School System Still Battles Referral Gap

Auditors report that African-American students make up 22 percent of total enrollment, but receive nearly 45 percent of all referrals issued by educators.

A recent audit has revealed that Anne Arundel County schools continue to have a disparity in the percentage of disciplinary referrals issued to African-American students.

School officials who conducted an audit of disciplinary referrals—specifically towards African-American students—presented their findings to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education on Wednesday.

Leading the audit team was Arlen Liverman, AACPS deputy superintendent of schools, and Carlesa Finney, AACPS director of equity assurance and human relations. From December 2011 to May 2012, the team conducted an “audit of student records and a review of the electronic data of discipline referrals for disrespect, insubordination, disruption and inappropriate language,” according to AACPS board documents.

African-American children in Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) make up 22 percent of the total enrollment, but receive 41.1 percent of the “soft referrals” issued by county teachers, according to the auditors. The figures underscore an issue that school officials say they have been working hard to battle.

The Problems

Finney told the Board of Education that a “myriad of issues” face the county, specifically that the African-American referral rate is almost double the percentage of the demographic enrollment population. During a targeted campaign to study and “eliminate the gap” between referral disparities from December 2011 and March 2012, Finney and Liverman found that the number of “soft referrals” and “all referrals” dropped from the 2010-11 to 2011-12 school years.

But despite the drop, African-American student referrals still remained nearly twice the percentage of its total school enrollment, Finney told the school board. 

“It’s significantly frustrating,” Maxwell told Patch. “In trying to eliminate the gap, we have to get even better with [all demographic] groups. What we can do is put a support in place to learn why we have 22 percent African-American students but 45 percent of referrals are African-American students. That’s what this conversation is about.”

School officials said Maxwell’s office began taking a closer look at the county’s referrals and “the gap” between disciplinary actions against white and black students in February 2011, but pressure was heightened just a few months later when the for “disparate treatment” of African-American students. In April 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced its against AACPS.

Students most likely to receive referrals in AACPS are male, come from low income homes and are African-American, according to a slide presented by the auditors.

Throughout their in-depth presentation to the board, Finney and Liverman explained how their team selected 12 schools, and then chose 500 referrals to examine and specifically learn why each referral was given. During that process, Finney said they found a culture of inconsistency within the school system, especially when it came to “soft referrals”—defined as non-violent offenses that are determined by the subjective judgment of the referring teacher or administrator.

Throughout schools, children express insubordination in different ways such as rolling their eyes, huffing or pushing a book of their desk, but teacher responses to those actions were widely inconsistent in the study, Finney told Patch.

“Inconsistency in responses” was a primary problem during the audit, something the board and the auditors declared was a must-solve when moving forward to eliminating “the gap,” Maxwell said.

A Systematic Approach

Liverman spent the latter parts of the presentation discussing solutions to eliminating “the gap,” and consistently referenced “leadership” and “relationships” between administrators and their teachers as an essential ingredient to that cause. However, board member Deborah Ritchie said she believed more was necessary.

“If we truly want this to happen, we’ve got to start reaching and helping parents understand … You’re talking about relationships, I never heard one time that we’ve got to build relationships with parents,” Ritchie told the auditors.

She added that many problems faced by teachers start in places completely out of their control—like a student’s home. In response, Liverman agreed but said at the heart of their proposed solution to the issue is “more support for our teachers.”

“What we have found is that it takes a systematic approach—looking at our data and looking at how schools look at the students. We’ve never done that before,” Finney told Patch. “This is a very complex issue with years and years of history.”

Board member Solon Webb suggested that perhaps some members of the audit team volunteer to serve as substitute teachers at the schools with higher referral rates to truly understand the situation in AACPS classrooms. The recommendation was met with some uncomfortable fits of casual laughter.

As Wednesday’s meeting concluded, Wanda Stansbury, Co-Chair of the Office of Civil Rights Committee, addressed the board.

“The issue has moved, and I really came here not so much to hear the comments from [Liverman and Finney], I really came to see your reaction because [Liverman] mentioned that how important leadership is to this issue,” she said. “We can have all the great ideas … we can think of some great programs … but if the leadership isn’t there we’re not going to see the change. Leadership from the household to this board room.”

