ARTICLE

Portfolio Activity for “Suspending Hope”

Schools in Maryland and Connecticut are rethinking suspension policies. Promoting positive behavior has led to higher graduation rates, especially among students of color.

This activity is to accompany the Teaching Tolerance article "Suspending Hope."

Reflection

  • How would you describe the culture and environment at your school, related to student behavior and discipline?
  • Why are students most often sent to the office at your school? Could these issues be handled in a different way? Are teachers trained how to best handle student behavior?
  • What are your school’s suspension policies?
  • Are the neediest students suspended and are their needs addressed or ignored?
  • How does your school integrate intervention and prevention into discipline policies?
  • How can you integrate the suggestions at the end of the article into your school or classroom?

Suspension Statistics at a Glance

  • Prior to efforts to reduce suspension rates, Baltimore City Public Schools reported that its combined total suspensions accounted for 106,000 missed days of school—the equivalent of 590 students missing a full year of school. Two-thirds of these suspensions were handed down for minor infractions, such as disrespect, insubordination, using cell phones in school and attendance issues.
  • In Connecticut four years ago, prior to passage of a state law limiting out-of-school suspensions, two-thirds of suspensions were based on violations such as skipping school and showing disrespect.

Sources: “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” Open Society Institute-Baltimore, Connecticut Voices for Children

Targeting the Neediest

Pedro A. Noguera, a professor of teaching and learning at New York University, has done research that shows that a school’s neediest students too often receive the lion’s share of punishment. This group includes not only students of color, but also students with learning disabilities, students who are teased and harassed by their peers, students who live with poverty and students who suffer abuse or neglect at home.

These are the students being pushed out of school by overzealous use of out-of-school suspensions. “It is common for the neediest students to be disciplined and for the needs driving their misbehavior to be ignored,” Noguera wrote in “What Discipline Is For: Connecting Students to the Benefits of Learning.”
Noguera urges educators to form genuine relationships with these students, crossing boundaries of race and class.

“Rather than punishing students by sending them home for fighting, educators should teach students how to resolve conflicts peacefully,” he wrote. “Discipline should always teach a moral lesson.”

Alternative forms of discipline, ones that keep students in school and engaged in learning, Noguera says, “can reduce the likelihood that the neediest and most disengaged students, who are frequently children of color, will be targeted for repeated punishment.” Read Noguera’s “What Discipline Is For.”

Resources

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
The Oregon Department of Education offers a clearinghouse website for PBIS information and resources.
Also read “The Building Blocks of Positive Behavior,” from an earlier issue of Teaching Tolerance

Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis
Excerpt: “Despite nearly two decades of implementation of zero-tolerance disciplinary policies and their application to mundane and non-violent misbehavior, there is no evidence that frequent reliance on removing misbehaving students improves school safety or student behavior.”

School Climate Survey (and other resources)
Teaching Diverse Students Initiative
A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Read more about it: For citations and sources, read “School Disciplinary Systems: Alternatives to Suspension and Expulsion” by Russell Skiba and M. Karega Rausch, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Indiana University.

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