Schools are cracking down on students with discipline problems by implementing a record number of “out-of-school suspensions.” Do such suspensions do more harm than good?
The incidence of “out-of-school suspensions” is increasing dramatically. For example, the Chicago public school system suspended over 20,000 students in 2003, more than doubling the rate over the past decade. The major reasons offered by principals for such suspensions are fighting, students’ use of profanity, disrespect toward school staff, and violation of Zero Tolerance Policies. There is much controversy over the effectiveness of school suspension since it does not teach students more effective ways to handle conflict. Instead, it results in a loss of academic instructional time for a subgroup of students who need it most. Moreover, the disproportionate number of African American students who are suspended is troublesome. This has led some critics to characterize such suspension policies as a way to disenfranchise groups of children from their education.
Doesn’t out-of-school suspension send an important message to the offending student as well as to other students?
There is no research to support a deterrent effect of suspensions. An analogous situation in the adult world is the fact that prisons are full of people who knew precisely what might happen if they were caught. The reason that most students obey the rules has more to do with the expected benefits that come with acceptable behavior than fear of punishment for misbehavior. School can be a very rewarding environment for those who have the dispositions and skills to function in it competently. The wrong “message” is being sent to the offending student who is suspended out-of-school. That message is: “You as a person are so repugnant to us that you do not even deserve our attention or support.”
Won’t problem behavior increase when the students know they won’t be suspended out-of-school?
Problem behaviors in school escalate when segments of the student body find themselves without the skills necessary to behave in a desirable manner. Skills such as academic competence, anger management, impulse control, conflict resolution, and social problem-solving are important for effective participation in the academic environment. When larger and larger groups of students lack one or more of these competencies, the potential for escalating problem behavior increases. Rather than asking, “Why did this student misbehave?” it is more useful to ask, “What does this student need to know and be able to do to behave appropriately?”
Is it all on the administrator’s shoulders, or do teachers have a role in helping to reduce suspensions?
Teachers should play a major role in the effort to reduce out-of-school suspension. The first line of prevention is in the well-managed classroom. The chances that a student will be suspended are reduced to almost zero if that student is not sent to the administrator for discipline. Consequently, all efforts to reduce out-of-school suspensions must include an assessment and, if necessary, training in classroom management skills. Skilled classroom managers create conditions that reduce the potential for misbehavior through structure, differential instruction to meet academic needs, and the fair and consistent application of classroom-level consequences for rule infractions. Administrators should consult with “high-referring” teachers and engage in problem-solving strategies to enhance classroom management skills. In addition, behavioral management strategies in public areas such as the lunchroom, commons, and hallways should be assessed for adequate policies and supervision. IMPROVING CLASSROOM BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT
Rather than suspend out-of-school, what can be done to send a clear message that the behavior is unacceptable?
Many school districts in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Merced and a number of smaller school districts are using anger management in lieu of suspension for aggressive behavior at school. Students are seen individually, in small groups as well in semester long classes. These programs are use an Emotional Intelligence Curricula including a Pre and Post Assessment for “impulse control”/anger management.