The Persistence of the School to Prison Pipeline

Recently, a local reporter contacted me to comment on a case in which a 16-year-old African-American boy with disabilities, who was a sophomore at Madison West High School, and under Dane County Juvenile Court monitoring when he ran away from home. While he was gone, the student’s home detention court monitor in charge of checking up on his school attendance and behavior, asked West High’s dean of students to write a letter to the court about him. The letter characterized the student as a troublemaker who was a bad influence on other students.

As the front page story stated, the dean of students’ letter to the court opened with the following statement, “I write because I think (the student’s) transfer here from (a suburban high school) has ultimately not been good for him and frankly not good for West.” Despite this statement, the boy had not been expelled. The boy’s mother believes that letter resulted in her son being ordered to remain in juvenile detention for another 3 weeks.

As if the dean of students’ letter did not cause enough harm to the boy, according to the newspaper report, “the court commissioner decided to extend the student’s detention, referencing “impulsiveness” described in his individualized education plan (IEP) and the need to come up with a plan to address it.”

I did not represent this student, but due to my background in school discipline and special education matter, the reporter contacted me, and as she reported, I told her that I had never heard of an IEP being used in court to detain a student. I went on to say that this scenario:

is a direct example of the “school to prison pipeline,” the idea that students — particularly children of color and students with disabilities — are pushed out of school into the criminal justice system due to discriminatory discipline practices, lack of resources to support students with special needs, police in schools and other methods.

“In (this example) you’ve got an administrator contacting the juvenile justice authorities about what’s going on in school, and you’ve got an IEP being used against a child.

“You see that children of color and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the school to prison pipeline… It is disturbing that we even have such a thing in our society. Schools should be designed not to end up incarcerating children but to educate them.”

The question, of course, is why the school to prison pipeline continues to persist. Many advocates have been fighting against it and while some reductions in suspensions rates have occurred, the trend lines in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest school district are troubling.

In the 2015-16 school year (the most recent data available), Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) suspended:

  • 10,267 students or 13.6% of all its students up from 10.6% the year before;
  • 8,227 African-American students or 20.3% of those students;
  • 436 White students or 4.4% of those students;
  • 3,044 students with disabilities or 19.7% of those students;
  • 7,223 students without disabilities or 12% of those students.

Thus, a disproportionately high number of MPS suspensions are of African-American students and students with disabilities.

Racine, which is the 5th largest school district in Wisconsin, had the second highest number of suspensions in Wisconsin that year. That school district suspended:

  • 2,151 students or 11.2% of all its students up from 9.5% the year before;
  • 1,292 African-American students or 25.5% of those students;
  • 395 White students or 5% of those students; and
  • for reasons that are unclear, Racine has not reported the number of its suspended students who have disabilities.

Despite lacking the disability information, the Racine data reveals the troubling trend of racial disproportionality in school discipline.

As this ACLU infographic shows, this is not an isolated problem, as the national data on the school to prison pipeline continues to persist.

090116-sttp-graphic

In the Madison case, the newspaper report concluded with a bit of good news. The dean of students who wrote the damning letter to the court conceded that:

“As an educator, I need to be an advocate for our students, and in this instance, I fell short. There isn’t any excuse for that, and I recognize the negative impact it had on this young person’s life,” she said. “I am learning from it, and I am committed to supporting and serving all students going forward.”

Moreover, the boy has since left West and enrolled in an alternative program in the district. Although his mother said she will have trouble ever trusting the district again, she told the reporter that her son is already doing better in the new environment.

“He really likes it,” she said.

When I sent a friend the article in which I am quoted, he noted the good news at the end of the article, but then he went on to say,

“Maybe this is the heart of things. Instead of focusing on a student’s needs for a smaller alternative program to further his education, it got framed as needing to protect the school from a dangerous student. In the name of “school safety,” we’re willing to harm individual kids-disproportionately kids of color and with disabilities. I think this is how Madison does racism. We never use the language of it but the impacts are just as bad.

While the persistence of the school to prison pipeline may have many reasons, one common theme is the persistence of racism and discrimination against students with disabilities. Until we tackle those issues, improved policies alone will not solve the problem.

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

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Reinvent School Policing

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) continues to study possible changes to the way it uses police in its schools. The school board set up an ad hoc committee to study this issue over a period of 15 months. At a recent meeting of that committee, some advocates argued that police have no business in our schools. They argue that restorative justice is a better approach to resolving discipline problems. However, others believe that police presence in our schools is necessary.

