Unmasking Deception: School district blames its teachers & principals for unfairly disciplining BIPOC students
First in a new series of stories titled "Unmasking Deception: Unveiling Lies, Corruption, and Intimidation in Oregon Public Education"
This story is the first of many I plan to release over the next few weeks to unmask the deception in Oregon public education. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant! And now on to the story. . .
The Beaverton School District (BSD), like the other 13,800 public school districts around the country, continues to see differences in the rates of suspensions and expulsions when viewed by race/ethnicity, sex, and other groups. There are some consistent themes we’ve seen across the nation and over time. For example, male students get suspended and expelled at 2x-3x the rate of female students. This has been going on for decades, but is it just a “boy thing” or are they just innocent victims of biased and sexist teachers and principals?
Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Heather Cordie, and other BSD leaders say it’s the latter. Yes, you read that right. They believe the root cause of the disciplinary differences are biased teachers, principals, and other school staff. This and other ridiculous, unsupported claims were made during their School Board Work Session on March 20, 2023.
You can see this for yourself as BSD publishes recordings of their school board meetings on YouTube. Starting at the 2:45:45 point in the video, Superintendent Balderas states:
“Middle school boys get disciplined at twice the rate of middle school girls. That's a national stat. It hasn't changed for 30 years probably. [ . . . ] So why is that? That's the bias.”
Background for the work session on student discipline
Oregon public K-12 students were in distance learning for nearly two years due to the pandemic. Most returned to full-time, in-person school in the 2021-22 school year, and the transition back was challenging for a number of reasons. Student behavior quickly became a huge issue for many schools, forcing some to temporarily shift to distance learning due to overwhelming fights and disruptions.
This video is just one example of the fights happening across the district in the 2021-22 school year. I blurred the video to protect student identities, but I will say that while the fight was traumatic to watch, what really bothered me the most were the reactions of the other students. By reviewing the video frame by frame, you can see how most kids really didn’t react much to this fight. Violence has been normalized for them as this was a nearly every day experience.
The March 2023 work session between BSD leaders and school board directors was to review how the first half of the 2022-23 school year had gone, what changed from the previous year, and what will leaders continue to pursue to ensure we have safe and productive schools.
Deputy Superintendent Cordie began the session on student behavior by re-stating their primary method of evaluating situations & decisions (at 57:35 point in the video):
One of the things that we always want to start our conversations with, is a reminder about our Equity Lens....
They didn’t really blame teachers and principals, did they?
In a word, yes. Feel free to watch the 3 hour work session for yourself and fact check me. To further shed light on this, at the 2:48:04 mark in the video, school board director Sunita Garg references the disparities in disciplinary rates before asking this question: “How much implicit bias training do teachers get? Like is there a requirement or what happens there? This is the response from Dr. Cordie:
So umm I can't speak as much to what that professional development has looked like umm up until now, though I know, I do know that it has been rigorous. But as our Office of Equity and Inclusion has been working diligently umm to learn and understand the modules that have been recently created by ODE (Oregon Department of Education) Those will be the, there are multiple modules with several umm modules and clusters within them and this is one of the primary areas of focus and in that professional development and we know from hearing from Dr. Balderas and knowing the importance of that professional development that that is going to be the #1 umm professional development series that we ensure is offered to all.. that is required for all staff in the coming years. In rolling that out, and that is a key part of those series.
Here are the key points I gathered from this exchange:
District leaders and board members agree that teacher and other staff biases are the cause of disparities in student discipline
Dr. Cordie doesn’t know what implicit bias training they’ve done in the past, but she knows it was “rigorous”
Even though no evidence or root cause analysis for the disparities was presented or discussed and staff have already had “rigorous” implicit bias training before, the #1 professional development subject for years to come will be implicit bias
For those interested, here is a link to the ODE materials (Engaging Equity: Equitable Mindsets, Practices, and Systems) that Dr. Cordie referenced above. They are available to the public for everyone to review.
Deception with data
Later during their review of the data between the first semester of last year and this year, Dr. Jon Bridges, Administrator for Accountability, explained how discipline rates had changed for different student racial groups. Starting at the 2:11:20 point in the video, Dr. Bridges lies through distortion, meaning he is providing misleading information to hide the truth.
So the good news there is that, our black students in the first semester of 21-22 were 4.5 times more likely to be excluded from class whether that’s an in school suspension, out of school suspension, or expulsion. 4.5 times more likely than white students. We've reduced that disproportionality to 2.9 the first semester of this year. It's a huge improvement.
I do want to call out how to understand what Dr. Bridges meant when he said Black students were disciplined at 4.5 times the rate of White students in 2021-22. It’s just a simple comparison of the percentages in the chart above.
1.8% of White students were disciplined, or put another way, roughly 18 out of every 1000 White students would have received one or more suspensions or expulsions in the first semester.
7.9% of Black students were disciplined in the same time period, or roughly at a rate of 79 for every 1000 Black students, and 79 is roughly 4.5 times higher than 18.
Just one example of distorting the truth to deceive the community
I say Dr. Bridges lied through distortion because he narrowed the data to only compare last year to this year. As last year was the year right after returning from the pandemic lockdown, it made it appear the district had made significant improvements. However, nothing is further from the truth.
Here’s a chart using BSD’s disciplinary data, provided through public records requests, showing what they call the “discipline risk ratios” for 2012-13 through 2021-22 (except the two years with incomplete data due to the pandemic, 2019-20 and 2020-21). This chart just shows you the difference in discipline rates like what I mentioned earlier. So for example, in the full 2021-22 school year, Black students (top, yellow line) were disciplined at a rate of 2.7 times higher than White students.
