Last month, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that he would soon unveil further, sweeping changes to the discipline code of the nation’s largest school district. This promises to be another big step in the wrong direction for the district’s 1.1 million students, given the data suggesting that his predecessor’s reforms to sharply curtail school suspensions have done substantial harm: from rising student perceptions of violence and disrespect, to a troubling rise in bullying, to a dramatic increase in teacher assaults, to a rise in violence and other indicators on state data, to the first killing in decades in a city school — to a local state legislator warning that students are fleeing public schools because of chaos in the classroom caused by a lack of discipline.
Given that Carranza expounds a philosophy that holds objectivity to be a key pillar of “white supremacy culture,” no amount of data is likely to shake his convictions. But hopefully other school leaders across America will take seriously the burgeoning evidence suggesting that limiting suspensions and implementing so-called restorative justice may be doing more harm than good.
The brightest evidence, which comes to us from Chicago Public Schools, is rather equivocal: One study found that decreasing the length of suspensions led to a deterioration in school climate but had no effect on academics; another study found that slightly decreasing the frequency with which students were suspended for serious misbehavior had no impact on school climate and a slightly positive impact on academics.
Philadelphia went much further than Chicago, banning suspensions for nonviolent “conduct” offenses such as using profanity or failing to obey classroom rules. Researchers found a substantial negative effect on academics: Achievement decreased by 3 percentage points in math and nearly 7 percentage points in reading after three years. And, in a perverse irony, African-American students ended up spending more time out of school on suspension because the number of suspensions for more serious offenses rose.
Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a new report, Safe and Orderly Schools: Updated Guidance on School Discipline. Follow him on Twitter here
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