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Passing New York’s Next School Discipline Test


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A charter school rally at the Capitol (photo: The Governor's Office)


UFT President Michael Mulgrew raises important points about the negative impact of suspensions in his recent op-ed, “Charter Schools Can’t Suspend Their Way to Success.

There is no disputing Mr. Mulgrew’s argument that the excessive use of suspensions and other exclusionary disciplinary practices means that students (and especially students of color) miss out on class time and their education permanently suffers. No school – regardless of whether it’s a public charter school or district public school – should ever be able to “suspend its way to success.”

The good news is that New York can do something about it – right now.

In Albany, state leaders are working on a major overhaul of how New York measures school performance and provides urgency, resources, and support to help schools that are not succeeding for any group of students. These changes are possible under a federal education law that President Obama signed, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

While academic measures like reading and math achievement must – and should – remain the most important aspect of how we measure school performance, there’s also room for a small number of additional measures of school quality and student success that capture other important student outcomes that schools can control and that have a clear link to achievement.

Without a doubt, reducing suspensions meets those criteria.

A recent study by the California Dropout Research Project and The Civil Rights Project at the University of California found that “suspensions themselves directly reduce the graduation rates of suspended students” – resulting in a 6.5 percentage point difference in high school graduation rates.

Our own research at The Education Trust--New York found that across New York State, African-American elementary and middle school students are nearly four times as likely as their white peers to receive at least one out-of-school suspension, and African-American high school students are twice as likely as their white peers to be suspended. The challenge is not limited to New York City, and it’s not unique to charter schools.

We – along with a statewide coalition of civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations committed to advancing equity through ESSA – believe that schools should be held accountable for reducing the overuse of exclusionary discipline measures, including in- and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, seclusions/restraints, and school-based arrests.

Of course, just including discipline in our accountability system is not sufficient. We also need the resources to support teachers and principals in enacting restorative justice practices and establishing positive school environments. Including discipline in our accountability system can help create the urgency to provide these critical tools so our schools can truly address the problem and improve the learning environment for all students.

Other states are already taking advantage of ESSA to show they are serious about reducing excessive discipline. In Louisiana, for example, the state’s new accountability system would require support and improvement in schools that have high rates of suspensions.

Does New York’s State Education Department agree that efforts to reduce excessive suspensions should have real teeth?

We’ll find out in just a few short weeks, when they present their draft accountability plan to the Board of Regents and the public.

***
Ian Rosenblum is the executive director of The Education Trust--New York. On Twitter @EdTrustNY.

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