Tag Archives: David Kirkland

The Suspension Conundrum: Do Suspensions Improve Behavior and Academic Outcomes for All Students or, a Pipeline to Dropping Out and Prison?

A few weeks after the election of de Blasio in 2013 I dropped by the transition tent to listen to a panel of community activists talk education. The panel trashed the Department of Education over excessive numbers of student suspensions, for the panelists, evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” was alive and well.

(Read here, here  and here).

The data is clear, students who are suspended in the 4th grade are likely not to graduate high school and the more frequent the suspensions the more likely the student will enter the criminal justice system.

As a reaction school districts have sharply curtailed the numbers of suspensions, especially in urban school systems.

Twenty-seven states have revised their laws to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, and more than 50 of America’s largest school districts, serving more than 6.35 million students, have implemented discipline reforms. From 2011–12 to 2013–14, the number of suspensions nationwide fell by nearly 20%.

Is there a downside to reducing suspensions?

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

A just-released report from the Manhattan Institute (“School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public School, 2012 – 2016 “) takes a deep dive into the suspension and school climate data.

The report concludes,

[School discipline] deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report [note: using school survey data] less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform.

Supporters of the regulations limiting suspensions argue that new approaches, restorative justice and, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports  are in the beginning phases of implementation, it will take a number of years to train school staffs and assess the effectiveness.

What is missing from the debate are the underlying questions:

* Are students actually exhibiting behaviors that are inappropriate in school settings, and, if so, why?

* Is the failure of teachers to address these behaviors the cause of the suspensions? Is the preparation of school leaders/teachers inadequate? Are school leaders/teachers culturally and racially insensitive?

* Do suspensions modify the behavior of the students who are suspended?

* Do suspensions improve the outcomes for the remainder of the students in the classes?

and a core question,

Why do schools with similar populations have such different rates of suspension?  Are we preparing and selecting the “right” school leaders?

I was visiting a middle school in community (in)famous for handgun violence. One school was on the first two floors and another on the top floor. As I walked up the stairs it was sadly clear that the school on the lower floors was out-of-control. The school on the top floor was totally in order. Same kids from the same community, different school leaders with different skill sets and different outcomes.

A campus high school, four schools in a building, had a long history of school suspensions. A since retired head of school safety looked over the data and explained how to construct a school safety grid. We mapped the “precipitating event” and time of the “event” on a map of the school. It was fascinating!!  The “precipitating events” took place in and around the student cafeteria and in the hallways. The hallway events were clustered near classrooms with newer and/or less effective teachers.  More supervision in the cafeteria and more help for targeted teachers led to a more orderly school, at least , for a while.

The key to reducing suspension are the effectiveness of the school leaders and the classroom teachers. Should Lisa Delpit (““The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,”) be a foundational text for every teacher preparation classroom, or, because it is the foundational text, is that the source of poorly prepared teachers?

Will increasing the numbers of black teachers improve outcomes and reduce suspensions of black students? and, if so, why? (Read research findings here)

…there is compelling evidence that when students have a teacher of the same race, they tend to learn more at school (see “The Race Connection,” research, Spring 2004).

Those findings raise a parallel question: Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

David Kirkland, A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men (Teachers College Press, 2013)

… argues that educators need to understand the social worlds of African-American males to break the school-to-prison pipeline cycle.  The book asks the education community to listen to the voices of black youth to better understand what it means to be literate in a multicultural, democratic society.

Once again, is the source of the “problem” the failure to properly prepare teachers and school leaders?

If we expect student behavior to improve we must modify our behaviors. Suspension is a last resort, yes, occasionally the “street” does win. Schools reflect the cultures of their communities. The role of a school is to convince students to become “bi-cultural,” to accept that the culture of the street is not acceptable in a school setting. Teachers have argued that a suspension may “straighten out” a kid, and, is a lesson for the other kids: misbehave and you’ll be next to be suspended.  Does zero tolerance or suspensions improve outcomes for the remainder of the class?

The most common place for pickpockets to ply there trade was at the hangings of pickpockets. The area of deterrence theory may be applicable to the question of school discipline “The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket’s Hanging,”

This study examines the premise that criminals make informed and calculated decisions. The findings suggest that 76% of active criminals and 89% of the most violent criminals either perceive no risk of apprehension or are incognizant of the likely punishments for their crimes.

Studying behaviors of principals in low suspension schools in high suspensions districts is a place to begin. Unfortunately school district leadership usually looks for the quick fix, the “program” that will “fix” the problem. I have no objection to restorative practices or PBIS, I have rarely seen a program that fixes such a deep-seated issue. “Turning off the faucet,” changing the regs to limit suspensions, does not resolve the underlying issue. Harsh and rigid suspension rules do not  appear to impact the suspended student or the remainder of the students.

