study says...

City schools are suspending more students, and for longer

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New York City’s public schools are suspending more students than they did a decade ago, and for longer periods of time, according to a report released today.

Data on student suspensions obtained by the Student Safety Coalition through Freedom of Information requests and analyzed by the New York Civil Liberties Union shows that the city’s public schools have doled out increasingly large numbers of suspensions each year since 2002. Black students are being suspended in disproportionate numbers, and a third of the suspensions have taken place during months when students spend weeks sitting for state exams.

The NYCLU’s report concludes that the spike in suspension rates over the years is connected to changes in the city’s discipline code, which now categorizes more infractions as being suspension-worthy than it did a decade ago. It also notes that the police presence in schools has increased since 2002, when former Chancellor Joel Klein started Operations Safe Schools.

Department of Education officials responded to the report, saying that in some cases principals can decide whether to respond to suspension-mandated offenses with lesser punishments.

“We are also working with our special education team to look at ways to address behavioral issues among special education students through stronger social and emotional mediation,” wrote DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg in an email.

Analysis Finds Dramatic Spike in NYC Suspensions: Black Children and Students with Special Needs Most Affected

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 27, 2010 – The number of student suspensions in New York City public schools spiked dramatically over the past decade while the length of suspensions grew longer — a phenomenon disproportionally affecting black students and students with disabilities, according to a report released today by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Student Safety Coalition that analyzes 10 years of previously undisclosed suspension data.

“Education is a child’s right, not a reward for good behavior,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “Sadly, the growing reliance on suspensions in New York City schools all too often denies children — often the most vulnerable and in need of support — their right to an education. This harsh approach to discipline, combined with aggressive policing in schools, pushes kids from the classroom into the criminal justice system.”

The report, Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools, analyzes 449,513 suspensions served by New York City students from 1999 to 2009.

The NYCLU and Student Safety Coalition obtained the raw data for the report through a series of Freedom of Information law requests to the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in 2008 and 2009. Statisticians and academics at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University processed and analyzed the data for more than a year.

According to the data, the number of suspensions served each school year nearly doubled over the decade – even though the student population has decreased over the same period.

Among the report’s findings:

  • One out of every 14 students was suspended in 2008-2009; in 1999-2000 it was one in 25. Last school year, students served more than 73,000 suspensions. In the 1999-2000 school year, students served 44,000 suspensions, even though the overall student population was much larger than today.
  • Suspensions are becoming longer: More than 20 percent of suspensions lasted more than one week in 2008-2009, compared to 14 percent in 1999-2000. The average length of a long-termsuspensionis 5 weeks (25 school days).
  • Students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.
  • Black students, who compose 33 percent of the student body, served 53 percent of suspensions over the past 10 years. Black students with disabilities represent more than 50 percent of suspended students with disabilities.
  • Black students served longer suspensions on average and were more likely to be suspended for subjective misconduct, like profanity and insubordination.
  • Thirty percent of suspensions occur in March and May of each school year when students often are taking exams.

The report partially attributes the rise in suspensions to the DOE’s Discipline Code – the code of conduct for the city schools that catalogues infractions and the acceptable range of disciplinary responses for each one. From 1999 to 2010, the number of behaviors for which a student must be suspended grew by 200 percent.

“If you increase the number of infractions that must draw a suspension, then more children are going to be suspended,” said NYCLU Public Policy Counsel Johanna Miller, the report’s primary author. “We encourage the DOE to continue recent steps to emphasize the need for non-punitive responses like peer mediation, guidance counseling, conflict resolution, community service and mentoring. These methods are proven to effectively address disciplinary issues while providing students valuable support and encouragement.”

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that overuse of suspensions can worsen school climate and is linked to lower test scores. Studies also show that students who are suspended tend to be suspended repeatedly, until they either drop out or are pushed out of school. A study of secondary school students, published in the Journal of School Psychology, showed that students who were suspended were 26 percent more likely to be involved with the legal system than their peers.

“The increasing and disproportionate use of suspensions in New York City schools negatively impact the school environment and drive down student achievement,” said Udi Ofer, NYCLU advocacy director and co-author of the report. “The Bloomberg administration must end its zero tolerance approach to school discipline and instead provide resources to schools to address the emotional and mental needs of children.”

The overuse of suspensions combines with heavy-handed street policing tactics used in too many of the city’s schools to push students from classrooms into the criminal justice system. School safety officers, NYPD personnel assigned to the schools, have become increasingly involved in maintaining school discipline. Students, some as young as five, have been handcuffed, taken to jail, and ordered to appear in court for infractions such as writing on a desk or talking back.

While school safety officers do not have the power to suspend students, they are often complaining witnesses atsuspension proceedings, and are usually involved when disciplinary infractions are treated as criminal offenses.

The report offers the following recommendations to the DOE and state and city lawmakers:

  • End the use of zero tolerance discipline. The DOE must ensure that suspensions are used only when truly necessary and that disciplinary responses complement rather than detract from a school’s educational mission. Other big-city school districts, like Los Angeles, Baltimore and Seattle, use discipline codes that are far less severe than New York City’s.
  • Mandate positive alternatives tosuspensionwhen appropriate. In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest school district in the country, a commitment to positive behavior interventions and supports reduced the number of suspensions by 15 percent in its first year. The DOE should follow LAUSD’s lead and ensure that all the city’s 1,600 public schools implement effective positive discipline, including restorative justice and positive behavior interventions and supports.
  • Protect students’ constitutional rights insuspensionhearings. In order to protect students’ rights, the DOE must take steps to ensure that administrators are fully aware of and respect the procedural requirements for suspending a student.
  • Increase transparency around discipline and school safety practices. Greater disclosure of data concerning discipline and school safety will help policymakers, educators, parents and advocates develop more effective policies – increasing the graduation rate and closing the achievement gap.
  • Provide support services for students’ emotional and psychological needs. Schools must invest in guidance counselors, social workers and school aides who are trained in conflict resolution and restorative justice methods to handle disciplinary infractions. In addition, more schools should collaborate with medical, mental health and social service providers, as well as community based organizations, to address students’ non-academic developmental needs.

•       Encourage meaningful public input in the discipline process. The DOE must show that it seriously considers the input it receives from parents and students during the annual Discipline Code revision process.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”