Education Week - June 1, 2016 - (Page 27)

Q&A With Monique W. Morris: As a researcher and author working at the intersection of education, civil rights, and juvenile and social justice, Monique W. Morris has long studied the issues women of color face in the United States. She is cofounder and president of the National Black Women's Justice Institute, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that works to improve racial and gender disparities for black women in the criminal-justice system. Morris previously served as a vice president for economic programs, advocacy, and research at the NAACP. She and Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, are currently partnering in a two-year project to improve the relationships between girls of color and school resource officers. Her latest research sheds a light on the treatment of black girls in K-12 schools. In her fourth book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools (New Press, 2016), Morris takes a closer look at the educational policies, practices, and conditions in U.S. schools that marginalize black girls both academically and socially as early, she argues, as pre-K. In the book, Morris unpacks the racial and gendered stereotypes that affect how schools respond to black girls on a daily basis. Recent studies from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights show that many current disciplinary measures end up barring these students from schools at higher rates than those for any other female student group and most male groups, which puts them at greater risk of entering the juvenile-justice system. Morris frames this research around the stories of girls she spoke with across the country who had experienced "pushout"-defined as the practices that foster criminalization in schools and the ways this criminalization leads to imprisonment-to expose what she says are the untold stories of the conditions that remain a barrier to black girls' education and well-being. Commentary Associate Kate Stoltzfus interviewed Monique W. Morris by phone to talk about why black girls are disproportionately pushed out of schools, and how educators and policymakers can join forces with their communities to create school environments that allow all black girls to thrive in the classroom. EW: Black girls are 16 percent of the female student population in public schools in the United States but more than one-third of all female school-based arrests, according to 2011-12 data from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights. The disparities between how schools discipline black female students and all other female student groups, as well as many male groups, start as early as preschool. How do we begin to make sense of this polarizing gap? MORRIS: When we look at discipline in partnership with the community conditions-the ways in which our society has misunderstood and misrepresented elements of black femininity and other issues that contribute to school pushout, like academic marginalization or underperformance in school-we start to understand that this is not about girls just being bad. We start to see a set of conditions that presents a unique opportunity for there to be a vulnerability to contact with the criminal legal system and contact with school disciplinarians or policies and practices. These are girls who are dealing with multiple forms of victimization, abuse, and oppression, and their response to that oppression is often misread as combative, angry behavior. It's important for us to explore the cultural conditions that have facilitated a consciousness that renders black girls uniquely vulnerable to having their behaviors being read as loud and aggressive and dangerous to the school environment when they may not necessarily be so. EW: In the process of writing Pushout, you talked with black girls in elementary through high schools across the country about their experiences in education. What did those conversations reveal to you that statistics or formal research couldn't? MORRIS: I worked backwards and talked to girls who had experienced school pushout. I talked to them about what their education story was, and in almost all of those cases, they understood that education was important to them. At the same time, they had gone to schools and had engagement with educators Positive Images The Plight of Black Girls In K-12 Schools that was telling them something different. Almost all of the girls had been suspended or expelled early on in their lives, having their first experiences with suspension in kindergarten and 1st grade. They also described being repeatedly victimized in the community and in schools and having that victimization either rendered secondary to the victimization of their male counterparts, or not believed in their spaces of learning and in their homes. What has happened in their lives is that they express the way children do when they have been exposed to trauma; they have acted out in ways that adults have deemed disruptive. EW: As you note in your book, in a nationwide culture of increased surveillance and zero-tolerance behavior policies in schools, unconscious bias created by racial and gendered stereotypes increases the exclusion of black girls from learning spaces, which has the potential to push girls who are already struggling into the criminal-justice system. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing K-12 black female students? MORRIS: What we're dealing with is a series of issues that are tied to harsh punishment in response to problematic student behavior. There are a host of ways in which black girls are uniquely feeling that their presence in school is not consistent with who the school believes should be there. For black girls who attend hypersegregated schools that are high-poverty and often low-performing, there is the belief among administrators that zero-tolerance responses are the way to curb negative student behavior. This is rather than the development of restorative practices that allow for young people to come to terms with how they have created harm and who will be responsible for resolving that harm together-co-constructing discipline and other policies that impact them. What's happening is the presence of biased learning environments and the absence of resources and other college and career pathways that can facilitate healing in response to much of the problematic behavior and the underlying causes. " There are a host of ways in which black girls are uniquely feeling that their presence in school is not consistent with who the school believes should be there." EW: You say that one of the biggest causes of the discipline disparity is that black girls do not fit into society's narrow definition of femininity. You note in your book that black girls are subject to more scrutiny and put into two categories: either "good" girls or "ghetto" girls, both of which reinforce historical and current stereotypes about black femininity. How can educators combat their unconscious bias and help to recast the negative images of young female black students often perpetuated by American culture? MORRIS: I believe most educators are in the field because they love children, and believe in the promise of education. I also believe that we are all living with unconscious bias that informs how we read behaviors, what decisions we make, and how we interpret language, volume, and presentation. Whether it aligns with our professed beliefs or not, we are still impacted by negative stereotypes about individuals and identity. I don't think that society's narrow definition of femininity, which aligns most closely to what is normed for white middle-class families, serves anyone particularly well. If girls are loud rather than quiet, or present in ways that are typically perceived as more masculine, that's a problem. When we don't have a particularly diverse teaching force, we have a greater likelihood that the individuals engaging with youths from various backgrounds are not necessarily going to understand what is happening. What needs to happen is a much more robust discussion in teachers' preparation and training opportunities about implicit bias, decisionmaking matrices, and the ways in which youths can be brought into establishing a school and classroom culture that honors their norms, as well as those that are typically enforced by schools. n The interview has been edited for length and clarity. To read a longer version and to listen to the full conversation, go to EDUCATION WEEK | June 1, 2016 | | 27

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 1, 2016

Education Week - June 1, 2016
In Special Education, A Debate on Bias
Proposed ESSA Rules Aim to Strike Balance
Civil Rights Office Gets Aggressive
Charter Movement Fuels Boom For Public Montessori Schools
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Transgender Debate: What’s Next?
Free Website Expands on EngageNY’s Mission
Study on Teacher Test Finds Mixed Results
Blogs of the Week
Digital Learning Games Breaking Into K-12 Mainstream
Girls Outperform Boys on First National Test of Tech, Engineering
Oregon Creates a ‘Lens’ for Viewing Educational Equity
High School Takes Cue From Montessori
School Finance Suits: More Than Just a Legal Roll of the Dice?
Report Feeds Into Debate Over Racial, Economic Inequities
Blogs of the Week
Policing Girls of Color in School
The Plight of Black Girls in K-12 Schools
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Black Girls, Discipline, and Schools

Education Week - June 1, 2016