Hallway Patrol

Suspension rates continue to raise concerns, even as they drop

The number of suspensions that principals and superintendents handed out to students is down in the second year since the Department of Education was required to report the data publicly, but it’s still much higher than it was a decade ago.

City schools gave out 69,643 suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year, down from 73,441 in 2010-2011. As was the case last year, the vast majority of suspensions were principal suspensions, meaning students were not allowed to attend school for between one and five days. The number of principal suspensions declined slightly, from 58,386 to 56,385. The decline in the stricter superintendent suspensions was even more significant—those dropped from 15,055 in 2011 to 13,258 in 2012.

The data shows that a decline in suspensions preceded the department’s move to soften the discipline code by making fewer offenses grounds for suspension. Officials attributed the declines to efforts to reduce the penalties for minor behavioral problems and introduce more student-teacher conferences as alternatives to suspension.

“Many schools now are using conflict resolution and peer mediation, which has helped to address issues in a timely fashion,” said department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg. “We started implementing more and more training for these programs prior to 2012.”

This year’s numbers are better for some schools, but many are still high. Lehman High School handed out just over 650 suspensions, placing it second to Susan E. Wagner High School, which had about 700. And P.S. 189 handed out 19 suspensions to its youngest students—four year olds in Kindergarten. Richmond Hill High School topped the list of schools that gave out strict, longterm suspensions known as superintendent suspensions, with 89 suspensions. And like last year, the vast majority of students who were suspended were black or Latino.

For the first time this year, officials included information on the numbers of English Language Learners who received suspensions at each school. The school to give out the most suspensions to ELLs—about 160—was I.S. 061 Leonardo Da Vinci, a large middle school where 26 percent of its 2300 students are ELLs.

The student suspension data were released through the Student Safety Act, a law the City Council passed in 2010 to require transparency about discipline in city schools. The first set of data, released a year ago, revealed that many elementary schools were suspending children as young as five or six, while many high schools gave out hundreds of suspensions. The department came under fire over those high figures, and officials responded by promising to reduce penalties for minor behavioral problems and introduce more student-teacher conferences as alternatives to suspension. They followed up by overhauling the student discipline code in August.

Udi Ofer, advocacy director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the lower numbers were promising but still not low enough.

“The decline is clearly a step in the right direction, but the rate of suspensions is still more than double what it was at the beginning of the Bloomberg administration,” he said. He noted that NYCLU’s “Education Interrupted” report, released in 2011, found that there were 31,879 suspensions in the 2002-2003 school year, the first full school year after Bloomberg took office.

Ofer also said he remained concerned with the way the department released the data. The Student Safety Act does not required the city to release total numbers of suspensions for each student demographic category, and it has released those aggregate number selectively. For instance, it released aggregate student suspension data by race and by special education, but it declined to do so by age, gender or for English language learners. Though not required under the law, he said those numbers would be valuable for educators and advocates looking to get a complete picture of student suspensions.

“We commend the DOE for reporting suspension data for the first time in New York City history,” Ofer said. “However, the data is insufficient because we still don’t know the total number of students who were suspended and also English language learners. The DOE should release that immediately.”

In addition to the suspension data, officials released figures on the number of crimes committed in schools over the school year. Those numbers show that crime had a very slight uptick this year over last year—a departure from the slow, downward trend they saw between 2009 and 2011. This year there were 4,107 total crimes committed in schools, and 812 of them were for the seven major crimes. Last year 3,890 crimes were committed, and 801 were major crimes.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”