Student suspension rates continue to drop across the United States. However, are we observing a genuine decline or the engineered result of creative new categorizing exempt from state and federal reporting?
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Dr. Perrodin cautions listeners that, “I am going to be direct and very blunt with you from an insider perspective telling you what is happening with school suspensions and some of you frankly are not going to like what I have to say…” Wow – unleashed. From his experiences as a school administrator, doctoral researcher, industry consultant and school safety expert witness, Dr. Perrodin crafts an argument that school suspension data is grossly flawed and impractical as a metric for school improvement.
DECADES OF FLAWED DATA
School safety expert Kenneth Trump testified to Congress multiple times over the past 20 years about the serious, chronic inaccuracies in school safety data. Dr. Perrodin offers an example (below) to support Mr. Trump’s claims by citing a Wisconsin high school of 800 students that reported a total of 4 school suspensions for an entire school year after reporting 71 suspensions the previous year (and shares the data screenshot in the YouTube version of the show). How is such an astounding figure achieved? At best, it was a mistaken entry that evaded data scrubbers with as much ease as stepping over a crack in a sidewalk. Yet, the situation is probably much darker and intentional than mere sloppy digit entry. In fact, the overall decreasing trend in school suspensions is not a representation that student behavior is correspondingly improving!
WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH STUDENTS’ BEHAVIOR?
Suspensions have been replaced by abeyance agreements and pre-expulsion agreements. Such measures, often thick with “legalese” and the coercive positionality of district’s brass and legal counsel, are basically “suspended” sentences that operate in a matrix where the benevolent-appearing school holds massive power over the parent and student to “go along with the deal or gamble the creaky plank of expulsion.” It’s a camouflaged suspension.
WHAT HAS CAUSED SCHOOLS TO NO LONGER SUSPEND STUDENTS?
It’s simple. First, suspensions have never been a quality tool to improve student behavior. Teach the student a lesson instead of teaching the student the lesson. And, the suspension is a reprieve for the school from the student. Remember, I said I was going to candid. Also, suspension data is a dark cloud – it’s a black mark on the school. In an era of free-agency for students, a district with low suspension numbers is more appealing than a district with high(er) suspension numbers. Lose kids and lose funding. Schools are being identified for disproportionate suspensions of youth per a specific race – and a “fix” to such a problem is to not produce a reportable suspension. See where I’m going – it’s not a fix, its re-badging terms and allowing persistent achievement gaps between students of different races.
A BETTER WAY
Inter-rater reliability will forever make it impossible to compare schools and to distill reliable aggregate school discipline data. But, who cares? Is this really a problem at all? If you accept that the school is the unit of measure and that context and situation vary greatly between schools, then you can center improvement on each specific school. I believe that this is the correct approach to increasing school safety. In 2015-2016, North Carolina’s state guidance to schools on discipline reporting included 114 behavior options from gambling to fray? Really? Just because you can report on something doesn’t mean that you should report on something.
Dr. Perrodin’s blueprint for improving student discipline and school connectedness focuses on mandatory local and state reporting of front-end connections for students manifesting behavioral concerns to school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and school or outside agencies that are equipped to meet the innate needs and other needs of the child and family.
PIE IN THE SKY?
Not really. The vehicle to craft robust inter-agency collaboration is the hospital-led Community Health Needs Assessment. Dump suspensions and re-allocate time sucked into that black hole to front-loaded efforts. Also, restorative discipline practices decrease recidivism in all measures student subgroups – but it’s an intensive up-front investment. This passionate podcast surfaces Dr. Perrodin’s frustrations with a “smoke and mirrors” game that is largely unchecked at a state or local level and either too confusing or too coercive to be questioned or challenged by parents.
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David will respond to discussion thread comments or questions & also to emails. The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David Perrodin, PhD.
Opinions are those of the host and guests and do not reflect positions of The 405 Media or supporters of “The Safety Doc Podcast”. The show is curse free and adheres to nondiscrimination principles while seeking to bring forward productive discourse and debate on topics relevant to personal or institutional safety.