Robert Ross

Both California’s experience and the latest academic research validate the view that fewer suspensions and improved campus climates are critical drivers of academic achievement and school success.

During the past several years, California has reduced out-of-school suspensions by nearly 40 percent, while academic achievement (as measured by the Academic Performance Index) increased.

Individual schools that embraced school climate improvement as a core strategy have experienced more dramatic gains. For example, James A. Garfield High School in Los Angeles was part of a three-year effort to improve school climate. As suspensions declined from 683 per year to one, API scores increased by more than 100 points.

These results are not surprising. Extensive study has shown that extreme school discipline policies simply don’t work. For example, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Zero Tolerance Policies found no evidence that increased suspension rates improved school climate or academic achievement. To the contrary, the Task Force reported that “the data that are available tend to contradict those assumptions.” Indeed, a recent review from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that “lower suspension rates correlate with higher achievement for every racial group in California.”

For these reasons and many more, the State Board of Education should include suspension rates as a key indicator of how well schools are serving all their students in the Local Control Funding Formula evaluation rubrics and accountability system.

In the future, the board should also consider additional key indicators related to school climate, including the disparities in suspension rates.

These gaps persist among all major racial and ethnic groups. For example, during the 2013-14 academic year:

  • African-American students faced a suspension risk 19.1 percentage points higher than did white students; and
  • American Indian students faced a suspension risk 11.1 percentage points higher than did white students.

These gaps have begun to decline in recent years, but their persistence remains a grave concern. Even a single suspension reduces the likelihood that a student will graduate high school, which in turn reduces lifetime earnings potential, increases risk for a wide variety of chronic health problems and reduces life expectancy. Given the severe and lifelong consequences of school suspension, closer monitoring of these disparities would be appropriate.

Going forward, the board should also include additional school climate measures in the evaluation rubrics and accountability system going beyond school discipline. For example, chronic absence, which is strongly correlated with lower graduation rates, merits special focus.

Additionally, results from school climate surveys should be considered as future key indicators. School climate, student engagement and parent involvement are key factors that create a productive learning environment with fewer classroom disruptions and closer relationships among educators, administrators, staff, parents and students.

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Dr. Robert Ross is president and CEO of The California Endowment, a private health foundation headquartered in Los Angeles.

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  1. Dave 2 years ago2 years ago

    We have not had API for the last three years!! As to Garfield High School's increase in scores, EVERYBODY in Local District East knows that that it was due to Garfield sending all their academically challenged students to the new high school schools that opened about the same time as the "increase" in scores. All the those students went to the Torres' schools; you just need to ask those principals to confirm the aforementioned fact. … Read More

    We have not had API for the last three years!! As to Garfield High School’s increase in scores, EVERYBODY in Local District East knows that that it was due to Garfield sending all their academically challenged students to the new high school schools that opened about the same time as the “increase” in scores. All the those students went to the Torres’ schools; you just need to ask those principals to confirm the aforementioned fact. Absolutely ZERO connection between scores and suspensions at Garfield, Dr. Ross. None. Simplistic and lazy research on your part.

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      Thanks for the info, Dave. I'm not from SoCal so I'm not up on what's going on at local schools. But it was clear to me that some of the the correlations in the article were not based upon sound evidence given the reference to data that doesn't exist. I think that was less about laziness and more about spin. That said, if disruption in the classroom is minimized, I see no problem at all … Read More

      Thanks for the info, Dave. I’m not from SoCal so I’m not up on what’s going on at local schools. But it was clear to me that some of the the correlations in the article were not based upon sound evidence given the reference to data that doesn’t exist. I think that was less about laziness and more about spin. That said, if disruption in the classroom is minimized, I see no problem at all with restorative practices. However, claiming reduced suspensions leads to better academic results fails to acknowledge that being in school is not the same as learning.

  2. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Glad to hear about positive changes at Garfield.

    Many factors contribute to academic performance. Is there any evidence to indicate the increased academic performance at Garfield is a direct consequence of reduced suspensions? The three-year effort, if recent, would not include three years of API data and most recent test data would have to be judged against STAR, a big no-no, according to the CDE.

    Replies

    • Floyd Thursby 2 years ago2 years ago

      Reduced suspensions hurts those it means to help. Just like police being afraid to be called racist has caused more, not less, blacks to be killed in Chicago, because policing quality has deteriorated, most black students go to school with other black kids, as our schools are highly segregated. Therefore, if you accept their acting out, they hurt the educational opportunity of kids who do hope to go to college and don't abuse … Read More

      Reduced suspensions hurts those it means to help. Just like police being afraid to be called racist has caused more, not less, blacks to be killed in Chicago, because policing quality has deteriorated, most black students go to school with other black kids, as our schools are highly segregated. Therefore, if you accept their acting out, they hurt the educational opportunity of kids who do hope to go to college and don’t abuse school as free therapy to act out and distract others to amuse themselves or for attention. It will hurt black and Latino performance.

      In most suburban schools, suspensions are rare, at least high income suburban schools. This won’t hurt them. This will increase the achievement gap. Maybe that’s by design, who knows. It won’t impact any politicians’ kids much. Gavin Newsom white flighted out of San Francisco rather than face the lottery, as did Chris Daly, and Pelosi, Feinstein and most other rich politicians used highly segregated private schools.