A few years ago, I suggested that police presence in schools should be limited to genuine emergencies in order to avoid the kind of abuse which some police have perpetrated on students in school as depicted  below from an incident in South Carolina. Subsequently, given that police presence continues in our schools, I urged that school based police officers need teen training in order to do their jobs successfully without fueling the school to prison pipeline.

SC police brutality

In Oakland, California, police stationed in schools are taking a different approach. While they handle tough situations that can range from verbal altercations to weapons possession and sexual assaults, they are tasked with much more than providing security in Oakland schools. Using social and emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy, self-awareness, and communication, officers are directed to build relationships with staff and students first, asking questions that might give them insight into why a student is upset or disengaged, or what really caused a fight.

The Oakland Unified School District started providing Social and Emotional Learning training to police stationed in its schools two years ago. The core competencies of SEL are:

  • Self-Awareness-The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  • Self-Management-The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.
  • Social Awareness-The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship Skills-The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making-The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

The Oakland school district started incorporating SEL into its curriculum in 2011, when it accepted the research that students with higher levels of social competence will not only do better in school, but they will have a better success rate in the workforce after school.

Like Madison and many other school districts nationwide, Oakland shares a problem with disproportionate discipline of students of color. To combat this problem, in 2015, Oakland started funding restorative justice programs and banned suspensions for “willful defiance” and “disruptive behavior.” Unfortunately, due to financial problems, Oakland’s SEL and restorative justice programs have been implemented piecemeal, with some schools seeing full adoption and others, none.

While I continue to question  the need for police in schools outside of genuine emergencies, I have no doubt that if police are stationed in our schools, they cannot use the same techniques and training that prepare them for patrolling the streets, with children inside schools. The sooner police in schools receive training geared towards teenage behavior and social and emotional learning, the more success they will have in stemming the flow of the schools to prison pipeline instead of fueling its growth.

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

 

Vague Goals Produce Vague Results

Three years ago, I wrote with concern that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Behavior Education Plan (BEP), while laudable in its purpose to reduce suspensions and expulsions and improve in school behavior, would be challenged to make genuine progress without specific goals. While I would be glad to admit that my prediction was wrong, the recently released Quarter 1 Review of the BEP confirms my fears.

school to prison pipeline

To be clear, due to some criticism of the BEP, including my own concern that it had vague goals, and insufficient staff training and support, a new implementation plan was adopted along with the following goals:

1) to promote and increase positive student behavior and social emotional growth, 2) to reduce use of out-of-school suspension and 3) to decrease disproportionate use of out-of-school suspension practices for African American students and students with disabilities.

Yet, these laudable goals are not specific, i.e., how much should positive student behavior and social emotional growth increase, how much should out-of-school suspensions decrease, and how much should disproportionate use of out-of-school suspensions for African American students and students with disabilities decrease? Moreover, if even these vague goals are not achieved, who should be held accountable for the failure to achieve these goals, and in what manner?

Remarkably, three years after the BEP was passed by the school board, without explanation or justification, the report concedes that:

A small number of schools, however, are working on establishing stable response systems, and achieving a basic level of positive student behavior and support for social emotional growth. These schools experienced, in first quarter, a disproportionate increase in level 2-5 behavior due in part to a lack of robust systems to support positive student behavior.

To be sure, there is good news in the report. For example:

  • Compared to first quarter of 2016-2017, the out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students in middle school has decreased significantly from 20:1 to 8:1.
  • The district-wide out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students and students with disabilities in Quarter 1 of this year is the lowest (10:1 for African American students and 6:1 for students with disabilities) it has ever been when comparing data from the past three first quarters of school.

However, these improvements are in stark contrast with the following bad news:

  • an overall increase in behavior events by 18% this year compared to 2016- 2017;
  • Elementary schools account for 61% of all level 2-5 incidents in Quarter 1 this year. Three of those schools had 28% of all elementary level 2-5 incidents;
  • Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year; despite reduced risk ratios, the increase is driven largely by middle school (24% increase) with students of all ethnicities accounting for some portion of the increase;
  • At the high school level, out-of-school suspensions and level 2-5 incidents are slightly up this year compared to last year, and the increase mostly impacts African American students; and
  • Most schools are below the expected baseline of implementation in the intervention category and have strategies “off track” to address the need.

