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UCLA report: Public school suspension policies do more harm than good

A fifth grade classroom at San Pedro Street Elementary School.
A fifth grade classroom at San Pedro Street Elementary School.
Rebecca Hill/KPCC

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A report released Monday by UCLA's Civil Rights Project finds that suspensions affected as many as one-in-nine students beyond the elementary level. The report, titled "Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools" looked at U.S. Department of Education data for 26,000 schools across the country.

Researchers found that while suspension rates for Asian and white students remained largely unchanged between 1973 and 2010, suspension rates for African-American and Latino students doubled.

The study's co-author, Dan Losen, said the findings reminded him of his elementary school teaching days in Massachusetts 25 years ago.

"When I started teaching I was sending kids to the principal’s office right and left for all sorts of things," Losen said. It was mostly, he said, because he didn’t have good classroom management skills, and little training on how to build positive connections with his students. He said many teachers still don’t get this training. The suspension study he co-authored details how suspensions can derail a student's academic improvement.
"Kids who are already on the fence and maybe are disengaged youth or at risk of dropping out, suspending them — especially for something minor — is going to push them out further," he said.

Losen said the likelihood of dropping out from school can rise to 32 percent for a ninth-grader who's been suspended just once. 

Activist Maisie Chin has been working with parents and students to cut suspensions in South L.A. schools. She’d give L.A. Unified a “C” grade for its effort.
"There’s some great attention being paid to it and there needs to be much more courageous leadership of where the rubber meets the road," she said.

It’s easy to tell schools to cut suspensions, Chin said. It’s much harder to adopt a program to train teachers about why students act out, develop alternative responses, and spend time gathering student and parent input.