Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

In Massachusetts, NCLB Influence Means Student Expulsions Are on the Rise

Ohanian Comment: The title is mine. The NCLB influence on suspensions and expulsions is buried in the story.

Reading the way these Standardistas talk about kids. They show once again that Steve Orel of the WOO in Birmingham, AL is right: students don't drop out; they are pushed out.

I'm stunned by this statement from Philip Jackson, the director of alternative education for Boston public schools:

We are non-negotiable in tolerating [poor] behavior.

I would just say that I taught kids with poor behavior for nearly 20 years, including a stint at an alternative high school populated by kids excluded from the regular school. I considered it my job--nay, my sacred calling, to negotiate poor behavior. This ability to negotiate is one of the most needed teacher skills.

I wrote about such negotiations with 7th and 8th graders in Caught in the Middle: Non-Standard Curriculum and a Killing Curriculum.

The State Department of Education can't wash its hands of discipline problems. They are directly responsible. The more you standardize and stultify a curriculum, the worse the behavior problems will be. The relationship is clear and convincing to anyone who has taught "difficult" kids, that is to say kids not eager to bootlick on their way to the Ivy League.

I can't take on Heidi Perlman's ugliness right now but her words will be immortalized in Quotes.

Suspensions and expulsions in Massachusetts schools hit their highest point in a decade last year, and African-American and Hispanic students continued to be disciplined at the highest rates.

Last school year, 1,890 students were suspended for 10 days or more or expelled from the state's school districts and charter and vocational schools, according to a state Department of Education report released yesterday.

That was a 9.9 percent increase from the previous year when 1,720 students were expelled or received long-term suspensions, and the largest number disciplined since tracking of suspensions and expulsions began in 1995.

The total number has risen each of the past three school years and so has the discipline rate, the number of students punished per 1,000.

One children's advocate blamed funding cuts, saying that schools have had to reduce services for students with behavioral problems. The result is that suspension and expulsion have become easy methods for disciplining, said Susan Cole, a lawyer with Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Though funding cuts occurred statewide, the burden may have fallen disproportionately on school systems that serve mostly non-white students.

"The cuts are hitting hardest in the poorest towns," Cole said. "Kids who are growing up in poverty tend to need the most supports. A lot of towns who serve low-income kids have a high percentage of non-whites."

Budget cuts also have led to burgeoning class sizes, which could be a reason for the increases statewide, said Catherine Boudreau, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

"Cuts affect class sizes. It is harder and harder to teach. It forces more and more teachers to spend a lot of time dealing with the discipline problems of a small group," she said.

Over the past three years, the rates of long-term suspensions and expulsions for African-American and Hispanic students have increased significantly while rates for white students have remained relatively steady.

During the 2002-2003 school year, African-Americans had the highest rate of disciplinary actions at 6.1 per 1,000 students, up from 5.0 per 1,000 students in 2001-2002.

The rate of long-term suspensions and expulsions for Hispanics increased to 5.5 per 1,000 students, from 4.8 the previous year.

Although more white than African-American or Hispanic students were removed from school in 2002-2003, the rate of suspensions and expulsions for white students was much lower at 1.0 per 1,000 students, down from 1.1 the previous year.

Ronald Ferguson, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, suggested reasons for the disparity.

"In any given school year, blacks are increasingly likely to be suspended. Or suspension rates could be going up for all students in primarily black schools," said Ferguson, who studies social policy issues and the achievement gap between whites and some minority and ethnic groups.

The data on non-white student suspension and expulsion do not go back far enough for the results to be particularly striking, he said.

Heidi Perlman, the spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said that schools are simply becoming more vigilant about enforcing the rules for all students and are not unfairly targeting non-white students.

"We're glad that administrations are responding strictly to all kids. As for why the rates for blacks might be higher, I really can't say," Perlman said.

The process for suspensions or expulsions has "definitely" gotten tougher on students over the past few years, said Philip Jackson, the director of alternative education for Boston public schools.

"We are non-negotiable in tolerating [poor] behavior," he said.

Last school year, Springfield had the highest number of student expulsions and long-term suspensions, with 583, and Boston was second with 221. Boston's rate of disciplining was 3.6 per 1,000 students, while Springfield's was 21.9 per 1,000 students.

The top four reasons for a long-term suspension or expulsion were possession of illegal substances, bringing a weapon to school, assault against school staff members and assault against student, the state report said.

Catherine Leger, the guidance department head at Brockton High School, said a recent education overhaul emphasizes ensuring that students who bring drugs or weapons to school or have serious behavioral problems are being excluded from schools.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act encourages enforcement of school rules and increases the visibility of school safety records. "We want safe schools, and lawmakers are making sure we have them," Leger said.

But suspending and expelling students are not ways to make schools safer, said Cole of the state children's advocacy group.

"It's become acceptable to push students out of the classroom rather than addressing the underlying issue," she said.

— Emily Anthes
Boston Globe
Academic discipline actions on rise





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.