Remarkably, the report’s Next Steps contain absolutely no focus on problem schools, specific goals to achieve or accountability for failure to achieve the many goals that remain out of reach.

What remains unexplained is how the behavior incidents dropped from 17,015 involving 3,841 students in the 2015-16 school year to 14,929 incidents involving 3,344 students, but then rose to exceed the already high 2015-16 numbers to 17,678 incidents involving 4,112 students. Without evidence, the report attributes this over 16% jump to, “more cohesive and comprehensive school implementation of practices foundational to behavior education.” Yet, such a statement is clearly counter-intuitive since the primary goal of the BEP is reduce behavior incidents, a dramatic rise in behavior incidents the 3rd year of implementation simply cannot be the result of better implementation that is counter to the goal.

Regarding the disproportionality goal, the report states that:

Disproportionality, particularly for our African American students, students with disabilities, and male students persists. With a disproportionality increase of 2%, in behavior incidents for African American students supporting schools, particularly addressing the implementation area that focuses on decision making. While we have not yet moved the needle for our African American students, we have experienced a 2% decrease in disproportionality for male students and 7% decrease for students with disabilities.

Since it is well documented that the school to prison pipeline is fueled by out of school suspensions and expulsions, one must wonder why MMSD has failed to reduce out of school suspensions. Yet, the report reveals that:

Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year, an increase (24%) driven largely by middle schools.

Worse than that and perhaps revealing the complete failure of accountability in implementing the BEP, the report honestly concedes that:

this data is not surprising. A key reflection, following the evaluation, was that continuing to do more of the same will not move the needle.

While the report praises the fact that out of school suspension disproportionality for African American students has decreased, such a decrease hardly matters when the overall suspension rate continues to rise.

The report fails to comment on the deeply troubling data that out of school suspension disproportionately for students with disabilities increased significantly. While 15% of MMSD’s students have disabilities, 55% of out of school suspensions involve students with disabilities, up from 50% in the prior 2 years. Sadly, the report fails to mention a single recommendation about how to improve supports for special education staff and students to mitigate this problem.

To its credit, the report is candid about the many ways in which the school district is off track in implementing the BEP. What it does not explain is why such failure is allowed to persist. Towards the end of the report, all schools are listed by where they are in implementing the BEP divided by 3 phases. This shows that elementary schools are making vastly more progress in implementing the BEP with a majority of those schools already at phase 3. But, without explanation, this chart also shows that no middle schools are at phase 3 and only half are at phase 2 of implementation, and even  worse, no high schools are in phase 3 and only 1 (Memorial) is at phase 2.

As I have said since I praised the adoption of the BEP, the plan is a good one, the failures then as now continue to be that it has:

  • vague goals;
  • lack of accountability; and
  • insufficient staff training and support.

Until the MMSD school board addresses these problems, we can expect to see a continuation of mixed results from an otherwise laudable plan, which is a wasted opportunity to improve the lives of our students and keep them out of the school to prison pipeline.

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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.

 

Seclusion & Restraint Surges in Madison

In response to an Open Records request, I recently received the 2015-16 school year seclusion and restraint use data from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As MMSD has not published this data on its website, contact me at through my website if you want a copy of the data.

The use of these dangerous, aversive techniques rose significantly from the previous year, which had increased from the year before that as the numbers below reveal. Even more troubling is the wide variation of use of seclusion and restraint between schools and particularly high use in elementary and alternative schools, as well as among children with disabilities.

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U.S. Senator Tom Harking introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” in 2014

MMSD 2015-16 Seclusion & Restraint Data highlights

Numbers of Students Impacted

  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 7.09
  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 5.23
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: Orchard Ridge: 16 students with disabilities/33 students without disabilities (lowest numbers were redacted by school district to protect confidentiality)
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 5.62
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 3.46
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Whitehorse: 7 students with disabilities/ 0 students without disabilities
  • Middle School with Lowest Use: O’Keefe had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint
  • High School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 3
  • High School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 1.6
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 18 students with Disabilities/ 19 students without disabilities.
  • High School with Lowest Use: Shabazz had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint

