Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 8, 2015

Suspension belief

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:08 am

Sometimes somethings are so obvious that the resulting conclusion is a big “no duh” but the fact that the issue needs to be measured at all is indicative of the need to state the obvious.  Recently the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA released a report that said, essentially, schools are suspending too many kids that that interferes with their learning.   The data shows instead that school districts that suspend lower number of kids result in higher achievement. While there has been some change in the way suspensions are meted out, there are still discipline gaps. From the study:

Some readers may think curtailing suspensions would have a negative impact, but this report starts and ends with examples that counter the assumption that frequent suspensions are necessary to protect the learning environment. Specifically, the introductory statewide analysis shows that, in California, lower district suspension rates are correlated with higher district achievement. The analysis used discipline data from every district that reported data in both 2011-12 and 2012-13. The inverse relationship between suspensions and achievement held true each year for every racial/ethnic subgroup, and especially for Black students.

We caution against overstating these findings and remind readers that the evidence is not proof of causation. The study describes the relationship between suspensions and achievement scores in California without controlling for other factors that might affect it. On the other hand, the findings do shed doubt on the assumption that rising test scores and decreasing suspension rates are mutually exclusive. It may well be that both declining use of suspension and rising academic success are two indicators of districts with strong leadership, vision, and community involvement.

The Alameda hook, because there always is one, is that Alameda (along with Berkeley) were used as examples of how two school districts have reduced suspension rates but have also achieved an increase in test scores, from the report:

In January 2014, AUSD issued a press release about their declining discipline rates. Kelly Lara, director of student services, attributed the reductions to the district’s positive and progressive discipline plan, character education programs, and districtwide professional development for administrators on student discipline. Lara noted that the discipline plan “seeks to identify interventions and disciplinary practices that will support students in making better choices and understanding the impact of their behavior on both their classrooms and their community.” The district also called attention to racial disparities in discipline and publicly acknowledged that their rates were still too high and the disparities too wide.

Numerous administrators described to us what they were doing to address the disparities districtwide, including restorative justice programs at the high school. In response to our further questions about the relationship between improving scores and declining suspensions, Alameda superintendent Sean McPhetridge said, “It’s a simple thing; if we keep kids in school, they learn.” McPhetridge went on to explain that the district had been making a concerted effort to make their school environments safe and tolerant. He pointed out that the district had invested in a “caring school curriculum,” was among the first of California’s school districts to reach out to the LGBT student community, and had put supports in place to reduce bullying. He also highlighted the district’s investment in schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports, and, most recently, in restorative justice programs in their 6-12 school.

Also noteworthy was McPhetridge’s personal commitment to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. He described his experiences as an educator, including teaching reading to prisoners on death row at San Quentin. His experiences there inspired his passion for helping historically disadvantaged youth in Alameda. He stated that “if we don’t educate we’ll build more prisons…We must acknowledge that there are disproportional rates of suspension and special education referrals and restrictive settings, [which] means we are still marginalizing youth of color…[This] is a drain on the community and morally wrong.”

Superintendent McPhetridge also highlighted the work of other district leaders, including Kiersten Zazo, a principal, and Audrey Hyman, president of the local teachers union. He noted that Principal Zazo’s school incorporated a model of restorative justice that relies heavily on peer mentors, who help individuals who have transgressed take action to restore all parties. In his opinion, restorative justice “embodies the principle of educate, do not incarcerate.” He also gives credit to the union leadership and the rank-and-file members, who he said have worked closely and cooperatively with the district and are concerned about inequity. In his words, the teachers “have been keeping their eyes on the prize.”

McPhetridge stated that high rates of exclusion and significant racial disparities persist in Alameda, and that he is committed to eliminating them. According to the most recent data AUSD provided to CCRR, there were 432 suspensions in 2014-15, 220 of them for disruption/defiance. The suspension rate per 100 students overall continued to decline, from 5.2 to 4.3 OSS per 100, but this was based on declines for Latino and White students (from 7 to 5.5 and from 4 to 2.2, respectively). Meanwhile, the rate for Blacks increased from 17.8 to 18.5 OSS per 100. In other words, after two consecutive years of decreasing suspension rates and narrowing racial gaps, the most recent data show the racial discipline gap between Blacks and both Latinos and Whites increased in Alameda, while it decreased slightly between Latinos and Whites. It is worth noting that a large share of the suspensions meted out to Black students was for disruption/defiance. According to our calculations, if Alameda had introduced a policy of not suspending students out-of-school for disruption/defiance, the overall Black suspension rate would have declined to 13.7 per 100.



