Superintendents surveyed about suspensions

July 29, 2014

Superintendents say teachers are the group most likely to object to policies that would reduce student suspensions, according to a new national survey on school discipline released Monday by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the nonprofit advocacy group the Children’s Defense Fund.

At the same time, conflict between teachers or staff and students is the leading reason for out-of-school suspensions, with 40 percent of superintendents surveyed stating that insubordination, defiance, failure to obey and disrespect of teachers and staff are the most common causes of suspension. Another 30 percent of superintendents said fighting is the most common cause.

The survey of 500 superintendents was conducted as part of a collaboration between the Virginia-based superintendents group, which has 13,000 members nationwide, and the Washington, D.C.-based Children’s Defense Fund. The partnership aims to assess current discipline practices, find solutions that keep children in school and improve school climate, according to the superintendents group. A full report on the survey will be forthcoming, the group said.

Of those who responded, 72 percent of superintendents said they expected opposition to suspension-reduction programs from teachers and 57 percent said they expected pushback from principals.

More than half of the superintendents surveyed said they expected parents and students to support policy changes that would reduce out-of-school suspensions.

“We either pay now or quite frankly, you pay later, in the prison system,” said Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Among other findings, the superintendents surveyed were not interested in collecting additional data as a way to manage discipline practices. “Only 11 percent believe a greater focus on data would improve discipline rates,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director of policy and advocacy for the superintendents group.

Asked what would have the greatest impact on reducing suspensions and expulsions, 58 percent said greater parent involvement, 40 percent said building student skills in conflict resolution and social and emotional understanding, 38 percent said more mental health supports and 38 percent said training for teachers and staff on creating positive relationships with students.

The superintendents group presented the survey results in a webinar that also featured remarks from Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, where suspension rates have fallen in the last three years, as has the number of students being identified as having an emotional “disturbance” and referred to special education.

Carranza said data was at the core of  his district’s efforts: tracking which schools, classrooms and teachers are suspending students the most, what interventions specific students have received and how restorative practices to make amends have been used to help the student make a bad situation right.

Behavior management is supported by tiers of interventions, he said, including programs to reinforce positive behavior, evaluations and trainings by behavior analysts, mental health counseling and what he called “emergency triage for extreme behaviors.”

More broadly, Carranza said, “This is a crisis for us in American education. This cannot be the system we have designed…where a certain segment of the student population cannot be successful. It’s a social justice issue. We either pay now or quite frankly, you pay later, in the prison pipeline system.”

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