Numbers of Incidents

  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 56.29
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 74.6
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion  and Restraint Used in combination: 36.6
  • Elementary Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 94.29
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: LEAP (Olson Elementary Alternative Program): 435 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 435 times)
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Restraint Only: 12.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Only: 10.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 6.62
  • Middle School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 16.15
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Sennett: 27 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 27 times)
  • High School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 7.33
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 5.17
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 3.5
  • High School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 9
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 49 total incidents

Districtwide Totals

  • Students with Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 324
  • Students without Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 231
  • Total Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 2,136
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 2,749
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion & Restraint in Combination: 1,369
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion and/or Restraint Use: 3,516

MMSD Analysis

  • 2% of MMSD students experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • 5.6% of MMSD students with disabilities experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • Seclusion and restraint use is highest in elementary schools (16.49%)
  • Mean incidents of restraint use in elementary schools was 56.3/building with a range per building of 1 to 436
  • Mean incidents of seclusion use in elementary schools was 74.6/building with a range of 0 to 309
  • There has been a steady increase in use of seclusion in restraint since data was collected for the first time in 2013-14 as follows:
    • 2013-14: 975 incidents of restraint and 1,387 incidents of seclusion
    • 2014-15: 1,266 incidents of restraint and 1,688 incidents of seclusion
    • 2015-16: 1,452 incidents of restraint and 2.064 incidents of seclusion
  • A small number of elementary schools account for the vast number of incidents with 23 elementary schools reported increased use and only 12 elementary schools reporting a decline.
  • MMSD hypothesizes that the increased use is simply due to better data collection
  • MMSD concedes that, “for those elementary schools that have consistently demonstrated increases in the number of incidents of restraint and seclusion, a pattern of over-reliance on restraint/seclusion may be evident.” MMSD plans training and follow up for these schools.

Conclusions

When I helped to pass Act 125 in 2012 to document and regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, one of the chief goals was to reduce the use of these aversive techniques. Sadly, MMSD has gone in the opposite direction, and has failed to:

  1. hold principals of schools with continually increasing rates accountable for these increases;
  2. correlate the increased use of seclusion and restraint with a decreased use of suspension; and
  3. establish clear goals for the reduction and eventual elimination of the use of seclusion and restraint in MMSD schools.

Simply blaming the increasing numbers on better documentation is insufficient in the face of an ever increasing use of dangerously aversive techniques that are well known to traumatize children. In order to reverse this troubling trend, MMSD must insist on better training in the use of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and accountability for its staff and administrators who fail to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint.

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

 

Feds Support Positive Behavioral Supports, not Suspensions

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) issued an important 16 page guidance letter informing schools that they must do more to provide positive behavioral supports to children with disabilities, instead of suspending them. The letter decries the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, nationwide 10% of all children with disabilities were suspended for 10 days or less, and that rate rises to 19% for children of color with disabilities. The guidance focuses on short term suspensions because the law gives school districts far more flexibility with suspensions of 10 days or less.

USDOE

The guidance letter makes clear that,

Research shows that school-wide, small group, and individual behavioral supports that use proactive and preventative approaches, address the underlying cause of behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors are associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and fewer suspensions and dropouts.

Moreover,

Research shows that implementing evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks can help improve overall school climate, school safety, and academic achievement for all children, including children with disabilities.

Since children who are eligible for special education are legally entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS makes clear that,

when a child with a disability experiences behavioral challenges, including those that result in suspensions or other exclusionary disciplinary measures, appropriate behavioral supports may be necessary to ensure that the child receives FAPE.

Therefore,

In the same way that an IEP Team would consider a child’s language and communication needs, and include appropriate assistive technology devices or services in the child’s IEP to ensure that the child receives a meaningful educational benefit, so too must the IEP Team consider and, when determined necessary for ensuring FAPE, include or revise behavioral supports in the IEP of a child with a disability exhibiting behavior that impedes his or her learning or that of others.

Of course,

IEPs should contain behavioral supports supported by evidence—IDEA specifically requires that both special education and related services and supplementary aids and services be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. As a matter of best practice, we strongly encourage schools to consider how the implementation of behavioral supports within the IEP could be facilitated through a school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral framework.

In many cases, it is not simply a matter of changing disciplinary practice. As OSERS states,

Appropriate supplementary aids and services could include those behavioral supports necessary to enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes or the setting determined to be the child’s appropriate placement. Such behavioral supports might include meetings with a behavioral coach, social skills instruction, counselor, or other approaches. In general, placement teams may not place a child with a disability in special classes, separate schooling, or other restrictive settings outside of the regular educational environment solely due to the child’s behavior when behavioral supports through the provision of supplementary aids and services could be provided for that child that would be effective in addressing his or her behavior in the regular education setting.

