New state data show a steep drop in suspensions and expulsions of California students, continuing a recent downward trend. Altogether, 20 percent fewer students were expelled and 15 percent fewer students were suspended in 2013-14 than in the previous year.

Since 2011-12, suspensions have dropped by 25 percent and expulsions by 30 percent.

A steep drop in suspensions for “willful defiance” accounted for the bulk of the decrease in suspensions. This category has come under fire because it has been used to discipline a wide range of behaviors, from forgetting homework to disrespecting teachers, and has been applied disproportionately to African-American students. About 76,000 fewer suspensions for willful defiance or disruption of school activities were recorded in 2013-14, a drop of about 29 percent from the previous year. The number of suspensions includes multiple suspensions of the same students.

The percentage of students expelled for willful defiance also dropped, from 6 percent in 2012-13 to 4 percent in 2013-14. Beginning in January 2015, students can no longer be expelled for willful defiance, and K-3 students cannot be suspended for that reason.

“These numbers show that the work of the department, districts, teachers, parents, and students around the state is paying off by keeping more students in school and learning,” said Tom Torlakson, superintendent of public instruction, in a press release. “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if students are not in school. That’s why we have put so much effort into increasing school attendance and reducing expulsions and suspensions and will continue to do so.”

“It’s very encouraging to see significant progress two years in a row,” said Laura Faer, education rights director for Public Counsel. “But we want to be cautious about our enthusiasm. We want to make sure the implementation is long-lasting and that we are reaching the children with social and emotional learning problems.”

The drop in the numbers of students suspended and expelled was substantial for all ethnicities, but African-American students remain disproportionately disciplined. They make up 6.2 percent of student enrollment but accounted for 16.4 percent of suspensions in 2013-14, a slightly higher percentage than the year before. Former Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who sponsored the legislation that curtailed the use of willful defiance, said he was encouraged by the results but that the disproportionate suspensions of African-American students “remind us that significant work must be done.”

Laura Faer, education rights director for Public Counsel, a public interest law firm based in Los Angeles, said it was “very encouraging to see significant progress two years in a row.” Her firm has worked with legislators and educators to encourage more positive disciplinary practices in schools.

“But we want to be cautious about our enthusiasm,” Faer said. “We want the numbers to reflect real school climate and culture changes that benefit students and teachers. We want to make sure the implementation is long-lasting and that we are reaching the children with social and emotional learning problems.”

Faer says she is “cautiously optimistic” that the drop in suspensions and expulsions “are reflecting real changes.” Public Counsel has reviewed 64 Local Control and Accountability Plans, which describe how districts plan to spend their funds and must include ways they are going to improve school climate. In that review, 75 percent of the districts planned to implement more positive disciplinary practices. And 15 of the districts are using restorative justice approaches to discipline, which require students to take responsibility for their behavior and make amends to those they have harmed. For example, if a student disrupts a class, he could apologize to the class and stay after school to help the teacher prepare for the next day.

New data released by Oakland Unified, which has been implementing restorative justice practices since 2010 in some of its schools, show improvement in reading and graduation rates. The percentage of 9th-graders reading at grade level more than doubled at restorative justice high schools, from 14 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2013. That compares to an increase of 11 percent in other schools in the district. During that same period, dropout rates declined by 56 percent in Oakland Unified high schools with restorative justice compared to 17 percent in other high schools.

“We must find ways to ensure students are in school every day, engaged in learning and feel valued and supported by adults,” said Oakland Unified superintendent Antwan Wilson in a press release. “Excessively punitive strategies, particularly for infractions such as ‘defiance,’ have proved counterproductive and driven children away from school. Our restorative approach is aimed at addressing the underlying problems behind student misconduct and creating positive practices to strengthen culture and improve student behavior.”

Other districts, including Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco Unified and Pasadena Unified, have eliminated willful defiance as a reason to suspend or expel any student.

Azusa Unified in Los Angeles County also no longer suspends or expels students for that reason, according to Garry Creel, director of child welfare and attendance for the district.

“Suspensions don’t change behavior,” Creel said. “There are better ways to change behavior rather than excluding a student from school.”

 


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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Gary, there you go again....right-wing think tanks are to blame. For what? The fact that we are only one of the highest taxed states but THE highest? The fact that we are one of the bluest states in the nation and and have a serious debt problem wouldn't have anything to do with the Democrats. No. It's the right-wing think tanks that are undermining the state. Lewis Carroll has nothing on you. What would … Read More

    Gary, there you go again….right-wing think tanks are to blame. For what? The fact that we are only one of the highest taxed states but THE highest? The fact that we are one of the bluest states in the nation and and have a serious debt problem wouldn’t have anything to do with the Democrats. No. It’s the right-wing think tanks that are undermining the state. Lewis Carroll has nothing on you. What would the EdSource comments section be without you to entertain and guide us?

