Credit: Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource Today
A student holds a welcoming sign at Roosevelt Middle School in Oakland.

The number of students expelled and suspended from California schools continued to decline in 2014-15 as more school districts focused on resolving behavior issues without taking students out of class for long periods of time, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said Wednesday.

“The research and data are abundantly clear in this area: Removing children from school and keeping them away from an educational environment can be very harmful,” Torlakson said in a statement. He credited the decline to a growing commitment by the California Department of Education and school districts to providing “effective solutions” to increase school attendance and learning, including programs such as restorative practices, which allow students to make amends for the harm their actions have caused, and teaching students how to regulate their emotions.

The number of students expelled in 2014-15 dropped by 13.9 percent compared to the year before while the number of students suspended at least once declined by 12.8 percent, according to California Department of Education data. The data represent an unduplicated count of students who were suspended or expelled; students who were suspended or expelled multiple times are counted only once in the totals, according to the data report generated by the state education database, Data-Quest.

State-suspension-chart-2016

In a state with a student population of 6.2 million, 5,692 students were expelled in 2014-15, a decline of 919 students compared to the previous year. Suspensions were given at least once to 243,603 students, a decline of 35,780 students from the year before, the state reported.

Improved data reporting at the California Department of Education that began in 2011-12 drew increased attention to the high numbers of suspensions and expulsions in schools across the state, particularly for African-American students, the department said. The data prompted a new law, community actions and school district policy changes, the state said.

Among them was the passage of Assembly Bill 420, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, that eliminated the use of “willful defiance” as a reason to expel students in grades K-12 and as a reason to suspend students in grades K-3. The term is a loosely defined category that includes disruptive behavior.

The biggest percentage decline in suspensions was in the willful defiance category for the third year in a row, the state said. In 2014-15, 129,835 suspensions for defiant behavior were reported, a drop of 58,103 from the previous year.

Advocates praised the decline in punitive discipline and called for continued training and support for school employees.

“There’s a  lot of good work being done at the local level by school districts — and there are just as many if not more places that have a lot of work to do,” said Lauren Brady, directing attorney for statewide education rights at Public Counsel, a public interest law firm. Those school districts can look to their peer districts in other parts of the state for ideas on how to support teachers, staff, administrators and students in a move to nonpunitive methods of resolving conflict, she said. The state has launched a Behavioral Intervention Strategies and Supports website to further that collaboration.

The state’s education finance system introduced in July 2013, known as the Local Control Funding Formula, has been “a game changer” for school discipline practices, said Angelica Salazar, a senior policy associate at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund California. The funding accountability plan requires school districts to track measures of school climate, including rates of suspensions and expulsions and results from student, parent and staff surveys about the welcoming environment on campus, she noted.

“It really elevated the importance of school climate to student success,” Salazar said. Now that the federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, calls for states to create their own evaluation systems to measure student success, Salazar said she and other advocates are pressing to have school climate included as an indicator.

Unless there is a sustained commitment from school leaders, and the requirement that discipline results be measured, sweeping changes in how schools understand and address student behavior are “not going to succeed,” she said.

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  1. Sherry 2 months ago2 months ago

    We also need to consider the impact on other children of having disruptive and potentially dangerous children in the classroom. I don’t see any consideration of this in the article.

  2. Don 11 months ago11 months ago

    Exactly, Martha. Maybe you read the article in the LA Times from a few days ago -"Why some teachers are balking at a new approach to discipline problems." Excerpt: "Michael Lam, an eighth-grade math teacher, said he has seen an increase in student belligerence under new discipline policies. "Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?" he said, speaking at a recent forum held as part of the process to select the next superintendent of schools. … Read More

    Exactly, Martha.

    Maybe you read the article in the LA Times from a few days ago -“Why some teachers are balking at a new approach to discipline problems.”

    Excerpt:

    “Michael Lam, an eighth-grade math teacher, said he has seen an increase in student belligerence under new discipline policies.

    “Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?” he said, speaking at a recent forum held as part of the process to select the next superintendent of schools. “I’m afraid our standards are getting lower and lower.”

    “My teachers are at their breaking point,” Art Lopez, the school’s union representative, wrote to union official Colleen Schwab in a letter obtained by The Times. “Everyone working here is highly aware of how the lack of consequences has affected the site. Teachers with a high number of students with discipline issues are walking a fine line between extreme stress and a emotional meltdown.”

  3. Martha Infante 11 months ago11 months ago

    While I have worked with the Dept. of Education and agree with them on most initiatives, this is not one of them. The question about suspensions is usually framed around the one student being suspended, but no one is asking what happens to the other 39 students whose education is being disrupted when the misbehaving student remains in class. This is what a ban on suspension looks like: Teacher lecturing, student yelling out every 30 seconds "don't … Read More

    While I have worked with the Dept. of Education and agree with them on most initiatives, this is not one of them. The question about suspensions is usually framed around the one student being suspended, but no one is asking what happens to the other 39 students whose education is being disrupted when the misbehaving student remains in class.

    This is what a ban on suspension looks like:

    Teacher lecturing, student yelling out every 30 seconds “don’t care!” “boring!” “I hate this class!” “Deez nuts!” Every. 30. Seconds.

    Other students, warned to ignore these outbursts, struggle to learn the material, teacher struggles to maintain composure.

    Another scenario: student walks around class attempting to take classmates off task, using profanity, inappropriate language, throwing paper and pencil, and being 100% non-compliant.

    Try having both scenarios simultaneously.