Program modifications and support for personnel may also be necessary to assure that children with disabilities are receiving the FAPE to which they are entitled.

School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child.

Fortunately, the federal guidance also includes resources, such for classroom strategies, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Implementation and Self-Assessmentand a School Discipline Guidance Package.

The guidance identifies seven specific ways which may indicate that there has been either a procedural or substantive failure in the development, review or revision of a child’s IEP, including:

  • The IEP Team did not consider the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in response to behavior that impeded the child’s learning or that of others;
  • School officials failed to schedule an IEP Team meeting to review the IEP to address behavioral concerns after a reasonable parental request;
  • The IEP Team failed to discuss the parent’s concerns about the child’s behavior, and its effects on the child’s learning, during an IEP Team meeting;
  • There are no behavioral supports in the child’s IEP, even when the IEP Team determines they are necessary for the child;
  • The behavioral supports in the IEP are inappropriate for the child (e.g., the frequency, scope or duration of the behavioral supports is insufficient to prevent behaviors that impede the learning of the child or others; or consistent application of the child’s behavioral supports has not accomplished positive changes in behavior, but instead has resulted in behavior that continues to impede, or further impedes, learning for the child or others);
  • The behavioral supports in the child’s IEP are appropriate, but are not being implemented or not being properly implemented (e.g., teachers are not trained in classroom management responses or de-escalation techniques or those techniques are not being consistently implemented); or
  • School personnel have implemented behavioral supports not included in the IEP that are not appropriate for the child.

A child’s IEP may not be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit if:

  • The child is displaying a pattern of behaviors that impede his or her learning or that of others and is not receiving any behavioral supports;
  • The child experiences a series of disciplinary removals from the current placement of 10 days or fewer (which do not constitute a disciplinary change in placement) for separate incidents of misconduct that impede the child’s learning or that of others, and the need for behavioral supports is not considered or addressed by the IEP Team; or
  • The child experiences a lack of expected progress toward the annual goals that is related to his or her disciplinary removals or the lack of behavioral supports, and the child’s IEP is neither reviewed nor revised.

To avoid confusion, the federal guidance also makes clear that disciplinary removals are not limited to formal suspensions. They also include:

  • A pattern of office referrals, extended time excluded from instruction (e.g., time out), or extended restrictions in privileges;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school on “administrative leave” or a “day off” or other method of sending the child home from school;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school with a condition for return, such as a risk assessment or psychological evaluation; or
  • Regularly requiring children to leave the school early and miss instructional time (e.g., via shortened school days).

Inappropriate discipline without behavioral supports can impact the child’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate for the child, as the guidance points out.

Circumstances that may indicate that the child’s placement in the LRE may not be appropriate include, but are not limited to, a scenario in which a continuum of placements that provides behavioral supports is not made available (e.g., behavioral supports not provided in the regular educational setting), and, as a result, the IEP inappropriately calls for the child to be placed in special classes, separate schooling, or another restrictive placement outside the regular educational environment (e.g., home instruction, home tutoring program, or online learning program).

While harsh disciplinarians may not be pleased with the federal guidance, parents of children with disabilities should be thrilled that the federal government has issued detailed guidance which is designed to ensure that children with disabilities stay in school and receive an appropriate education instead of receiving discipline funneling them into the school to prison pipeline. As an attorney who has represented children with disabilities and their parents in school discipline matters for well over 20 years, this guidance is a welcome tool to correct inappropriately harsh discipline meted out by zero-tolerance educators.

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

Close the Achievement Gap: Increase Intensive Support

As the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education reviews the budget which its administration has prepared for the coming year, it would be wise to take a close look at its continuing problem with the ongoing racial, disability and poverty achievement gap and focus on how appropriate staffing can help to close that gap. While some improvements have been made, persistent gaps remain.

Students simply will not succeed if they are not in school. During the 2014-15 school year 2,477 MMSD students were habitually truant (meaning 5 or more days of unexcused absence from school) representing 9.8% of all MMSD students. But 1,235 of those students (nearly half) were African-American, representing 26.9% of all MMSD African-American students.

