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 Assembly. • Seminar materials are available on the resource CD for this summit and at http://www.childandfamilypolicy.duke.edu/eng agement/ncfis_2010.php • 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 others. • This discussion – Highlights what we know from research – Provides a broad overview of suspension data for NC – Offers possible strategies for addressing the problem • 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 achievement – 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 Examples: • School Characteristics – Strict school conduct codes → higher rates of suspension • 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 students) • 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, http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/research/discipline/reports/consolidated/2008-09/consolidated-report.pdf 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 celebrating? • What accounts for the dramatic reduction? • Possibly changes in student behavior but also possibly – new policy (likely at the district or school level) – new interpretation of existing policy – change in how certain offenses are classified/recorded – more students placed in alternative schools or programs 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 suspensions District differences Variation in short-term suspensions across districts • 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? Possibly… • 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 rates • 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 suspensions 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: •School-wide •School-based •Culturally sensitive •Suspension alternatives Overview of three types of programs • Prevention of disruptive behaviors • Alternatives to out-of-school suspension • Mitigation of impacts of suspension Prevention of disruptive behavior • Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) - currently in multiple NC districts – see DPI report http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/positivebehavior/data/evaluation /pbs08-09.pdf • 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 agencies. Mitigation strategies include – Engagement with student and family – Facilitation of student’s continuation of academic work during suspensions or alternatives to suspension 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 implementation. • 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.