grade scores “on the average” improve, I wouldn’t rely on those stats to prove anything.

  8. H.G.

    1) surely if we can afford prison for all these kids we can afford prevention…of going to prison
    2) Born out of wedlock… So was the president and many other successful people… I had one parent, I didn’t do so bad…
    3) To the successful Asian student, if you already are doing well what else do you want? Should we give up on the under-achievers?
    4) Low expectations…Please… No one wakes up and tell their kids, aim low.
    5) We need to socialize young blacks early own, early eclectic exposure, build good habits, require extra curricular activities…
    6) Personal Responsibility.:.:.


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