During that same year, MMSD suspended 1,713 students. But, 1,069 of them were African-American representing well over half of those suspended students. 402 of MMSD suspended students had disabilities, representing 10.9% of all MMSD students with disabilities, nearly half of all MMSD suspended students. While the data does not reveal how many African-American students with disabilities were suspended, when one adds the African-American suspended students and the suspended students with disabilities, that number almost equals all MMSD suspended students so it is safe to assume that African-American students with disabilities have the highest rate of suspension in the district.

out-of-school-suspensions

That MMSD’s discipline data reveals troubling racial and disability disparities is consistent with national data. But that should come as no solace to anyone, as nobody should admire the data. Instead, we need to apply solutions that we know will work to solve the problem.

While MMSD’s Behavior Education Plan has succeeded in significantly reducing the total number of suspensions, it also reveals another glaring gap for children in poverty. While 48% of MMSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a shocking 89% of MMSD suspensions were doled out to low-income students.

Finally, graduation rates also reveal a troubling achievement gap. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, 80.1% of MMSD seniors graduated in 4 years. But only 57.8% of African-American students; 56.8% of students with disabilities; and 62.1% of low-income students graduate in 4 years.

Fortunately, MMSD has a program designed to address the needs of its students with the most intensive needs. The Intensive Support Team (IST) takes requests from MMSD staff to address the needs of students in crisis. As of May 2, 2016, during this school year, there were 455 requests for support to IST. Of these, 411 were served by the team in one of several capacities (consultation, intake/assessment, professional development, short term stabilization), 250 were closed and the rest still active. This means that nearly 10% of referrals were not served and over 1/2 of all referrals are still receiving intensive supports.

Unfortunately, staff cuts were made to this team last year and the administration’s proposed budget does not propose to fill those cuts. The good news is that the budget is still in the discussion stage. School board member Anna Moffit has proposed to increase the IST staff by 3.5 FTE staff to address the unmet need for these students at a cost of approximately $250,000. In an era of tight budgets and state imposed revenue caps, Ms. Moffit recognizes that the money must come from somewhere so she has identified the following reasonable places where this money can be found: reduce spending on Technology Plan; reduce spending on Educational Resource Officers; or utilize funds saved from not filling the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent ($125,000 dollars).

The school board and our community must recognize that failing to meet the needs of these students has a significant cost both to these students and to society at large. A recent report by the UCLA Civil Rights project from which I extrapolated the high cost of suspensions in Wisconsin, reveals that each suspended student who fails to graduate results in:

  • $19,572 in fiscal costs; and
  • $60,962 in societal costs.

Thus, if the IST is able to help only 5 more students at risk of suspension to graduate, it will have saved our community far more money than the additional cost which Ms. Moffit proposes spending on this worthy program. Thus, her proposal makes senses for educational, equitable, social and economic reasons and should therefore receive the support of the full school board.

Residents of MMSD who support Ms. Moffit’s proposal should e-mail the school board to encourage them to approve her amendment at: board@madison.k12.wi.us.

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

 

The High Cost of School Suspensions

While many school officials choose to suspend students who misbehave either to teach them a lesson or simply to remove a child who may have caused a disruption in school, they need to understand the long term consequences to both the suspended child and to society as a whole which result from these suspensions.

Today, the UCLA Civil Rights Project released an in-depth report on, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and its Disparate Impact which takes a comprehensive look at the impact of school suspensions on children and society.

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This study demonstrates markedly lower graduation rates for students who are suspended even one time. Nationally, the graduation rate drops by 12 percentage points for suspended students!

The report then goes on to calculate the fiscal and social costs of suspensions which lead to high school drop outs.

The consequences are expressed as the lifetime differences between dropouts and graduates in: incomes; taxes paid; government spending on health, crime, and welfare; tax distortions; and productivity gains. Although the fiscal and social costs are related, the social costs include the aggregate losses incurred by dropouts personally such as their lower income, diminished productivity, and higher expenditures on health care due to poorer health. The fiscal costs are a subset of the social costs and cover only the losses experienced by federal, state and local governments due to lower income tax revenues and higher government expenditures on health and social services, and on the criminal justice system.

