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School Discipline: Equity at Issue

Extensive peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that students with frequent suspensions are more likely to become involved in gangs, drop out of school and become part of the juvenile justice system.

Years of suspicions about inequity in school discipline have also been investigated by a spate of reports. One by the UCLA Civil Rights project in 2011 revealed that in 2006, 28 percent of African American male middle school students were suspended at least once, while the  rate was just 10 percent for white males.

Following that, another review by  UCLA researchers in 2012 pegged suspension rates for African American students at 17.7 percent—more than twice California’s overall rate at 7.5 percent. And African Americans were three times more likely to be suspended than whites.

Probably some of the most shocking statistics I have seen were in the report “Breaking School Rules” which found 83% of African American males and 74% of Latino males in Texas were suspended at least once in grades 7-12.

UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civvies  researchers have argued that excluding students from school while being disciplined causes them to miss important instructional time, and may result in a “greater risk of disengagement and diminished educational opportunities.”

There is data to support that claim: students disciplined more than 10 times have only a 40 percent chance of graduating from high school, according to Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization of law enforcement leaders, attorneys and survivors of violence. The organization also reports that dropouts are eight times more likely to end up behind bars.

Recently some school districts in California have changed their student discipline policies to emphasize use of alternative practices like restorative justice , counseling, drug treatment and other social services within the school setting.  For further background, see this review of the suspension/expulsion issue from the California School Boards Association. Has it worked?

The most recent study from The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles entitled Closing the School Discipline Gap in California: Signs of Progress finds that,

The number of suspensions declined from 709,580 total suspensions in 2011-12 to 503,101 in 2013-14. The rate of suspensions in California’s public schools declined over these three years from 11.4 per 100 students enrolled in 2011-12 to 8.1 per 100 students enrolled in 2013-14. This rate reduction represents 206,479 fewer suspensions, which means that far fewer students will incur the added risk for dropping out and juvenile justice involvement associated with suspension from school.

Dan Losen characterized the findings in a personal communication.

We say “signs of progress” because in the national context there really are important steps being taken in California. However, the report does highlight that huge and disturbing inequities persist.
The new ESSA bill allows for new dashboards for school success in a variety of new areas. Losen relayed,
In light of ESSA’s passage it’s important to encourage other states to include school climate and discipline as the other indicator as LCAP does to some degree.

For more on California’s existing Local Accountability (LCFF and LCAPs) approach click here.

Finally, to discuss the issue and discipline options with less punitive effects on students, former Assembly Member Roger Dickinson – who in 2014 carried legislation to eliminate “willful defiance” as a reason for expelling students – will be at Sacramento State at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19. He will be joined by a local school board member and superintendent, who will comment on the policy and practical impacts of Assembly Bill 420, which goes into effect July 1, 2018.

See all of Cloaking Inequity posts on school discipline here.

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Special thanks to Kristi Garrett for contributing to this post.

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About Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig (653 Articles)
Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

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