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    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      Correction: one of the highest taxed states but NOT the highest?

  2. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    “Suspensions don’t change behavior,” Creel said. “There are better ways to change behavior rather than excluding a student from school.” I would agree, in part, with this statement. As someone who (actually) spent 35 years in the classroom I obviously encountered many instances of student behavior that was disruptive. And, as has been stated by others, my impulse was to send these students out of class and frequently they were suspended. And that would not have … Read More

    “Suspensions don’t change behavior,” Creel said. “There are better ways to change behavior rather than excluding a student from school.”

    I would agree, in part, with this statement. As someone who (actually) spent 35 years in the classroom I obviously encountered many instances of student behavior that was disruptive. And, as has been stated by others, my impulse was to send these students out of class and frequently they were suspended. And that would not have much impact on behavior overall in some cases, but did in others.

    l had significant reservations about Assemblyman Dickinson’s bill and I conveyed those doubts to him in a fairly lengthy meeting at his office. I believed that to tie the hands of administrators without providing added resources to deal with disruptive students was unwise. To a certain extent, but certainly not fully, LCFF has dealt with some of those concerns. The most challenged schools will now get some supplementary funding to provide services for the most challenged students.

    I can say this with some certainty. What we were doing before, in the most extreme cases, didn’t work. We had a thousand students at our school with two full time counselors. They certainly didn’t have the time to deal with the most troubled students. Counseling that results in true changes in attitude and fundamental changes in behavior can take years. I will say that the district secondary schools adopted “in-house suspension” which did reduce overall the number of students serving out-of-school suspension. State requirements that these classes be manned by credentialed personnel was a cost factor. And, yes, at the bargaining table we agreed to fund this “for the kids.” For full disclosure, some of the costs were offset by increased ADA.

    So, I am experiencing a change in perspective re this whole concept. I should add that I had experienced several encounters with the “restorative justice” people over the years and had not found the experience all that rewarding, nor did i see it as positive for the instructional program. However, maybe they are on to something, which this “study” seems to suggest if not establish conclusively. What we were doing before was not having the kinds of positive outcomes everyone wanted to see. Let’s try this and see if the results continue to show promise.

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    • Andrew 2 years ago2 years ago

      When do California teachers reach the breaking point? Will teachers bear most of the weight of this additional burden posed by keeping misbehaving students in the classroom? It is easy to legislate such requirements when resources are not added and as seems to always be the case, already overworked teachers are expected to pick up all the additional work and burdens for free. CA teachers are already challenged with the worst teacher staffing ratios … Read More

      When do California teachers reach the breaking point? Will teachers bear most of the weight of this additional burden posed by keeping misbehaving students in the classroom? It is easy to legislate such requirements when resources are not added and as seems to always be the case, already overworked teachers are expected to pick up all the additional work and burdens for free.

      CA teachers are already challenged with the worst teacher staffing ratios in the nation and the worst ratios of administrators and psychologists and counselors. Then we add the additional burden of common core to the backs of teachers. With the challenges of high numbers of ELL students. Plus the SPED federal intervention and push for inclusion of more special ed students in regular classrooms with the expectation that general ed teachers will get more special ed training and assume additional burdens with special ed along with all their other burdens.

      I will agree that California teachers need effective unions in such circumstances. With such outcomes so far regarding overloading of teachers, I have to ask how effective the unions are?

      • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

        Andrew: It is difficult to refute the assertions you've made about conditions in CA's schools. The Right/Libertarian special interests in the US have, since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater, established think-tanks [sic] (and lately media outlets) that endlessly crank out any-government/anti-tax screeds at such a rate that they have become a part of the fabric of "conventional wisdom" in the nation. For a variety of reasons CA, in the anti-tax realm, has been a particularly … Read More

        Andrew:

        It is difficult to refute the assertions you’ve made about conditions in CA’s schools.

        The Right/Libertarian special interests in the US have, since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater, established think-tanks [sic] (and lately media outlets) that endlessly crank out any-government/anti-tax screeds at such a rate that they have become a part of the fabric of “conventional wisdom” in the nation. For a variety of reasons CA, in the anti-tax realm, has been a particularly fertile ground for this propaganda. It begins, of course, with Prop 13 whose impacts have cascaded in negative ways throughout the state since the 1970s. It was just a few years after Prop 13, 1985, that CA’s average spending for dollars (unadjusted) for students fell below the national average and it has been declining ever since. Which brings us to today where, in (adjusted) dollars, CA spending per student is in the bottom decile of the 50 states. It is a straight line from the impacts of Prop 13, and not just the property taxes but also the other requirements for raising state and local revenues, to those conditions you describe, ” the worst teacher staffing ratios in the nation and the worst ratios of administrators and psychologists and counselors.”

