The case against suspensions is unproven, argues Max Eden, a senior fellow of education policy at the Manhattan Institute, who’s guest-blogging for Rick Hess.
The attack on suspensions, writes Eden, rests on three assertions: “Disparate impact of school suspensions is evidence that they are racially motivated; (2) Suspensions do significant harm to students; (3) “Restorative justice” is a viable and more humane alternative, so we can reduce suspensions safely.
Blacks are suspended far more than Latinos, whites or Asians.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Shaun Harper conducted a major study of suspensions in southern states that showed some disparities far too striking to be explicable without racial bias. Another study showed that white teachers tend to view black student behavior more negatively than black teachers.
But policy changes that assume “racial bias is solely responsible for the disparity” may go too far, breeding “rampant disorder,” writes Eden.
He also questions the “oft-heard claim is that school suspensions place students in the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’.”
You would rather expect long-term differences between a troublemaker and a well-behaved student of a similar background; you wouldn’t necessarily conclude that the suspension caused the differences.
The most dubious claim, writes Eden, is that there are safe alternatives to suspension.
While there “are case studies of schools that have successfully adopted a ‘restorative justice’ model, “much of the reliable evidence on the effects of rapid, large-scale school discipline reform in major urban districts is pretty grim,” he writes.
In Chicago, where a thorough study of the effects of shortening suspension length found a significant worsening of student-reported peer-relations, and teacher-reported crime and disorder. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has also undertaken a major suspension-reduction initiative. In de Blasio’s first year, according to the NY State Education Department, the number of violent incidents in schools increased from 12,978 to 15,934, the steepest increase on record.
In St. Paul, Superintendent Valeria Silva ordered “racial equity” reforms to narrow the discipline gap. Rising disorder is one of the issues that led to her firing (with a $787,500 exit package).
In an incisive postmortem, the Center for the American Experiment’s Katherine Kersten quotes St. Paul Police spokesman Steve Linders saying that fights that “might have been between two individuals … [now become] melees involving 40 or 50 people.” Kersten also relates the story of a teacher who, after being crushed into a shelf by a student, asks her students to use a secret knock before she’ll open the door to her classroom.
Denise Rodriguez, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, demanded, “Do students and staff deserve to come to work every day and not expect to be assaulted?”