October 26 2017

Researchers at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project reported this week that school suspensions cost California students more than 840,000 days of lost class time each year.  It’s hard to learn when you’re not in class.

And it’s hard to graduate when you’re not learning. That’s why even a single suspension is associated with a two-fold risk that a student won’t graduate from high school. And when young people don’t graduate, they are much more likely to have lower incomes and suffer from preventable health problems.

The research also reports huge ethnic disparities in suspension. Statewide, Black students lost about four days of instructional time for every one lost by White students. Native Americans and Latino students also face outsized suspension risk. In many districts, disparities are even worse.

There is some good news. Overall, California suspensions are on a downward trend—days lost due to suspension dropped by nearly half from 2011 to 2015. Researchers expect that trend to continue when 2016 data is released this fall.

The positive trend is the direct result of advocates pushing local districts to embrace restorative justice and other positive discipline alternatives. A new state law that bars suspension for “defiance/disruption” in grades K-3 is also contributing.

I’m pleased by that top-line trend, but we still have much more work to do. Many districts are fighting the movement against needless suspensions or failing to give teachers adequate support in transforming their discipline practice. And, the state law that limits defiance suspensions is scheduled to expire in a few months.

We must keep working!

If we want to close the opportunity gap, we must close the suspension gap!

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