Presentation - NC Partnership for Educational Opportunity

Addressing problems with school
suspension: Practice and policy strategies
Jenni Owen, Director of Policy Initiatives
November 12, 2010
• This presentation stems primarily from
materials prepared for the 2010 NC Family
Impact Seminar, School Suspension:
Research and Policy Options, held April 27,
2010, at the North Carolina General
• Seminar materials are available on the
resource CD for this summit and at
• Questions abound about the frequency of suspension
as a consequence as well as about the use of
suspension for some groups of students more than
• This discussion
– Highlights what we know from research
– Provides a broad overview of suspension data for
– Offers possible strategies for addressing the
• We know a lot from 30 years of
research but need to be mindful of
the limitations
• Single school, single points in time
– hard to generalize
So what?
Research shows that being suspended may have
impacts on multiple aspects of students’ experiences
with schooling, development and overall success. It
may affect:
– Truancy
– School dropout and ultimate academic
– Future behavior problems
– Social development
– Future legal problems
– Later access to employment opportunities
Characteristics of suspended students
• Many more males than females
• Those frequently suspended = less likely to have
parental supervision but need it more
• Students with emotional, behavioral, or learning
disabilities more likely to be suspended – especially
African-American students with disabilities
– African-American students more likely to be
disciplined more severely for minor misconduct
– Poverty not the distinguishing characteristic
District, school, and personnel
characteristics also matter
• School Characteristics – Strict school conduct codes → higher rates of
• Personnel Characteristics – Those who want to suspend less, suspend less.
Predictable perhaps but highlights the impact of
school-level discretion – important to consider its
pros and cons
Short-term suspensions
• 293,453 short-term, out-of-school suspensions for K12 students in NC (2008-09)
• High school students received about ½ of these
• 151,291 different students (about 1 in 10 K-12
• Average duration of a single short-term suspension
was 2.98 days.
Source for data and related charts: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction consolidated report,
Suspensions by student characteristic
• Male students:
211,841 (72%)
• Female students:
81,612 (28%)
• Higher proportion of black students suspended than
students of any other race.
• Black students also received the most short-term
suspensions, followed by whites and Hispanics.
• Ninth graders - over 70,000 short-term suspensions –
highest of any grade.
• Next highest number for a single grade - 8th with
slightly under 40,000
• Exceptional children - 65,089 short-term suspensions
Long-term suspensions
• 3,592 long-term suspensions given to
2,407 different students
• Average long-term suspension - 70
school days – that’s 14 weeks of school
and over 3 months.
• 31% fewer long-term suspensions than in
previous years but…should we be
• What accounts for the dramatic reduction?
• Possibly changes in student behavior but also
– new policy (likely at the district or school level)
– new interpretation of existing policy
– change in how certain offenses are
– more students placed in alternative schools or
NC has the…
• 3rd highest suspension rate
• 4th highest number of suspensions
(2008 NCES report, 2006 data. Even if the numbers
have declined in recent years…)
Offenses that lead to suspension
• 16 criminal acts that schools must report to DPI
(includes homicide, rape, sexual offense, burning a
school building)
• Consequences for these acts vary widely among
districts and schools
• All acts not among the 16 are reported as “other”
(such as dress code violations, use of vulgar
language, truancy)
• “Other” accounted for 97 percent of short-term
District differences
Variation in short-term suspensions across
• 4.1 suspensions per 100 students – Avery
• 111 suspensions per 100 students – Robeson
• 84 percent of reported infractions resulted in
suspension - Wake
• 47 percent resulted in suspension - Forsyth
Why the differences?
• District policy differences regarding the
severity of punishment for the same
disciplinary infractions
• Differences in district practices for reporting
disciplinary infractions that are not among the
16 required to report
• Critical not only to look at the data
but to pay attention to what’s
behind it. Can’t interpret differences
between and among districts purely
as a reflection of student behavior.
Evidence on alternative practices –
what matters?