    These kids are not allowed to be suspended for disrupting the behavior of the 39 students who were trying to learn. No additional funding is provided to meet the needs of the seriously challenged students. Restorative justice positions must be purchased from the school’s own budget which means now you have to choose between an attendance counselor, and ELA coach, a regular counselor, or a RJ counselor. By the way, counselor ratio at a middle school like mine is 750:1.

    Charter school proliferation has drained public school of the most able and successful families, leaving schools like mine with a higher percentage of children with learning and behavioral difficulties. (There is no suspension ban at charters. They play by their own rules.) Along with the creaming of the crop goes the funding that is attached to these students. So where we may have once qualified for 6 counselors, we are down to 2 (3 including an extra one allotted by Reed settlement) due to declining enrollment caused by charter drain.

    If a school or district was disproportionately suspending minority students, why not focus on those schools? Instead, system wide, a ban is implemented, and schools that were effectively using the suspension tool now have their hands tied. When I say that this new scenario is taking years off of teachers’ lives, I am not being dramatic.

    Last point: what is going to happen to these youth when they are out in society and are 100% non-compliant with law enforcement? Or at work? What lesson are we really teaching them?

    The drop in suspension rates is fraught with false claims of success and better school climates for children. It is a case of numbers lying.

    Martha Infante
    Teacher in South Central L.A.

  4. BRITT FERGUSON 11 months ago11 months ago

    The ineffectiveness of suspension and expulsion has long been known. It is good to see larger educational bodies considering alternatives which may be more effective.
    B. Ferguson

    Replies

    • Don 11 months ago11 months ago

      Britt, suspension bans are a political answer to a classroom problem born from the illogical application of racial proportionality to suspension statistics - an idea predicated on the primacy of equity over achievement. The proportionality proponents elevate discipline statistics over achievement statistics. Unruly students lead to more disciplinary time, less instructional time and, in turn, less learning and lower achievement. It's agreed that suspensions as a rule are not very effective for behavioral modification, … Read More

      Britt, suspension bans are a political answer to a classroom problem born from the illogical application of racial proportionality to suspension statistics – an idea predicated on the primacy of equity over achievement. The proportionality proponents elevate discipline statistics over achievement statistics. Unruly students lead to more disciplinary time, less instructional time and, in turn, less learning and lower achievement.

      It’s agreed that suspensions as a rule are not very effective for behavioral modification, but they are effective by reducing in-class disruption, which is essential to learning and that is the mission of public education, not making sure every race is suspended in term of proportion.

      We banned corporal punishment because battery is immoral and a crime against children. Banning students from school who consistently interrupt and degrade the instructional environment is a prudent measure when absolutely necessary and is not immoral or a crime against students. Until funding for additional counselors and training is made available to schools and programs like Restorative Practices are actually up, running and shown to be effective at each individual school site, only then would a replacement for suspensions be a viable alternative. You don’t eliminate an effective even if less ideal solution until you have a replacement.

      Teachers have a legal right under California law to remove unruly students from the classroom. At present administrators have few resources to provide alternative in-school suspension so they pressure teachers to keep student in class despite their legal right to remove them when necessary. Schools need resources to implement in-school suspensions where students receive services. This is very expensive considering the teacher to student ratio and further exacerbates the already high class sizes in California.

      Bottom line – Don’t sacrifice the education of children who come to school to learn.

  5. Lynn 11 months ago11 months ago

    Good Grief! Less suspensions does not necessarily mean the behavior has improved. The reason suspensions go down is simply that administrators refuse to suspend them. It has been my experience that the teachers are told to handle the situation in the classroom.

  6. Don 11 months ago11 months ago

    From a few weeks ago…

    latimes.com/local/education/la-me-school-discipline-20151108-story.html

    “My teachers are at their breaking point,” Art Lopez, the school’s union representative, wrote to union official Colleen Schwab in a letter obtained by The Times. “Everyone working here is highly aware of how the lack of consequences has affected the site. Teachers with a high number of students with discipline issues are walking a fine line between extreme stress and a emotional meltdown.”

  7. Isabel De La Cruz 11 months ago11 months ago

    I personally feel that Suspensions and expulsions should continue. If a student acts out in class and creates chaos in the class. The teacher is called every filty name the student can call them. That is wrong teachers don't get paid enough to put up with students that are defiant and disrespectful. What are we teaching them that it's okay to insult the teacher in front of the other students. That is … Read More

    I personally feel that Suspensions and expulsions should continue. If a student acts out in class and creates chaos in the class. The teacher is called every filty name the student can call them. That is wrong teachers don’t get paid enough to put up with students that are defiant and disrespectful. What are we teaching them that it’s okay to insult the teacher in front of the other students. That is absolutely bad policy. They keep the students because of ADA it’s the money. Teachers and authority are not being respected and that’s awful. Change the policy before the students run the schools.

  8. ThMorrigan 11 months ago11 months ago

    I'm not sure if suspensions are harmful or the students themselves are harming their education. None of the research I've seen says that the suspension itself is the cause of further misbehavior, disillusionment, and failure. All it really does it further expand upon the fact that these students, AKA the 1% or the time takers, have trouble with school and what comes after. Still not sure suspensions are the root cause. And from what … Read More

    I’m not sure if suspensions are harmful or the students themselves are harming their education. None of the research I’ve seen says that the suspension itself is the cause of further misbehavior, disillusionment, and failure. All it really does it further expand upon the fact that these students, AKA the 1% or the time takers, have trouble with school and what comes after.

    Still not sure suspensions are the root cause.

    And from what I’ve seen with the lessening of suspensions, I’m not sure anything is really “working” for all the parties involved.