        Governor Brown took quite a beat-down from the pro-Prop 13 folks during his first round as Governor. He, at that time, quite accurately anticipated the negative effects Prop13 would have on his (and our) state. However, for whatever reason that experience appears to have proved somewhat traumatic which (it can be assumed) had led to his very cautious moves currently with the budget and expressed attitude about taxes. There is yet another burst of irony here, as Brown was extolling the surge in the state’s economy the other day. CA’s GDP will soon exceed that of Brazil, and will be the 7th largest economy in the world again. And, yet, we cannot afford, to bring school spending to the national average or rebuild the social programs for the poor that were cut during the recession while CA now leads the nation in poverty. Right.

        In the Governor’s and the unions’ favor is the fact that bucking all trends and all political tides since the 1970s, Prop 30 did get passed. This immediately put a stop to the necessity to cut school funding and has generally contributed to the “unexpected” growth in the state’s revenue stream. Making Prop 30 permanent, making needed adjustments to Prop 13, reversing tax cuts to business and auto vehicle registration, as well as other various tax adjustments that can be considered the “low hanging fruit” of the potential revenue stream (e.g., an oil severance tax), will create a revenue stream in the state that will allow for correction of many of the educational deficits you accurately describe.

        The burden for dealing with the state mandates re student suspension/expulsion will fall on the shoulders of teachers and those burdens are most readily mediated by lowering class sizes and increasing support staff at the state’s schools. This requires more revenue and, as education already take 50% of state revenues, the cuts cannot come from other areas without causing significant harm and suffering.

      • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

        They’ve already past a breaking point. That’s why they move schools and/or districts when they can.

  3. Andrew 2 years ago2 years ago

    Let's rewrite the Tom Torlakson quote . . . “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if students are not in school. That’s why we have put so much effort into increasing school attendance and reducing expulsions and suspensions and will continue to do so.” A little rewording . . . . “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best … Read More

    Let’s rewrite the Tom Torlakson quote . . .

    “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if students are not in school. That’s why we have put so much effort into increasing school attendance and reducing expulsions and suspensions and will continue to do so.”

    A little rewording . . . .

    “You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if defiant and disruptive students prevent the rest of the class from learning. That’s why we have put so much effort into keeping bad behavior out of the classroom and will continue to do so, so that students who want to learn can learn.”

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    • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      Great rewording!

  4. MB 2 years ago2 years ago

    In front of my house I have two types of ground covering; brick and landscape. When it rains, if I stand on the brick then I don't get wet. If I stand on the landscape then I am sure to get wet. Therefore, I can conclude that standing on brick will keep a person dry during a rainstorm and I recommend that everyone who wants to stay dry when it's raining should always walk on … Read More

    In front of my house I have two types of ground covering; brick and landscape. When it rains, if I stand on the brick then I don’t get wet. If I stand on the landscape then I am sure to get wet. Therefore, I can conclude that standing on brick will keep a person dry during a rainstorm and I recommend that everyone who wants to stay dry when it’s raining should always walk on a brick surface. Now, I’ve mentioned nothing of the overhang that extends from my house to the end of the brick ground covering but, that’s beside the point. You see, my husband owns a brick-laying company and if people believe my recommendation then that’s good for business.

    Have I made my point? Do you see the absurdity of your assertion? As a reporter or commentator you have an obligation to your readers to substantiate your claims with evidence (but, alas, you were obviously not schooled during the days of common core!). Your type of reporting could lead people to do stupid things…

    “Little Johnny walks into his classroom wearing a single glove. His teacher asks him what he’s doing. ‘Well ma’am,’ says Johnny. ‘I was watching the weather program on TV and it said it was going to be sunny, but on the other hand it could get quite cold.’”

    I expected more from EdSource.

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    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      Ms. Frey said, "When the data are this dramatic, are we supposed to ignore them?" Well, no. So why did you? Accepted the information as valid and conclusive without even knowing what the information is or what it entails, I call that ignoring it. Last year my son came home upset and on the verge of tears on a daily basis because he couldn't concentrate in class due to the constant interruptions of unruly and disrespectful … Read More

      Ms. Frey said, “When the data are this dramatic, are we supposed to ignore them?”

      Well, no. So why did you? Accepted the information as valid and conclusive without even knowing what the information is or what it entails, I call that ignoring it.

      Last year my son came home upset and on the verge of tears on a daily basis because he couldn’t concentrate in class due to the constant interruptions of unruly and disrespectful students. Restorative Practices kept the students in school and in class where they could continue to detract from the daily efforts of the enthusiastic students like my son for months on end. So when reporters like Ms. Fray trot out facile and unsubstantiated claims about the wonders of RP, of course I’m disgusted. And not just because of our own experiences, but because, as a former teacher myself, I know just how difficult it can be to teach a class where behavioral issues become the primary focus.