Ann Brennan August 23, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I seldom respond to an article that involves politics but this is a really disturbing article. Here's why - as a parent, I discipline my children based on their actions, not based on who they are or birth order or anything so random as color. I discipline them when they do something wrong. So the issue here seems to be something that would start at home and truthfully it seems like something that would end at home. That being said, I understand that some children have crappy parents. I understand that some people are not taught discipline in the house. Unfortunately that leaves it to the school system to discipline these children. So, what happens if we "work this discrepancy out?" What is the next step for people who have not been disciplined and have not learned how to behave in society? The next level is real society and unfortunately the breaking of laws and even if that doesn't happen, then we have a repeat of the cycle. These people, the ones who have not received discipline in the home or at school grow up to be parents without discipline and they raise children without discipline. By not disciplining a child who has done something wrong we are not doing them a favor. By not disciplining a child who has done something wrong we are doing them a disservice.
G-Man August 23, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Ann I applude your comments. We have asked our school system to do too much besides educating them. Now we want to have the school system to raise our children, feed them, care for them while I work. Its nonsense. Back in the day (not that long ago, I might add) I was not worried what the principle or teacher might do to me, I was afraid what dad might do. I was never abused or nothing like that but was "disciplined". Priviledges were taken away. Not today. "don't discipline my child" . Parenting is a lost art.
bruce potter August 23, 2012 at 02:26 PM
As always, there is not enough information to make an informed decision on this. For this to turn into a valid issue, we first would have to see each offense and the punishment given for that offense, we would also have to know if it was the childs first offense or was the offense the final straw in a long history of issues. Example, White child goes to the office for being late to class, or skipping class, first offense. He gets a verbal warning and is sent back. Black child goes to the office for being late to class or skipping class, has alread been given 3 verbals. So this time he gets a week off. The report to show different treatment leaves out the 3 verbals and only says Both children went to the office for being late/skipping, the white kid got a verbal, the black kid got a week off. Makes it sound unbalanced and unfair. But the reality is that it is fair, it is balanced and it is called for.
Lisa Huffman Webber August 23, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I find this entire subject ridiculous. It really does come down to the parents. My son has had more than his share of referrals unfortunately but I tell him if he does the crime he has to do the time, and it's part of growing up and learning their boundaries and respect for authority. Between us at home and the teachers at school, we hopefully are going to grow these young people up to be good members of society. Like Ann said, some children do have crappy parents or parents who are working so much they don't have as much time or energy to keep tabs on their kids and discipline them. Unfortunately if the kids don't behave at school and are disrupting other students, then the teachers have to punish them. Now that they are "punishing" more African-American students, they need to research this? Why is it a color thing? Maybe the kids who are being disciplined are misbehaving more often? I have been involved in several situations where teachers have punished the white kids much harsher (like the incident when my daughter got jumped last year). My experience has been that the teachers are over-correcting for this perceived issue and being too concerned with color. Many times my children have made comments like "I wish I was black" then this wouldn't have happened. This is going to put more pressure on teachers to go easier on kids if their skin is darker and over-discipline the lighter skinned kids to get their statistics better so the NAACP is happy. Ridiculous!
John August 23, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I agree with Ms Brennan's statement. Race is always called to the forefront when African Americans are corrected and or disciplined! The schools are not taking action based on color they are taking action based on the problem they are dealing with. The statistics stated are almost the same as our prisons, African Americans make up approx. 13 % of the population but they commit approx. 44 % of the crime and are in prison, nearly the same with what the school system is saying? If the school system makes changes are they not supposed to discipline the child based on race?
Teacher August 23, 2012 at 03:17 PM
This disturbs me on several levels. I work in a public middle school in AA Co. and I have first hand knowledge of referrals being torn up simply because they have been written for a minority child. The school is trying to conform with these mandates and, in doing so, is creating a backlash of problems. Now our school has certain repeat offenders who “rule” the school because they have been so loosely disciplined. The school is terrified to escalate the issue to the next level in fear of being labeled as discriminatory. In all fairness there are individuals in this world who discriminate, but honestly I have never witnessed even one of our staff acting discriminatorily. On the contrary, most bend over backwards to be more than fair to our minority students. The passion our staff has for all the children in our school absolutely makes me proud to be a part of this group - their only desire is to give the best education and guidance to each and every child. This mandate is a distraction that takes time and energy away from what the focus of the school should be. It has created an environment of walking on eggshells to make sure as much as possible is handled internally without writing a referral. And it has created a sub-set of repeat offenders who have learned how to use the system so they can roam the halls between classes, be disruptive during class, get extra time for turning in sub-par work, etc. (Continued...)
