School re­form math in Bal­ti­more: Fewer sus­pen­sions equal bet­ter re­sults

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - JANE SUNDIUSANDSHAWNDOVE Jane Sundius is di­rec­tor of the ed­u­ca­tion and youth devel­op­ment pro­gram at Open So­ci­ety In­sti­tuteBal­ti­more. Shawn Dove is cam­paign man­ager for the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tion’s Cam­paign for Black Male Achieve­ment.

At a time when the un­der­achieve­ment of black boys in this coun­try can only be de­scribed as a na­tional cri­sis, there is fi­nally some good news. This fall, Bal­ti­more City Schools chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drés Alonso proudly re­ported that black male teens in his district are stay­ing in school and grad­u­at­ing in higher num­bers. The an­nounce­ment made head­lines, and for good rea­son: It proves that there are suc­cess­ful strate­gies in ap­proach­ing this seem­ingly in­tractable prob­lem. We urge other cities across the coun­try to learn from Bal­ti­more’s cre­ative ap­proach.

So how did they do it? School sys­tems, lo­cal phi­lan­thropies, not­for-profit groups, govern­ment of­fi­cials and oth­ers worked to­gether with the sin­gu­lar goal of im­prov­ing the aca­demic lives of those who need it most.

With help from com­mu­nity part­ners such as Open So­ci­ety In­sti­tute-Bal­ti­more, the city’s schools adopted a grad­u­ated sys­tem of con­se­quences and in­ter­ven­tions for stu­dent mis­con­duct that takes into ac­count the stu­dent’s age, the type of mis­be­hav­ior and other fac­tors. It makes sus­pen­sion a con­se­quence of last re­sort. In­creased fund­ing from the state ofMary­land also played an im­por­tant role, along with the clo­sure of big, fail­ing mid­dle schools and a con­certed ef­fort by school lead­ers to woo dropouts back to the class­room.

We have long known that ex­ces­sive use of sus­pen­sion and ex­pul­sion re­sults in higher rates of school ab­sence, aca­demic fail­ure and, even­tu­ally, quit­ting school al­to­gether. Ev­i­dence also points to sus­pen­sions lead­ing to higher in­ci­dence of ar­rests and ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion. Once the com­mit­ment was made to ad­dress dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior in school, sus­pen­sions in the district were cut in half.

Con­sider: In the 2003-04 school year, fewer than one out of two black male stu­dents grad­u­ated. Bal­ti­more schools handed out nearly 26,000 sus­pen­sions to a stu­dent body of just over 88,000 kids. Two-thirds were to boys and, re­flect­ing the city’s pop­u­la­tion, nearly all were to black stu­dents.

Fast for­ward to the 2009-10 school year: Two out of three black male stu­dents grad­u­ated, while the District handed out fewer than 10,000 sus­pen­sions. Im­por­tantly, far fewer were longer than five days. You would be hard pressed to find other ur­ban dis­tricts with that kind of progress.

Re­search has shown that out-of­school sus­pen­sions hurt aca­demic progress; are a ma­jor fac­tor in stu­dents’ drop­ping out; and be­cause they don’t teach new be­hav­iors, fail to im­prove school cli­mates. These find­ings don’t mean that schools should ig­nore bad be­hav­ior. And dan­ger­ous be­hav­ior by stu­dents shouldn’t be tol­er­ated. But the data show that most in­ci­dents do not fall into that “dan­ger­ous” cat­e­gory and that al­ter­na­tives such as in-school sus­pen­sion and me­di­a­tion are much more ef­fec­tive.

Keep­ing more young peo­ple in school means more time for learn­ing. When more learn­ing hap­pens, more stu­dents grad­u­ate. Black males are no ex­cep­tion to this sim­ple fact.

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