Suspension Intervention

How often does New York City tell its principals they can’t suspend a student?

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Advocates protest school suspension policy, including insubordination or "B-21."

Before 2015, principals only had to seek approval from the city for the most serious suspensions. But starting in April of that year, the city added an oversight mechanism: Requiring principals to get permission from the education department before suspending students in grades K-3, or a student in any grade for insubordination.

Some school leaders and union officials complained, saying the policy makes it harder to maintain order.

But how often does the city overrule a principal’s judgment?

In all, the education department rejected about 22 percent of suspension requests under those categories during the 2015-16 school year, the first full year under the new code. Officials rejected 453 of the 2,008 requests to suspend students for insubordination, or 23 percent. And they rejected about 20 percent of the 1,039 attempts to suspend students in grades K-3, or 31 percent if you include the more serious suspensions that already required approval.

“It is promising to see that there are rejections and that suspensions are not rubber-stamped by the Department of Education,” said Dawn Yuster, the school justice project director at Advocates for Children. “They’re using this as a way of showing schools they’re serious about the policy changes.”

The requirement that principals earn approval for certain suspensions came as part of a series of edits to the discipline code — championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio — designed to discourage their use and move schools toward less punitive approaches.

The number of total rejections (659) is tiny compared to the total number of principal suspensions issued last year (27,122). (Principals have long been required to clear more serious superintendent suspensions with the department; last year, schools issued 10,525 of them and were rejected 2,171 times.)

Still, in concert with the city’s shift away from suspensions more generally, the decision to require an extra layer of approval in certain cases may be having an effect. Overall, suspensions have fallen by roughly 30 percent under de Blasio’s watch, continuing a downward trend that began under his predecessor.

“There’s kind of an unwritten rule where schools know these suspensions aren’t going to be approved, so schools don’t put a whole lot of them through,” said Damon McCord, co-principal at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in Queens.

Officials have taken particular aim at suspensions for insubordination, one of the offenses that now requires approval. Advocates charge that its inclusion in the discipline code contributes to the disproportionate removal of students of color and those with disabilities from their classrooms — and its use has plummeted 75 percent over the past two school years. The city has also pledged to virtually eliminate suspensions for the city’s youngest students (that policy is expected to take effect later this month).

But the dramatic drop in suspensions has earned mixed reviews from some educators who say there has been a parallel dip in discipline. Ernest Logan, head of the city’s principals union, argues school leaders should be trusted with suspension decisions, as long as they’re following the discipline code.

“When the chancellor selects a principal, then you should give that principal the authority to run their schools,” Logan said in response to the rejection numbers. “Why do you have a principal there if you don’t accept their judgment?”

Lois Herrera, CEO of the education department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development, which oversees the suspension approval process, said the extra layer of oversight ensures students are only suspended if they are actually interfering with their peers’ educations. “We saw it as an opportunity to add that extra quality control and make sure if we had to suspend, it was appropriately used.”

Suspensions are more likely to approved if the misbehavior constitutes a pattern, interferes with instruction, or other alternatives have been exhausted, Herrera said, noting that forthcoming updates to the discipline code will “strengthen” the requirement that schools try other options first.

“If we say no [to a principal], it doesn’t mean we’re turning a blind eye to misbehavior,” Herrera said, because her office often helps schools find alternative approaches. Asked if principals could simply suspend students for similar infractions that don’t require approval, she said she there was no evidence of that in the data.

McCord, the Queens principal, said the education department rejected his attempt to suspend a student who repeatedly tried to skip afternoon classes. “We probably didn’t do a good enough job articulating the prior interventions we’d already done,” he said.

Still, he supports the city’s review policy.

“We just found other ways to address [misbehavior],” he noted. “If you’re working that hard to suspend a kid, you probably need to rethink your approach.”

Detroit

Week in review: A raise for some Detroit teachers — no pay for others

PHOTO: John/Creative Commons

The situation at the Detroit charter school where teachers won’t get their summer paychecks is a reminder about the precarious finances that can affect both district and charter schools.

Charters don’t typically have historic debts like those that nearly drove the Detroit Public Schools into bankruptcy last year, but Michigan does not provide charter schools with money to buy or renovate their buildings. Unlike districts, charter schools can’t ask voters to approve tax hikes to pay for improvements. And when charter schools borrow money, that debt isn’t supported by the state or backed up by district taxpayers the way some school district debt is. So when a charter school shuts down and money stops coming from the state, there could be many people — that includes teachers — who simply won’t get paid.

Scroll down for more on that story as well as updates on the just-ratified teachers contract and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

 

Paying teachers — or not

  • Detroit teachers who mailed in ballots this month have narrowly approved a new three-year contract in a vote of 515 to 474. “We certainly deserve more,” the union’s president said in a statement “but the package offers us the opportunity to build our local, move our school district forward and place students first.”
  • The new contract, which will now go to a state financial oversight board for approval, would raise teacher salaries by more than 7 percent over the next two years but would not increase wages enough to bring them back to where they were before pay cuts a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, teachers at the shuttered Michigan Technical Academy charter school — which had a lower school in northwest Detroit and a middle school in Redford — were furious to learn that they won’t get money they’re owed for work they did during the school year. The money will instead go to pay off debts. More than 30 teachers are collectively owed more than $150,000.
  • The school is the second Detroit-area charter school to run into financial problems affecting teacher pay. Educators at the Taylor International Academy in Southfield say they haven’t been paid since their school shut down abruptly in early June. Taylor and MTA also have this in common: Both schools had their charter authorized by Central Michigan University.
  • Meanwhile, across the state, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay. The finding is included in a six-story series on state teacher pay from Michigan Radio that already has detractors.
  • An investor service says the controversial changes Michigan made to its pension system are a “positive” for the state.
  • A University of Michigan economist says substitute teachers are paid less in Michigan than other states — part of why the state has a sub shortage.
  • A suburban district got 952 applicants for a single teaching job but the district’s superintendent says that doesn’t mean there’s not a teacher shortage.

On the home front

In Detroit

Across the state

  • A judge has blocked the state from spending public money on private schools. A Catholic leader explains why he thinks private schools should be entitled to the money.
  • MIchigan has dumped its school ranking system in favor of a dashboard.
  • An advocate who wants schools to face tougher consequences for poor performance slammed Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent school reform efforts. “Parents are tougher on their kids when they don’t eat their vegetables than Detroit’s turnaround plan is with its hometown failure factories,” he wrote.
  • Many of the hurdles that make it difficult to provide enough early education in Detroit also exist in rural Michigan communities.
  • A New York writer says Betsy DeVos might be powerful and influential in Michigan but in Washington without her checkbook, she’s “like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

In other news

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”