Sunday, June 23, 2013

Every Student Every Day Coalition and DCLY talk truancy and school discipline

Today, the DC Council will hold an oversight hearing on truancy reduction in DCPS. This is an important topic for the future of the District, as school attendance is strongly linked with a student’s likelihood of high school graduation and future employment. While the Council and members of the Truancy Taskforce should be commended for their focus on truancy over the last two years, another major cause of schools absences – school suspensions and expulsions – has not received enough attention.

During the 2011-12 school year, the District suspended over 10,000 students (13% of its student body) and imposed over 18,000 individual suspensions. These suspensions disproportionately impacted certain populations of students, including students in special education and students attending schools in the wards with the highest levels of child poverty.

Compared to their unsanctioned peers, students who are suspended are twice as likely to repeat a grade and three times as likely to become involved with the juvenile justice system. These effects hold even when controlling for race, poverty, test scores, teacher-student ratio, per-pupil expenditure, and dozens of other variables. The current research validates common sense: taking students out of the classroom makes them less likely to succeed.

Additionally, the available research on truancy in the District suggests that suspensions may contribute to the high levels of truancy in the District. The numbers have consistently shown that truancy skyrockets in DC high schools, while DCPS suspension rates are highest among middle school students, with over 35% suspended during a single school year. According to an Urban Institute study published last year, the truancy rate of a DCPS high school was strongly predicted by the attendance rates of its students during eighth grade. Though more investigation is required, these pieces of evidence considered together suggest that the high level of suspensions in middle school may be a partial cause of the high levels of truancy in high school.

In short, suspensions and expulsions are a major source of school absences today and may produce many more future absences in the form of truancy. Based on these findings, we urge lawmakers to broaden their focus and consider how they can reduce all school absences, including those that result from suspension and expulsion.

Alex Peerman is the Policy & Advocacy Associate at DC Lawyers for Youth. Alex is one of the authors of "District Discipline: The Overuse of Suspension and Expulsions in the District of Columbia," (PDF) a recent report published by the Every Student Every Day Coalition.


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