      Mr. Osborne, reader ought to scrutinize the quality of the content. Perhaps you feel differently.

  5. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    And then there’s the picture of empty seats – kind of a questionable choice for an article entitled “Suspensions, Expulsions Down Statewide”.

  6. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Ms. Frey, basically what you are saying is the data is so compelling there’s no reason to dig any deeper, including finding out if it’s even accurate. Nice work if you can get it. But not suited to my tastes.

  7. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Mr. Frey, as you know correlation is not causation. Your reporting links Restorative Justice with increased student outcomes in OUSD, but you haven't provided any explanation to support this contention. You rely on a OUSD document that makes the same unfounded correlation. You claim there is new data. Did you check to see what that data is and what the results are? It can't be statewide standardized testing since that isn't new and … Read More

    Mr. Frey, as you know correlation is not causation. Your reporting links Restorative Justice with increased student outcomes in OUSD, but you haven’t provided any explanation to support this contention. You rely on a OUSD document that makes the same unfounded correlation. You claim there is new data. Did you check to see what that data is and what the results are? It can’t be statewide standardized testing since that isn’t new and is on hiatus. Can you provide the readers with any documentation to demonstrate the causal relationship you infer between RJ and student achievement? Is there anything at all other than OUSD’s unverified claim? Just being out of school less is no reason to conclude that students will necessarily take to schooling, studying and achieving better. Torlakson’s statement that students must be in school to learn is incomplete. Just showing up doesn’t equate to productivity. It’s only a start.

    Following the link you provided to OUSD offers no further information in this regard. However, in the conclusion of the executive summary it says – “Use more rigorous evaluation design, such as quasi-experimental study to examine impact of restorative justice tiered program and specific practices on specific student outcomes.” OUSD itself see a need for in-depth examination of RJ on student outcomes.

    I’m in favor of practical solutions and not opposed to RJ as a tool to resolve problems in school in lieu of suspension, though I don’t see any reason to conclude that racism is at the heart of high suspensions for African Americans based upon some ill-conceived notions of proportionality.

    I go to Ed Source to get quality reporting on the issues, to read the editorial articles and, of course to read and comment as appropriate. It upsets me when editorializing masquerades as reporting.

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    • Susan Frey 2 years ago2 years ago

      Don,
      When the data are this dramatic, are we supposed to ignore them? In any complex system, such as a school district, causation is next to impossible to prove. But strong correlations are interesting and worth noting and further exploring.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        We don't know what the data consists of or, if you do know, you didn't tell us so I'm not swayed by your contention that the evidence is dramatic and you shouldn't be either. A bit of skepticism is healthy in a reporter. Without that data, at least, how can I put any stock in OUSD, which might be just blowing its own horn as districts do. And data is easy to manipulate … Read More

        We don’t know what the data consists of or, if you do know, you didn’t tell us so I’m not swayed by your contention that the evidence is dramatic and you shouldn’t be either. A bit of skepticism is healthy in a reporter. Without that data, at least, how can I put any stock in OUSD, which might be just blowing its own horn as districts do. And data is easy to manipulate for the desired outcome. For example, I extensively researched the academic outcome of STAR tests on SFUSD SIG schools. While SFUSD was announcing to the press its successes, the data did not jibe with the district PR on the subject. But how many people actually look to see the STAR results and if what they’re saying is correct? That what reporters should do. Many SIG schools were accustomed to having a fair number of STAR test participants do nothing more than fill in bubbles – the chronic lowest achievers. Once they trained students to actually pay attention to the test I because the better results were crucial to the PR campaign) the scores rose at 2-3 schools. Does that indicate that students achieved more, even if they may have? No. Not necessarily. If OUSD has good data, where is it? What does it consist of? Don’t these questions concern you?

        And by the way, the USDE acknowledged the widespread failure of the School Improvement Grants nationwide, a multi- billion dollar scandal that Ed Source hasn’t bothered to report on to date. (Perhaps it doesn’t fit your agenda for public schools.) SFUSD was no different than California and the nation in SIG outcome despite the hype given to an unsuspecting public in the press, Tucker in particular. About $50 million was spent on 9 schools when it was all over and with the exception of 2 or 3 that might have made some reasonable gains the rest either followed the district average or worse.

        I hope that RJ as a behavioral model is effective. But you have provided nothing in the article to convince me that it is. The fact that you rely on unsubstantiated information to draw a conclusion alerts me to your bias and the low likelihood that I will get any information from you worth consideration.
        Sorry!

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