Teacher August 23, 2012 at 03:17 PM
(Continuation...) There are some questions that should be considered: Is the data reflective of repeat offenders or does each child get counted only once? For the offenders (all races) what is their background (parents, income, living conditions, other external factors) that can be worked on outside of the school system? Why should the ratio of referrals be the same as the ratio of attendance - is it that way in the real world (jails? I don’t know)? I am sure the focus on closing the referral gap started as a well intentioned mission; however, it is a slippery slope - if the schools are terrified to write referrals then how do we know the truth and how do we help all of our children? How does this additional pressure on the teachers and administrators make a school more productive? Each child needs individual attention or we are doing him/her a huge disservice - particularly our repeat offenders - the problems need to be investigated, not covered up!
Chris August 23, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Cetain people use statistics like a drunk uses lamp-posts, more for support than illumination.
Diane in Odenton August 23, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Very well written Teacher. Your description of the situation is exactly what I envisioned would be the problems with this mandate. It is, in and of itself, discriminatory -- reverse discrimination! It seems like an attempt to calm down the cries of racism without really thinking it through. In the end, it's helping no one, not even the students that are supposedly discriminated against.
John Frenaye August 23, 2012 at 06:54 PM
There were more referrals for people with brown eyes. Go look at the statistics. Why is the school system coddling green and blue eyed people? THAT is the real story here!
Karen Essen August 23, 2012 at 08:17 PM
The solution is SO simple! Ignore the black kids' bad behavior and double down on the punishment of white kids (make up offenses if you have to). That way this little "controversy" is settled, and the actual problem behind this is not at all addressed! Oh...and most importantly: VOTE DEMOCRAT!
Jason August 23, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Maybe these BLACK kids parents need to learn how to raise there kids. Always a race issue. Black people give there own people a bad name by issues brought up like this. Move on you have all the writes if not more than white people and you choose to act the way you do. (some not all).
Jason August 23, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I think the naacp are the most racist in America
Amy Leahy August 24, 2012 at 02:08 AM
No one wants to admit that a large part of the problem is the numbers of black children who live in a house with no father. Social programs enacted since the 1960's (or 70's - I'm not perfect in my history) have ruined the black families mainly because they let the dads off the hook. It's all about discipline….
Locate Baltimore August 24, 2012 at 07:23 AM
This looks like a very noble cause. God bless the people with their kind acts. I saw some great deals at www.locatebaltimore.com . You might want to check this out.
A Parent August 24, 2012 at 01:44 PM
"Students most likely to receive referrals in AACPS are male, come from low income homes and are African-American, according to a slide presented by the auditors." Can we get student enrollment numbers of males that come from low income homes broken out by race and compare those enrollment percentages to the referral percentages? Can we look at the disparity between referrals across socio-economic classes and figure out what programs we can use to help lower-income student households if that turns out to be a trend? Do we have broken neighborhoods? Are referrals in certain schools higher than others and how do those correspond to neighborhoods? Students are people and are thus more than the color of their skin. Liverman & Finney are sending a horrible message to students of color that in this day, they still are not looking at them as people, only as differently colored tick marks in their charts. How can we _help_ the children? Balancing referal rates across the different colored tick-marks does nothing to help _children_.
MD Resident August 24, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I am stealing this quote, Chris. Thank you. :)
M. Hermanson August 24, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Thanks "A Parent" for an excellent comment. Several studies across the country have shown that discipline tends to vary greatly from school to school. The principal and overall atmosphere regarding discipline has an impact on the total number of referrals, but not in the way many people here are assuming. At least one study looked at the discrepancies and found a large number of the referrals/suspensions happen at low income schools which were predominantly urban, filled with minority students, run by minority administrators and tended to have a very TOUGH stance on discipline. Not all of these factors might apply to Anne Arundel county schools. I applaud the district for examining their numbers. A break out for low income students and a break out by school would be interesting.