The report estimates that the national average economic loss per high school non-graduate due to suspension is:

  • fiscal costs to taxpayers: $163,340/suspended non-graduating student
  • social costs to society: $527, 695/suspended non-graduating student

When one multiplies all suspended non-graduates by these economic losses, the national economic impact is tremendous:

  • overall national fiscal cost to taxpayer: $11 billion due to suspended non-graduates
  • overall national social cost to society: $35.7 billion due to suspended non-graduates

On an optimistic note, the report then estimates the nationwide economic benefits achieved by reducing suspensions. For each percentage point of reduction, our nation would save:

  • $691 million saved in fiscal costs/1% reduction in suspension rate
  • $2.2 billion saved in social costs/1% reduction in suspension rates.

The report examines 2 states, Florida and California, but it encourages educators and policymakers to apply this impact to every other state. Thus, in examining Wisconsin’s suspension rate, while the suspension rate has been going down, in 2014-15, Wisconsin school districts nevertheless suspended 31,167 students, or 3.6% of all enrolled students. Using the report’s data, and applying the national average 12% increase in drop-out rate for suspended students, this means that the total economic impact for Wisconsin suspended non-graduates is estimated to be:

  • $610 million fiscal cost to Wisconsin taxpayers due to suspended non-graduates
  • $1.9 billion social cost to Wisconsin society due to suspended non-graduates

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides suspension data by school district, race/ethnicity, gender and disability. For example, in the Madison area, the Beloit School District has the highest rate of suspension at 10.1% (nearly 3 times the state average). Racial disparities exist throughout the state. Statewide, Wisconsin school districts suspended 15.1% African-American students in 2014-15, nearly 5 times the state average. Beloit once again has troubling racial disparities, having suspended 21.8% of its African-American students that year.

Disparities are also troubling for students with disabilities. Statewide 9.5% of students with disabilities were suspended statewide (nearly 3 times the statewide average). Once again, Beloit exhibits disturbing disparities, having suspended 22.9% of its students with disabilities that year.

Thus, the economic impact on the most disadvantaged groups of students is many times higher than for white non-disabled students.

The report concludes with 3 major recommendations:

  1. When federal and state governments create and implement evaluation and oversight plans for schools and districts they should include suspension rates among the indicators they use to determine whether schools are high performing or in need of assistance.
  2. Use the suspension data as part of an early warning system for schools and districts. Thus, as more districts with high suspension rates explore alternatives, we will need data to help them distinguish between effective and ineffective interventions and policy changes.
  3. State and federal policymakers should provide schools and districts with incentives to improve their school climate, such as grants for substantial teacher and administrator trainings, and resources targeted at improving the collection and use of discipline data at the school level.

These are all excellent ideas, and local school districts need not wait for state and federal policymakers to implement local changes to reduce suspensions, thereby increasing graduation rates, and reducing fiscal and social costs to all of us. This report demonstrates that the investments are well worth the money and effort.

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

 

 

Seclusion & Restraint in Our Own Backyard

As a leader in the movement to reduce the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint of our school children, I was pleased to see that Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin FACETS and Wisconsin Family Ties held a press conference yesterday to release their new report: Seclusion and Restraint in Wisconsin Public School Districts 2013-14: Miles to GoThe report reveals both data and stories about the ongoing use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin school, despite the passage of Act 125 in 2012, designed to reduce the inappropriate use of these aversive techniques.

In November of 2012, I posted a summary of the key provisions of Wisconsin’s New Law on the Use of Seclusion and Restraint of School Children on my blog. Tellingly, it has been viewed every single month since then, and is my 3rd most read blog post.

To this day, many of my cases continue to involve the use of seclusion and restraint, including in my local school district, in Madison, Wisconsin. As the new report reveals, the number of children subjected to seclusion and restraint in Madison’s schools is actually increasing. In the 2012-13 school year, 248 students were subjected to seclusion and restraint. While in the 2013-14 school year, that number increased to 264. Sadly, these children are subjected to these aversive measures over and over again, which suggests that staff are not receiving the appropriate support to manage student behavior without using these dangerous techniques. In the 2012-13 school year, there were 2,291 incidents of seclusion and restraint (an average of over 9 incidents/student subjected to seclusion &/or restraint). In the 2013-14 school year, there were 2,362 such incidents (just under 9 incidents/student).

Sadly, when asked to respond to this problem, John Harper, Madison’s Executive Director of Student Services, failed to acknowledge the problem and instead fell back on the long debunked argument that these traumatizing techniques “ensure the safety of our students and staff.

