Madison’s School Discipline Gets National Attention

UCLA’s Civil Rights Project recently released a comprehensive national report, entitled, Are we Closing the School Discipline Gap?  


As the authors state:

The egregious disparities revealed in the pages that follow transform concerns about educational policy that allows frequent disciplinary removal into a profound matter of civil rights and social justice. This implicates the potentially unlawful denial of educational opportunity and resultant disparate impact on students in numerous districts across the country.

The authors go on to draw the connection between excessive discipline and and poor academic performance.  As they mention:

missing three days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress translated into fourth graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on this test. New research shows that higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and that they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students…

The authors conclude that:

the large racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions that we document in this report likely will have an adverse and disparate impact on the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children. This supports our assertion that we will close the racial achievement gap only when we also address the school discipline gap.

The report contains an addendum which highlights 20 school districts, including Madison, Wisconsin. It is important to note that the report uses data from 2009-2012, before the inception of Madison’s new Behavior Education Plan at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.  The authors describe the data from the earlier period as “deeply disturbing.”  They highlight the following:

in 2011-12, over 46% of all Black students with disabilities and over 49% of all Black males with disabilities were suspended at least once at the secondary school level. The district’s overall rates are also above the national average at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Equally troubling is that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s suspension rates increased between 2009-10 and 2011-12:

• Overall suspension rates at the elementary level increased, with roughly 595 students suspended at least once in 2011-12, or 4.2%. This represents an increase of 1.7 percentage points from the 2009-10 rate of 2.5%.

• Overall suspension rates at the secondary level increased, with roughly 1,620 students suspended at least once in 2011-12, or 12.9%. This represents an increase of over one half a percentage point from the 2009-10 rate of 12.3%.

With this national attention in mind, it is worth examining how Madison’s new Behavior Education Plan has impacted this disturbing situation. Coincidentally, on the exact same day that the Civil Rights Project released its report, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) released its Behavior Education Plan Mid-Year Review.

First, the good news, suspension have dropped significantly from the 2013-14 school year to the current year.  However, the disparities in discipline remain.

  • 35% of all suspensions were of children with disabilities even though they only represent 14% of the total district population (this is somewhat better than the 39% rate in 2013-14);
  • 84% of all suspensions were of children who receive free or reduced lunch due to their low income status, far greater than their 48% of the total student population (and somewhat lower than the 87% rate in 2013-14);
  • 64% of suspensions were of African-American students despite their only being 18% of the total district population (this is worse than the 59% rate in 2013-14); and
  • the best news was that Hispanic student suspensions dropped to 9% from the previous year’s 13%, both of which are lower than their overall 20% of the student population.

The question for Madison is not whether the Behavior Education Plan is having an impact. It clearly is reducing suspensions.  However, given the stark disparities which still remain, as I have repeatedly stated, until MMSD sets measurable goals for the Plan, neither it, nor the public at large will be able to determine whether it is accomplishing what we believe it should, namely more time in school resulting in improved academic performance and closing the achievement gap.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


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