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Anyone that thinks the PATCH is obout objective reporting needs to be on medication. There is nothing objective about this 'article'. The PATCH is an Editorial piece where comments can be, and are, edited in order to fit the Editors personal agenda. May this should not be about racism as it apparently is. Why not address the reasons that non-blacks are not referred instead of stating that the blacks that are referred shouldn't be. They should be referred for the reasons stated in the referrals BUT non-blacks should be referred as well instead of allowing those issues to be swept under the carpet. Having dealt with 'potential referrals' let me state for a certainty that a lot of potential referrals do not get referred IF the student and his parents find outside counseling or services. Blacks are referred when the school is forced to pay for the services recommended. I have also had a lot of minorityh referrals from clients, yes black clients, that can afford to pay and therefor go unlisted in the referral base. The editor of this racist piece should seek counseling themselves.
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Ironic how this article got posted during an election year isn't it?
TJ August 24, 2012 at 05:28 PM
This is just another way to blame the White people for the problems the Blacks get into. Just maybe the Blacks are causing more disruption in school and now use the race card as an excuse of being " picked on ".
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:33 PM
AMEN. BUT - there are more whites on welfare than blacks in this country and I know of more whites taking advantage of food stamps and disability. Just no publicity here. The only part I agree with you on this the unstated truth that welfare programs FORCE fathers out of the home in order for the family to qualify for the benefits. In all cases the system allows those that cannot find a job to earn a living by simply producing more kids. If emory serves me correctly it was a grandmother out west that consistantly had her mentally challenged daughter crank out one or two kids every year in order to take advantage of the welfare system. At last count this grandmother was put in charge of 15 kids - received payments on all of them to the tune of $150,000 per year total - AND successfulyy sued DSS in order to be 'given' a NEW (not used) van in order to take them all to their medical and school appointments. Hence the term "back-door fathers".
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I'm a Republican that votes Democrat because of Environmental Concerns - not handouts. Until fracking and off-shore oil drilling are stopped no Republican will ever get my vote.
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:37 PM
But it's working. Think of the NAACP as a union for blacks. Anyway - I am as non-racist a white as they come and I am a member of the NAACP because they stand up for what they believe in.
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Can I use your quote as well. Absolutly true and on target.
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I used to work for DJS at Cheltenham. I remember one summer a mother coming up to me and asking how she could get her other three kids into Cheltenham so that they could be with their two brothers, go swimming, play ball and get three meals a day. The mother was black as where the kids (all with different names -6 people in her home and all with different last names). Don't know the point of all this but it seemed apprpriate when I started it.
Ronald August 24, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Mpst pf the time it is the parent(s) that need disciplining.
TJ August 25, 2012 at 12:22 AM
You can blame the Government for most of it by rewarding unwed mothers with free money. The more babies they have, the more money they get. They would lose all of that if they get married. Black or White, babies are being used as an income, maybe wanting to be a mother is not the purpose for having them.
Charlene Dine August 25, 2012 at 12:26 AM
My grandson is bi-racial, but is always characterize as a black child. Who determines, if a child is born to a mixed couple, no matter what the blend, why does the "other" race, like Black, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, etc. get the "main" race as that and not as white. By the way, just like I have taught my grandson a long time ago, the keys that you are probably typing on, are black, you are not that color. The paper that you write on is white, I am not that color. So why do we have to use these terms. When they were little, they didn't know the difference but it was the adults that continously tell them that they are black and white people. That is not true. We are all the same under God's eyes or whoever you might believe in. STOP with these reports! Can't we all live together and be happy that we live in a free country.
Melanie Johnson September 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Ann the issue is not about disciplining children who have done something wrong. The issue is referring students of color more than the other students. That is the real issue. All students who misbehave should be disciplined. But tolerance for misbehaviors should not be extended to non-white students just because they mirror the teaching staff. The non-white students should not be made to feel that they are the scum of the earth and demonstrate behaviors that merit being thrown out of the classroom daily. I am a teacher and I know that misbehaving comes in all forms from ALL children of ALL ethnic backgrounds. There is no reason on God's green earth why African American in Anne Arundel make up 22% of the population but 41% of the discipline referrals come from the African Americans. Sounds like racism. And EVERYBODY knows it. Including you Ann.


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