Do bad apples spoil the learning?

 African Americans and students with disabilities are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates,” according to a report by a group called the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. 

Higher rates of misbehavior don’t explain higher suspension rates, said Russell J. Skiba, a professor at Indiana University and director of the collaborative. He pointed to other factors such as classroom management, diversity of teaching staff, administrative processes, characteristics of student enrollment and school climate.

Suspending disruptive students doesn’t help their classmates, the report argues.

One oft-repeated justification for frequent suspensions is that schools must be able to remove the “bad” students so that “good” students can learn. . . .  when schools serving similar populations were compared across the state of Indiana, and poverty was controlled for, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower test scores

Troubled kids  hurt the whole class responds Education Next, citing two recent studies.

Domino Effect found children from “troubled families, as measured by family domestic violence,” are much more likely misbehave and be suspended.

We find also that an increase in the number of children from troubled families reduces peer student math and reading test scores and increases peer disciplinary infractions and suspensions… in many cases, a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.

Philadelphia study by Penn researchers found that “in schools with a high concentration of children with ‘risk factors,’ the academic performance of all children – not just those with disadvantages – was negatively affected.”

The collaborative would respond that suspension isn’t the only way to prevent troubled kids from disrupting their classes.  Researchers recommend “some restorative justice programs and prevention programs that call for more student-teacher engagement.”

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is “very nervous” about making it harder to discipline students.  “This push to make it harder to suspend students is going to have a chilling effect on teaching and learning.”

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  1. Picture a kindergarten class with one (in this real case, black; not that it makes a behavioral difference) kid who routinely hits, kicks, bites, spits, throws books and chairs, curses, attacks classmates with scissors and who is physically large enough that three adults are needed to carry her from the room (and who are immediate targets of kicks, bites etc). Does anyone with an iota of common sense think that her terrorized classmates are able to focus on academics? The mom won’t allow testing for behavioral problems because “it’s racist”

  2. “when schools serving similar populations were compared across the state of Indiana, and poverty was controlled for, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower test scores”

    “Similar populations”? Measured how? Just by race? Because not all whites are the same, not all blacks are the same, etc. Now if Skiba could show that they came from similar family backgrounds and neighborhoods with similar levels of gang activity (somehow, I think Gary might look bad compared to Shelbyville…), he might have actually proven something with that statement.
    And if schools have relatively low suspension rates, doesn’t that indicate that their student body is as a whole likely better behaved? In which case, the fact that the students in those schools score better serves as evidence of the importance of promoting good behavior in schools, which is hardly likely to be done by preventing teachers and administrators from suspending unruly students.
    As a parent, I would do all I could to avoid sending my own child to a school where their fellow students couldn’t be kicked out for bad behavior. How does the constant presence of gang fights and assault help anyone? The WaPo article comments are informative as to why concerned black parents are fleeing DC schools for charter schools.

  3. If charters do nothing else differently from the other schools, they remove troublemakers and enforce good behavior – necessary preconditions for other good things, like more learning. No wonder so many parents like them.