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Oakland Unified Considers Absenteeism, Suspensions Stats for African-American Males

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Oakland Local

Research indicates nearly half of African American boys in Oakland public schools are not on track to graduate high school. Parents say closing schools can't help absenteeism.

Days after the release of an alarming report indicating that high absenteeism and frequent suspensions of African-American boys in Oakland public schools are derailing many of them high school graduation, parents of students attending schools slated to be closed said absenteeism will only get worse.

"How will you have a strategy to improve attendance when you're taking kids out of their neighborhood school and sending them three or four miles outside of their community?" asked the grandmother of a student at Santa Fe Elementary school - one of five schools the district plans to close. She spoke at the Oakland Unified School District board of education meeting Wednesday night, surrounded by other parents of Santa Fe Elementary students who were upset at the planned closing.

The OUSD board spent a good portion of its meeting discussing the Urban Strategies Council research that found that nearly half of African American boys in OUSD schools are not on track to graduate from high school. Key red flags, the report said, were absenteeism rates of 20 percent particularly in the early elementary years and high suspensions rates, particularly in middle school. One in three African American boys in Oakland middle schools is suspended in a given year.

"The suspension data is pretty startling. Suspension of African-American males exceeds that of white males by six times," Junious Williams, chief executive officer of Urban Strategies, told the board.

About 38 percent of those suspensions are for willful defiance, a behavior that many experts believe can be addressed in non-punitive ways through restorative justice.

OUSD, already aware of disparities in how its students fare, launched an African American Male Achievement Initiative in 2010 to focus on better preparing African-American males for successful academics and careers. Urban Strategies undertook its research as commissioned by the district so the district would have data to work in this initiative. 

More recently, OUSD launched a pilot program in restorative justice, which aims to replace suspension and punitive discipline with conflict resolution and getting kids to take responsibility for their actions and thus change.

Wednesday night, the board also considered a policy on Family Engagement, as proposed by a district task force, which would have staff take steps to encourage parent involvement in their children's education and their children's schools. Among the hoped for results of Family Engagement would be better school attendance. 

Williams pointed out that absenteeism in the early grades is important because if a child has not learned to read and perform basic math of addition, subtraction and multiplication by third grade, he or she will not have the foundation skills needed for continued learning. 

But in a state and district where education funding has been stretched to austerity over the last three years, OUSD does not have a lot of resources to spend on these initiatives. Board director Alice Spearman asked if the Family Engagement Policy would actually get any resources to be implemented. She did not get an answer.

However, in other business at the same meeting, OUSD budget officials outlined a mid-year financial report that pointed toward the possibility of OUSD again being in a structural deficit in a year. This would be most markedly so if California voters do not agree to Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measures in November that the governor's office has said would prevent statewide cuts of $5.5 billion to education in 2012-13.

 

Source: Oakland Local [http://m.oaklandlocal.com/article/oakland-unified-considers-worrisome-absenteeism-suspensions-stats-african-american-male]

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