Some principals and teachers have figured this out, maybe we should find them and listen to them.

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Are Suspensions a Pipeline to Prison or a Valid Response to Unacceptable Behavior? How Do Suspensions Impact the Behavior of the Other Students in the Class? Are Afro-American Parents Opposed to Suspensions?

Three years ago we were in the midst of a hotly contested mayoral election. Four high profile Democrats were battling for the democrat line on the November ballot. Bill Thompson, an Afro-American, had given Bloomberg a close run in 2009, the President of the City Counsel, Christine Quinn, the Comptroller, John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio were dashing from forum to forum. When the dust settled not only did de Blasio win he won 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff. A key was clearly his early and vigorous opposition to Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” and the Dante TV commercial..

de Blasio received more Afro-American votes than Thompson, the only Afro-American in the race. Virtually every Afro-American male in the city, regardless of their income or residence has a story. A cop stopping them for no apparent reason, treating them as if they were a  criminal, a victim of “walking or driving while black.”

During his three years de Blasio fulfilled his campaign promises, he has been the progressive mayor, seemingly vying for the leadership of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and, watching polling numbers drop.

The NY Post and the Daily News have criticized him daily, the Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Initiate also taking shots at the mayor and Governor Cuomo has made it clear, he, Cuomo, not de Blasio, is the leader of the Democratic Party in the state.

A year away from the next election and the vultures are circling, de Blasio seems wounded, and possible opponents are smelling the carcass.

At this point there is no “Stop and Frisk” issue, at least not until after the November presidential. A Hillary presidency would put a totally different spin – she could endorse de Blasio, or, send out an “I support Bill” message, or, remain aloof. Crime continues to fall to historic levels; the city is prosperous, what are the issues?

Lack of affordable housing, high taxes, homelessness, poverty, undocumented immigration, crowded subways: the list goes on and on; are any of these issues core election issues? Can they grab the electorate?

The Dante TV commercial and de Blasio’s early outspoken opposition to Stop and Frisk, in my view, catapulted him to victory in 2013.

Is there a core issue in 2017 that will create a path to victory?

First, who are the potential voters?  An NYU Wagner report in 2013 parsed likely voters. Older, better educated, higher incomes and union members are more likely to vote,

See a detailed analysis of likely voters by neighborhood before the 2013 mayoral election:

Prime voter lists and detailed voter information can be purchased – see what you can find out about likely voters: http://gograssroots.org/files/analyzevoters.pdf

Potential voters are extremely diverse, by ethnicity, by income, by age, by education, by race and by religion or lack thereof.

Getting back to issues: will suspensions be the stop and frisk issue of 2017?

Are schools (i. e., suspensions) the pipeline to prison tropes so deeply ingrained in minority and liberal voters that it will emerge as the core issue? See Atlantic articles here  and here; and, as the Department of Education, perhaps responding to harsh criticism from the teacher and principal unions, backs away, even ever so slightly the Atlantic and progressives shove back.

While the suspension/pipeline to prison issue resonates in progressive circles, both white and black, does it resonate among Afro-American parents?

A year or so ago I was at an education forum, during a break a teacher was engaging with an Afro-American charter school parent. The teacher was telling the parent, “Charters throw out the disruptive kids.” The parent answered, “That’s exactly why I send my child to a charter school.”

You cannot simply use the term, “Afro-American voters,” who do you mean?   Older black voters?  Millennial black voters? Caribbean voters? See fascinating breakdown of voting trends by neighborhood here.

Caribbean voters (Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti) tend to be socially conservative, church-goers, union members, prefer kids to wear uniforms to school, and, I would argue far more likely to support strict discipline in schools. Highly educated black intellectuals firmly support the school to prison pipeline concept: David Kirkland director of  the Metro Center at NYU chairs the  Commission for Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

 If we trace backwards: are kids who end up in criminal justice and/or fail to graduate high school more likely to have been suspended in school. Did the suspension(s) lead to poor academics and/or antisocial behavior? Could alternative disciplinary procedures such as restorative justice practices or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports  (PBIS) avert the negative outcomes associated with suspensions?  Do suspensions so stigmatize the student that future negative behaviors are to be expected?  On the other hand, how do suspensions impact the other students in the classroom?  Does the removal of disruptive students improve educational outcomes for the remainder of the class?

Complex issues and issues that are firmly held.

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