New data shows that suspension and expulsion rates reached
double-digits in many California school districts, with some exceeding 25 percent
Los Angeles—The California Endowment said today that 2012 should be the year of common-sense school discipline reform, following a report by the U.S. Department of Education that revealed suspension and expulsion rates for every large school district in the United States.
The data show that California’s ten largest school districts averaged a 9.9% combined suspension/expulsion rate during the 2009-2010 academic year, well above the 7.0% national average. Many California districts punished students even more harshly, with suspension/expulsion rates exceeding 25% in some cases. At individual schools, combined suspension/expulsion rates approached 40%.
“California school discipline policies have grown harsh and excessive. Instead of preventing problems before they start and holding students accountable for their actions, discipline policies have become overly reliant on suspensions and expulsions, even for minor and non-violent infractions,” said Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO of the California Endowment.
According to the information released today, African American and Latino students are much more likely to receive harsh school discipline. In the national sample studied by the Department of Education, African Americans comprised 18% of students but represented 34% of suspensions and 39% of expulsions. Similar trends exist in California. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the out of school suspension rate for African American students is nearly 6 times the rate for whites (17.3% vs. 2.9%). And in the San Francisco Unified School District, African Americans account for 11.9% of the student population but 42.5% of suspensions and 60% of expulsions.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unveiled the school discipline data at a speech at Howard University Tuesday afternoon. Secretary Duncan has described education as a civil rights issue, noting, “the undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”
Research conducted by the American Psychological Association found no correlation between high suspension/expulsion rates and enhanced campus security or improved student behavior. To the contrary, schools that adopt prevention-oriented discipline approaches generally report calmer school environments and vastly reduced suspension rates. For example, after Richmond High School changed its approach to school discipline, suspensions dropped 63%, and both teachers and students reported fewer disruptions on campus. Richmond High adopted a strategy called “Restorative Justice,” which encourages students to resolve disputes amicably and requires them to fix the damage they cause as a means of promoting accountability. Similar approaches reduced suspensions at Oakland’s Cole Middle School by 87%.
Momentum is growing throughout the state for policies like those pioneered in Richmond and Oakland. Last month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to limit the issuance of “truancy tickets” that fined students for being a few minutes late to school, and several California lawmakers recently introduced legislation supporting common-sense school discipline approaches at a statewide level. Leading education advocacy organizations, including the California Teachers Association, have identified overly harsh school discipline policies as an area of concern and a threat to academic achievement.
“At Oakland Unified we have adopted a common-sense approach to school discipline that holds kids and the school community accountable, helps students and the community learn together, and most importantly, deepens the connection between the students and the school. These connections keep kids in school and help create a healthier community. Harsh approaches solely focused on punishment do not get us the results we want: safer schools and successful students. In light of the data released today, I urge school leaders to rethink their approach to school discipline,” said Tony Smith, Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.
Improving community health and supporting the social and emotional health children are both essential in reducing the overuse of harsh discipline and keeping children on track for success, said Dr. Ross. “That’s why we say that Health Happens in Schools, because what happens in school plays such a pivotal role in the well-being and success of our kids,” Dr. Ross said.
The data released today by the Department of Education is viewable in a searchable database at http://ocrdata.ed.gov/.
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NOTE TO EDITORS: A complete statement by Dr. Robert K. Ross about school discipline is available at www.CalEndow.org. Dr. Ross is available for media interviews today.
About The California Endowment
The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation, was established in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, The Endowment has regional offices in Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno, and San Diego, with program staff working throughout the state. The Endowment challenges the conventional wisdom that medical settings and individual choices are solely responsible for people's health. The Endowment believes that health happens in neighborhoods, schools, and with prevention. For more information, visit The Endowment’s Web site at www.calendow.org.