  1. The problem with the districts policy is that it is reactive, and doesn’t address the failure of most students to see teachers of color n their classrooms. Majority of teachers and administrators= white females. Majority of suspensions= African- American males, and the majority of those suspended are special education students. Each of the high schools has certain teachers who try to “control” their classes through suspension. They are well known to administrators. Perhaps part of a more comprehensive solution is hiring more teachers and administrators of color, having white educators learn alternatives to discipline, confronting their own inherent racism, and retraining on classroom control techniques.

    And test scores are way down on the latest Common Core tests at the major high schools, not up….

    Comment by Captain Obvious — December 8, 2015 @ 7:09 am

  2. If it works, try it, or try it to see if it works. Sending kids home relocates, but does not address, the underlying problem. The thoughtful show The Wire devoted a season to dramatizing the issue (albeit in a very different setting – Baltimore). One question I had after reading the piece, given the reference to racial disparities as indicative of a deficient approach to discipline, is whether there is any data on Asian (a broad classification) students, who are at least a plurality at some schools in Alameda?

    Comment by MP — December 8, 2015 @ 7:20 am

  3. I agree that more teachers of color in the classroom would be a great help. I’ve experienced this first hand, and having a teacher of color in the classroom, pretty much resolved our problems. It sounds like diversity training and more teachers of color in the classroom could turn things around.

    Also, our Superintendent McPhetridge is extraordinary!

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 8, 2015 @ 7:47 am

  4. I wonder if the progress slips due to the high turnover of teachers right now because of Common Core implementation (teachers close to retirement choosing not to “start over”) and the strong economy, high housing cost issues.
    Wouldn’t seem like a stretch to think that inexperienced teachers would be less effective. Though, the new ones are taught w/ stronger “social justice” mindset than those w/ many years under their belts.

    And yes, McPhetridge does seem awesome.

    Comment by BMac — December 8, 2015 @ 10:44 am

  5. We’re so pleased that the Center for Civil Rights Remedies used AUSD as an example of how reducing suspensions can be associated with higher achievement. We also wanted to point out, however, that contrary to the last line quoted from the report, AUSD’s Board Policy 5144 stipulates that “District staff shall not suspend any student for disruption or willful defiance, unless the suspension is warranted by documented repetitive behavior of the student or the disruption or willful defiance occurred in conjunction with another violation for which the student may be suspended.” We will let CCRR know, and hopefully they can amend their report.

    Comment by Susan Davis (Community Affairs, AUSD) — December 8, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  6. Everyone doesn’t see it the same way.

    “Kids who are allowed to fail and face the consequences of their failures learn how to rebound, regroup, and adapt, taking the good stuff from the experience forward with them, while leaving behind the parts that don’t work,” Lahey told Science of Us. While she acknowledges that failure can sound terrifying to parents, it doesn’t have to. “When we rescue our kids from consequences, we short-circuit that cycle of learning,” she explained, “which can result in dependent, emotionally stunted kids who never learn how to adapt to the world around them.”

    And she doesn’t limit her educational philosophy to just letting kids and young adults experience relatively gentle setbacks. Bigger things, such as failing a class or failing out of school, getting arrested or “getting lost in the big, bad world feel dire in the moment,” Lahey explained. But she believes all of these things can be incredible turning points, moments of crisis that prompt serious learning and practical skills.

    In fact, researchers have found that the ability to recover from adversity is crucial for later benchmarks of success. Their study shows that “grit”— or perseverance — was a stronger predictor of completing high school, making the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee, completing the Army Special Operations Forces selection course, or staying married (for men, at least), than intelligence scores or physical aptitude. Recently, psychologists have also shown that some parents fall into a “protection trap” and that a healthy dose of fear can be a good learning experience. “The more a child avoids a situation that may be scary, the scarier it becomes because they don’t have a chance to overcome it,” Lindsay Holly, co-author of the study, said in a news release. “They aren’t given the chance to develop the coping skills or strategies to deal with the situation appropriately.”

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — December 8, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

  7. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed Hardcover – August 11, 2015

    In the tradition of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, this groundbreaking manifesto focuses on the critical school years when parents must learn to allow their children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.

    Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

    Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education, Lahey reminds us. Teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. They teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight—important life skills children carry with them long after they leave the classroom.