• Asses school/student needs in order to tailor programs
• Comprehensive school-wide changes that address
student/school characteristics through prevention and
reinforcement of positive behaviors →lower suspension
• School-wide conflict resolution focused on alternatives to
violence reduces students’ acts of violence in school
• Training in cultural (including race, poverty)
responsiveness and sensitivity may result in fewer
Evidence (cont’d)
• Conflict resolution training implemented outside of
school does not reduce suspensions
• Corporal punishment (district discretion in NC)
– ineffective in reducing misconduct
– often administered inconsistently
– can cause serious physical, psychological,
and emotional injury
• Punitive behavior management methods (e.g.,
ridiculing, shaming) - ineffective at reducing misconduct,
and may cause harm to students
Key takeaways from research:
•Culturally sensitive
•Suspension alternatives
Overview of three types of programs
• Prevention of disruptive behaviors
• Alternatives to out-of-school
• Mitigation of impacts of suspension
Prevention of disruptive behavior
• Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports
(PBIS) - currently in multiple NC districts –
see DPI report
• On-Campus Intervention Program (OCIP)
• Consistency management and Cooperative
Discipline (CMCD)
• Other prevention approaches
Alternatives to out-of-school suspension
• In-school alternatives:
“Intervention” room for students to use to “cool off.”
Individual counseling.
Space for “offending” student to work privately.
Before/after-school detentions or Saturday school
• In-school community service (e.g., assisting
teachers with preparatory work, grounds
clean-up, etc.).
Alternatives (cont’d)
• Disciplinary systems that:
– Have graduated levels of disciplinary actions consequences are matched to the seriousness of
the infraction with suspension as last resort
instead of default
– Shorter suspensions to mitigate new or
exacerbated academic struggles
• Use data management system to record and analyze
student misconduct; develop suspension alternatives
tailored to individual schools’ discipline challenges
Mitigating the impact of suspension
Ideally, mitigating programs
– Are an active part of local systems of care
– Facilitate referrals and communication among
Mitigation strategies include
– Engagement with student and family
– Facilitation of student’s continuation of academic
work during suspensions or alternatives to
Other strategies for reducing/offsetting suspension
• Clear communication to all student and school personnel
regarding what constitutes student misconduct
• Restorative justice approach
• Evaluating prevention, reduction and mitigation efforts to
asses “true” and thorough implementation
• Involving multiple stakeholders within the broader
community in the development of school discipline policies
and alternatives
• Establishing school discipline oversight committees in
particular to address potential racial disparities in
suspension rates
Policy options
• Where law requires suspension, give districts
latitude to allow principals to consider specific
circumstances of discipline cases
• Select a limited number of evidence-based
prevention programs, encourage a limited
number of schools to adopt one or more of
them, and provide continuing support and
monitoring to ensure proper and sustained
• Clarify reporting terms and requirements. Currently,
high “rates” of suspension can easily be
misinterpreted, potentially leading to a poor match
between policy, practice and the actual needs of
schools and students.
• Instead of defaulting to suspension, direct districts to
default to research-based alternatives to suspension
such as in-school suspension, community service
and other programs.
• Eliminate the option of suspending students “to the
street.” Current NC law states that every district must
have alternative education programs. The law does
not require that all suspended students be assigned
to such a program.
• When an alternative learning placement is not an
option, North Carolina has community service and
restorative justice programs with which districts might
consider partnering for alternatives to suspension.
• Eliminate suspension as a consequence for truancy
at least until students age out of compulsory school
attendance – currently age 16. Otherwise,
suspending truant students may, in effect, force the
students to continue their truant behavior.
• Require consideration of the student’s age when
assigning consequences for disciplinary infractions.
Currently not a requirement in NC.
Testing the policy options
• Monitor the outcomes – such as educational
achievement - among students who receive different
types of consequences for similar infractions to
discern which discipline-related policies produce the
best outcomes for students and schools.
• Note: to do so likely would require a more refined
approach to reporting suspensions than what NC
currently relies on.
Challenges for policymakers
• Balancing the needs of students, schools,
and communities with approaches to
discipline that take into account what
evidence says will have the greatest positive
outcomes with regard to improved behavior.
• Resource limitations.
• Balancing statewide standards with strong
local control.

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