April 24 2017

There might be a shortage of caps and gowns in California this spring and there is a reason to celebrate.

That’s because California graduation rates are going up, while suspension rates are going down—and that’s no coincidence.

Mountains of work remain before we fully realize our vision of a healthy, high quality education for every student in California. But we should take a moment to celebrate this achievement and recognize that our state is on the right track.

New data from the California Department of Education shows that graduation rates increased last year to 83.2%. And this isn’t just a one-time thing. California’s graduation rate has gone up for seven years in a row! In 2010, only 74.7% of our students graduated on time. That’s a trend I can get excited about!

There is no doubt that many changes to California’s education system contributed to this great news, but as someone who has seen the direct connection between suspension rates and graduation rates, I can’t help but also notice that California’s school suspension rate dropped from 5.7% to 3.8% from 2012 to 2015. It makes perfect sense that graduation rates rise when suspensions fall.

When young people are kicked out of class, it only increases barriers to their academic achievement. Research shows that each suspension in the 10th grade increases the likelihood of not graduating high school by 12%!

California schools are finally learning that suspensions don’t lead to student success for all. In fact, a new analysis from EdSource shows almost half of all California school districts received top marks from the state for lowering their suspension rates. Instead of a culture of harsh punishment, these schools are embracing more holistic supports for students. Many are implementing strategies like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and restorative justice. Through restorative justice practices, students who make mistakes are held accountable for the harm they have caused but stay in school as they develop a plan to make amends for wrong-doing.

As the end of the school year rapidly approaches, there is no shortage of friends and family members ready to celebrate the accomplishments of their graduate. School districts better have a few more caps and gowns on hand. Our young people have diplomas to receive!