    Providing a path toward solutions, Lahey lays out a blueprint with targeted advice for handling homework, report cards, social dynamics, and sports. Most importantly, she sets forth a plan to help parents learn to step back and embrace their children’s failures. Hard-hitting yet warm and wise, The Gift of Failure is essential reading for parents, educators, and psychologists nationwide who want to help children succeed.

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — December 8, 2015 @ 6:49 pm

  8. Cobalt, WTF? The issue here is not about helicopter parenting, or Tiger parenting for that matter. Your usual strip and paste without comment makes it hard to know precisely what you think is the import of the material. 20/20 is always hindsight and in that we hopefully can learn, but failure is failure. I look at my twenties as a cautionary tale and consider myself lucky to have emerged even half in tact, so yeah, perseverance furthers, if you don’t end up dead or in prison. I was not at risk so much for the latter, like many kids falling through the cracks today, but I think the entire notion that failure is therapeutic, while it may be true in many ways, is also naive middle class bullshit. I think for failure to have odds of being a good learning experience rather than just produce low self esteem a kid needs a mentor or somebody in their corner which for starter would be somebody who would not throw them out of class as a first response to them acting out.

    When my white wife ( white female) was teaching ( now ended 4 years ago) she got deep into the politics of race and spent a lot of time studying with this program,

    Comment by MI — December 9, 2015 @ 8:38 am

  9. I am not sure how the authors of the study can say they are making any real point about suspensions and academic achievement without controlling for other factors.

    Academic achievement has almost always directly tracked with the socioeconomic backround of the family. High achieving districts are almost always economically better off districts. These better off districts would also likely have lower rates of suspensions. Also, given the economics of race, better off districts are likely to have lower rates of blacks and hispanics.

    What I find so disappointing about the whole discussion about academic achievement is the reverse way that it is carried out. Districts that are doing well have been rewarded for their achievements, which in reality have been largely based on their children being born into families that support and nuture their education. Districts that are doing poorly are vilified and punished, largely because their kids come from families that cannot provide that in home support and stability to result in better performance.

    These poorly performing districts don’t need budget cuts and punishment. They need additional resources, smaller classes, and extra support to get normal intelligence children who are behind to catch up. The smaller class sizes, additional aides, one on one work would all decrease suspension and behavior problems.

    But we just go on rewarding the well performing school districts and punishing the poorly performing districts and the kids that are born into those districts. No child left behind, my ass.

    Comment by JohnB — December 9, 2015 @ 12:14 pm

  10. 9. every child left behind. That is how Alameda Academy got started because of threat. It may be a successful program now, but it had a rocky start which is maybe neither here nor there, but the point is it was imposed.

    8. I thought better of my post , but since there was no link in 7 I just found it was a book. I seem to recall this book whose premise I probably agree, but in this context it seems a little absurd since applying this theory, i.e. urging the parents of kids who are getting suspended to embrace their kids failure seems to ignore who is getting suspended. Sorry for over reacting but it hit a nerve. And the nerve is not all hurt butt over perceived slight of white female teachers, as that is just a fact, or I assume it’s pretty accurate. Since I’m four years out of having anybody in my house as student or employee I initially held back on commenting, but 7 set me off because of personal history. Since I did reference spousal employment at ASUD again I’ll qualify my remarks by reiterating that back in the day, teachers in history department at Alameda High would often socialize on Friday evenings and when I hung out they talked a lot of shop. About 50/50 gender and one Hispanic male in the era I associated, but without exception they were very conscious of social justice aspect of their work and being on the front line in fighting the achievement gap. At least 3 taught AVID as well as history ( mentoring for kids from families with no college background) FYI- spouse was replaced by white female, but I think if there were legions of teachers of color applying for positions that would change, but that is it’s own discussion.

    This one department in one school may have been an exception and it is conceivable the comments in 1. are accurate. However, the assertions in 1. are very specific yet can’t be verified because Captain O. is anonymous. The odds seem great for almost any district that some teachers will rule by suspension, and it’s obvious the administration would know who they would be, but the entire point of this blog was to point out that Alameda has been on the vanguard of addressing the issue. The statistical breakdown showing an up tick for African American males is very interesting, but without lots of specifics it seems dangerous to make assumptions, like teachers are racist. Note Kelly Lara is of color.

    Comment by MI — December 10, 2015 @ 9:59 am

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