I also want to highlight what I believe is strange and also misleading about how they view and use this data. If you notice on the chart, White students are always 1.0. That’s because they are the baseline that every other group is compared against. So if 3.7% of White students were suspended in 2021-22, and the Black student “discipline risk ratio” is 2.7, that means 10% of Black students received one or more suspensions or expulsions that year (3.7% x 2.7 = ~10%). Those are the actual figures by the way.
For those who aren’t quite as passionate about data as I am, your head may already be spinning. The key takeaway is this. BSD made a radical shift in their approach to discipline, starting in the 2013-14 school year, when they implemented Restorative Practices (aka Restorative Justice), as a substitute for traditional discipline. This was and still is a poorly researched, unproven method of dealing with student behavior in schools. However, BSD leaders continue to ignore the truth and push this failed approach to discipline while putting students and staff at risk.
For more information about what led to BSD implementing Restorative Justice and how it progressed over the past decade, please see this video below. It’s a recording of a livestream conversation I had with Scarlen Valderaz at Parents Defending Education. It is now one of several resources they’ve made available to inform parents about discipline in schools.
Another sneaky lie, this time by fabrication
During the meeting and in their data report provided to the board, the district leaders repeatedly referred to a specific target for these discipline risk ratios. For example, their report stated:
A goal for reducing disproportionality would be to have odds ratios for all student racial/ethnic groups to be 1.3 or less.
If you view the video starting at the 2:12:17 mark, Dr. Bridges tried to recall where this citation came from. He thought it was either from the Office of Civil Rights or some research literature on the matter. Unfortunately, no one during the meeting provided the citation nor was it in the report the submitted to the board.
I have been following BSD’s disciplinary approach and data for a couple of years now, and I’ve had multiple conversations with various administrators about this. Up until this meeting, I hadn’t heard them mention this 1.3 or lower target before. So I reached out to Dr. Cordie and Dr. Bridges to get for this citation, and here is the response I got from Dr. Cordie:
In reference to your question about the data linked to reducing disparities, this is based on the EEOC 80% rule. Here’s a link to the article:
Citation: Meier, P., Sacks, J., & Zabell, S. L. (1984). What Happened in Hazelwood: Statistics, Employment Discrimination, and the 80% Rule. American Bar Foundation Research Journal, 9(1), 139–186. http://www.jstor.org/stable/828307
When below 80% is defined as underrepresentation in a positive outcome like employment, then 1/80% = 125% is defined as overrepresentation for a negative outcome like discipline. 125% = 1.25 which rounds to 1.3.
Wikipedia article on disparate impact: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disparate_impact
So let me explain why this response is truly absurd. There was no guidance from the Office of Civil Rights or research literature on disproportionate disciplinary rates. Their source for the “1.3 or lower” target is a 39 year old American Bar Foundational Research Journal article where the authors are making an argument for using the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 80% rule to identify potential issues of employment discrimination. Dr. Cordie also provided a Wikipedia article on Disparate Impact, which also made no mention of student discipline or any citation related to it.
I can’t stress enough how reckless and bizarre their target of “1.3 or lower” is. This in essence establishes quotas for disciplinary rates. Or better put, it could establish limits, or be a precursor to eliminating disciplinary consequences altogether. As Superintendent Balderas said, the rates of discipline they are seeing are closely matched by what we see around Oregon and the rest of the United States. Here’s a comparison of disciplinary rates between BSD, all of Oregon, and all of the US.
The key takeaway here is the data confirms what Superintendent Balderas said. There are differences in disciplinary rates all across the country when you compare them by race/ethnicity. However, there has been no evidence provided by BSD leaders to support their offensive and ridiculous claims that the disparities are the result of biased, racist, and sexist teachers and other staff.
If district leaders are so comfortable lying about something as important as this, you have to ask yourself, “Why are they doing this? Who is giving this direction to them? What else are they lying about?” Future stories will hopefully help address some of these questions and more.
A few final “nuggets” from this work session
Sprinkled throughout this session were some other interesting “nuggets” that I thought I’d share. I believe these show how out of touch these leaders are and the crazy stories they tell to cover for the terrible mistakes they’ve made in their approach to discipline over the past decade.
Dr. Bridges said the total number of class days missed due to discipline began to climb in a few years after their change in disciplinary approach, and even acknowledged it was prior to the pandemic. However, rather than stating the truth that it was because Restorative Practices/Justice was ineffective at curbing bad student behavior, he said it was due to schools dealing with increased vaping and marijuana use. Dr. Bridges provided no data to support that claim.
There were multiple references to how students can’t learn if they’re not in school. This is often stated as their rationale for moving away from traditional discipline and toward the unproven, ineffective Restorative Practices approach. The truth is rather than one student being removed for poor, disruptive behavior, they are left in the classroom for the teacher to deal with. So you have many cases where entire classrooms are cleared due to dis-regulated students and no one is learning.
One specific issue that wasn’t mentioned at all, but I’ve heard from MANY teachers about, is that of “copycats”. This relates back to the previous bullet, where teachers no longer can send disruptive students to the principal for more than a few minutes. Some teachers even half-jokingly shared that these disruptive kids often come back with a sticker and a lollypop, which were meant to calm them down but only end up rewarding the bad behavior. So it’s no surprise why we see students copying this bad behavior.
When reviewing the data, an example was provided that 3 elementary students accounted for over 100 incidents in the first semester. Some involved disciplinary actions, but not all. There was absolutely no mention of the impact these incidents had on the other students or their teachers. Clearly those 3 students are not getting the support they need, but what about the trauma and lost learning of all their classmates?
These are just some of the many examples of why using an “Equity Lens” leads to worse outcomes for everyone. More stories to follow!
Thanks for reading Save Oregon Schools! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Information and story tips can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.