2.6 million. That is the number of children suspended from U.S. public schools in one calendar year—2.6 million. That data, released in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, shocked educators and advocates alike. And a closer look at the numbers revealed deep inequities across student groups, with students of color (namely Black, Latino and American Indian students), students with special needs, and English learners suspended at dramatically higher rates than their peers—often for minor or subjective infractions. What’s worse, these differences exist because young Black and Brown students are often singled out and given harsher penalties than White students for the same or lesser offenses.
Consider this: In American public schools…
- Black boys are over three times more likely than their White male counterparts to receive out-of-school suspension,
- Black girls are six times more likely than White girls to receive out-of-school suspension; and,
- Students receiving special education services are more than twice as likely as their peers to receive out of school suspension.
Perhaps even more shocking is that this kind of exclusionary discipline is applied to our youngest children.
Each day in America, we suspend or expel 250 preschool students. And, research shows that the effects of out-of-school suspensions at any age extend beyond the immediate loss of instructional time for students, often leading to longer-term consequences, from lower grades to higher chances of dropout—and even higher chances of incarceration.
This isn’t a new epidemic. It is one that is finally getting the broad and needed attention and action it warrants, thanks to youth- and advocate-led coalitions like Dignity in Schools Campaign, the California-based Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and the Denver-based Padres & Jóvenes Unidos; forward-thinking educators; and the Obama administration’s Office of Civil Rights.
Teachers are at the forefront of these efforts. They have begun sitting down with administrators to examine their school’s discipline data and rethink policies. They are reflecting on their own implicit biases and critically examining their own practices. And they are engaging in the hard work of implementing alternatives to punitive and exclusionary discipline.
Instead of sending students out of the classroom and ostracizing the students who are often most in need of support, teachers are pulling them back in through restorative approaches. And they are getting results. Indeed, in recent years, educators have reduced out-of-school suspensions by 20 percent. But there is still more to do. And educators leading the charge have much to teach the field in how to do it.
This Is Not The Time To Retreat
However, just as we are picking up our progress, confronting the data and making real changes in schools and classrooms, the Trump administration is signaling a retreat on civil rights guidance and action on reducing instances of—and disparities in—exclusionary school discipline, despite clear evidence that these new practices work better than punitive measures. As educators, advocates, parents and students, we cannot stand for this. This is not the time to retreat; this is the time to speed our collective efforts by examining what’s working and ensuring these successful strategies reach more students.
In Minnesota, for example, Educators for Excellence teachers created an action guide to help other teachers learn from their challenges and successes in implementing a new approach to discipline schoolwide. And in Boston, they recently authored recommendations for how schools, districts and the state can support the creation of trauma-informed school communities.
Before the current administration decides whether to roll back on guidance, we urge Department of Education officials to listen to the educators on the ground that Educators for Excellence is bringing from around the country to Washington, D.C., on December 8. These dedicated practitioners are eager to share the positive changes they have seen in their students and classrooms when they began finding ways to identify and address the root causes of student behavior, examine their own beliefs and practices and engage in restorative techniques to reduce reliance on exclusionary discipline.
Teachers are willing, able and committed to do the hard work of changing practices and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, but they can’t do it alone. They need access to trainings on implicit bias, school and classroom climate, social-emotional learning, culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy, trauma-informed practices and restorative discipline techniques. They need real, sustained support from school and district administrators to implement new policies and practices. And they need a federal government that will back them and urge them on.
Millions of students are counting on it.