Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Answer Is in the Same Edition

The Star Tribune's front-page story from Sunday's paper, Race Drives School Labels, Discipline, showed something is very wrong with how some kids are classified and treated in the schools of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The percent of black kids labeled as EBD (emotional or behavioral disorder) is strongly out of proportion, compared to national averages.

The pattern, as exemplified in St. Paul is this: white kids are more likely to be labeled autistic (24 percent of enrollment, but two-thirds of the autistic) while black kids are EBD (30 percent of enrollment but two-thirds of the EBD).

And get this:

...about 23 percent of white students with autism are at their grade level on standardized tests compared with 4 to 8 percent of black EBD students, even though most EBD students have average IQs or better. The difference, she said, is the focus on discipline in EBD classrooms and the lack of rigorous instruction.
EBD has a vague, subjective, and even illogical definition according to the story:
Marked by range of behaviors that can include depression, physical aggression, frequent anxiety, self-mutilation, intimidation, failing to express emotion, or inappropriate laughter.
So depression, anxiety, self-mutilation, and failing to express emotion are classed with physical aggression and intimidation? Does that make any sense?

From the story, it sounds like St. Paul is taking aggressive action to reverse its placement of EBD students, bringing them back to mainstream classrooms. It's not going well, according to teachers who have complained to their supervisors and the school board. Which makes sense, if, as was mentioned in one example, 11 EBD kids suddenly get put in a single mainstream classroom. Whose idea was that?

Ironically, there was a brief story in the same edition's Variety section called Help for Antisocial Kids. Condensed from an L.A. Times story, the recommendations were directly applicable to our local schools' situation:
Scientists studying the degree to which brain function, parental involvement and environment determine antisocial outbursts in children have found that social support and intervention can successfully moderate misbehavior.

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied the amygdala — the part of the brain that processes fear and impulsive reactions — for clues about extreme behavior in children.

The amygdala is associated with aggressive behavior, anxiety disorders and depression. Once that region of the brain is stimulated, they found, some people become anxious and overreact to perceived threats.

If the child is not getting help from others — family, neighbors or professional — then the link between the amygdala and anxious behavior is stronger.

The tendency to overreact can be altered by a child’s environment, and the same researchers found in another study that impulsive kids are at higher risk of engaging in antisocial behavior if they live in ‘dangerous’ neighborhoods.

The Michigan scientists used neurogenetics, which combines genetics, neuroscience and psychology, to understand the propensity to extreme behavior. They also drew a distinction between normal childhood misbehavior and serious behavioral issues that will persist into adolescence....

“The results of this test aren’t really meaningful until age 3 or 3 1/2,” said researcher Luke Hyde. “Before that, many of these behaviors are fairly common and don’t predict anything. But after age 3, if children are still behaving in these ways, their behavior is more likely to escalate in the following years rather than improve.”

Hyde found that even children who regularly exhibited antisocial behavior did well when parents or others intervened by spending time with their children, using timeouts instead of physical punishment and rewarding good behavior.
Like all things worth doing in schools, using these findings to help kids would cost more money than is currently being spent on the equivalent of rubber rooms.


This is what I get for writing a blog post a day ahead of time: Today's Star Tribune contained a counterpoint commentary to the EBD story by a retired Minneapolis science teacher. Bill Holden argues that black boys are labeled EBD because they're more likely to grow up in an honor culture where violence is needed to maintain "respect." And that when there are just a few kids in a class with that acculturation, peer norms can correct it, but when 40 percent of a class comes from that background, there's no chance the other students can have an effect. Holden also noted the presence of the "help for antisocial kids" article in the same issue.

I wish I could hear what Carl Hart has to say about Holden's point.

No comments: