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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

New suspension policy does little in Philly

Philadelphia’s discipline reforms, which limited suspensions, improved attendance but not achievement for previously suspended students attending schools that complied with the new rules, concludes a new study. Never-suspended students “experienced worse outcomes in the most economically and academically disadvantaged schools.”

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Only 18 percent of Philadelphia schools fully complied with the new policies, while 60 percent were “partial compliers,” reports Evie Blad in Education Week.

The black-white suspension gap was unchanged, the study found. “As black students received fewer suspensions for more minor conduct offenses, they received more suspensions for more serious infractions,” writes Blad.

Racial bias is not the major factor in discipline disparities, argues Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “On average, due to a host of factors beyond their own control, including poverty, fatherlessness, and trauma, poor children of color are more likely to misbehave at school than are their peers.”

For example, black students are 2.2 times more than whites to say they’ve been in a fight in school over the past year; they’re three times more likely to be suspended. That suggests that “differences in behavior make up close to three quarters of the suspensions gap,” writes Petrilli.

A recent Louisiana study found a large black-white discipline gap overall, but a very small gap when they analyzed fights between black and white students.

High-poverty, high-minority schools suspend a lot more students than lower-poverty, lower-minority ones, notes Petrilli. He guesses that these “Suspension Factories, are mediocre-to-abysmal schools in general, with weak cultures that are struggling to maintain order.”

He advocates more focus on “addressing student misbehavior, via better teaching, better counseling, stronger attention to character, more engaging environments, and stronger relationships among kids and between kids and adults in a school.”

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