When Act 125 passed, I was proud to be a co-author of this landmark legislation. I worked for 12 years along with many others to ultimately secure unanimous passage and the Governor’s signature on this important piece of legislation. Without this law, we would not have the data that this new report revealed.

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Governor Walker signing Act 125

But all advocates know that passage of a law is only a first step, albeit an important one. The law has improved behavioral management practices in many school districts. But, others remained challenged and fall back on punitive and traumatizing techniques. What we need are school superintendents and building principals who declare their schools to be seclusion and restraint free zones and for our legislature and Governor to provide sufficient funding to school districts so staff can receive the appropriate training and support to teach children appropriate behavior rather than traumatize them with the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Discipline them ’til they drop out

The U.S. Department of Education recently released the latest data which provides a lot of information about students in special education. Unfortunately, in critical areas, including discipline and drop-outs, in addition to overall high rates of excessive discipline and drop-outs, racial disparities persist. The data varies significantly between states, and readers can check their own states’ data, as well as gender disparities and those of other racial or ethnic groups, on the Dept. of Education’s website linked above, but to illustrate the problem, I will use my home state of Wisconsin’s data for Black, Hispanic and White students, and compare that to the national average.

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The national data for special education eligibility is:

  • White:                                          49.7%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      24.75%
  • Black or African American : 18.47%

The Wisconsin special education eligibility rates are:

  • White:                                        66.26%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                     11.33%
  • Black or African American: 15.28%

Since we know that school success can only happen if students remain in school, the data for suspensions and drop outs is deeply disturbing:

The percent of students with disabilities suspended or expelled 10 or more days is as follows:

US suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         30.43%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      16.55%
  • Black or African American : 47.16%

Wisconsin suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         25.53%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                        9.31%
  • Black or African American : 62.14%

That’s right. Despite the fact that Black students make up less than 20% of students with disabilities nationally and in Wisconsin, they comprise nearly half of US students with disabilities suspended or expelled more than 10 days and nearly 2/3 of Wisconsin students with disabilities

If that does not shock you, it is even more disturbing when one examines the actual number of students with disabilities suspended or expelled out of school.

  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 52,848
  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 487,847
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 8,713
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 90,779
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 24,827
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 182,116

The Wisconsin numbers are equally disturbing.

  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 795
  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 10,907
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 74
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 1,111
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 494
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 4,332

Of course, when students are disciplined out of school, many of them end up dropping out.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 9.49%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 14.55%
  • Black or African American: 14.3%

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 7.95%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 16.73%
  • Black: 29.38%

Once again, to make clear that these are not just percentages, but real live children, here are the actual numbers of drop outs in these categories.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 29,876
  • Hispanic/Latino: 18,812
  • Black or African American: 19,452

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 536
  • Hispanic/Latino: 164
  • Black: 639

These numbers are a tragic indication of a failed education  system that metes out excessive discipline ultimately driving tens of thousands of our most vulnerable students to drop out of school, many of whom will commit crimes and fuel the school to prison pipeline.

However, we need to stop admiring this problem. It is not a new problem. Rather, it is a persistent problem. It persists because those who are responsible for underfunding our schools and permitting local school officials to remove students from school excessively are not held accountable. The numbers are only evidence of a deeply rooted problem. With tragic and transparent evidence of such widespread failure, who will accept responsibility and solve this ongoing nightmare? Who will we hold accountable for this failure?

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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.

 

 

 

 

Which Students Overcome Suspensions?

While I have written a lot about the problems with zero tolerance policies in school fueling the school to prison pipeline, a recent analysis provides new insights into which students overcome the burdens imposed upon them when they are suspended from school.

According to the analysis  by the Brooking Institution, high school graduation rates are significantly lower for students who are suspended. This leads to lower income later in life as the “suspension penalty” carries into adulthood.

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It is well documented that school discipline is disproportionally meted out on students of color, those with disabilities, and those who are low-income, which is a problem in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. But, as the Brookings analysis points out, economic success later in life for suspended students is impacted greatly by whether or not the student graduates from high school and obtains further education.

Reeves 102002

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Not surprisingly, then, family income is directly related to whether or not a child is suspended.

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The Brookings analysis also examines two other critical factors which help determine whether or not a child can overcome the burden of suspension. First, students who live with both biological parents through age 18 have a much better chance of overcoming the burden of suspension.

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Finally, whether or not the student’s mother graduated from high school has a strong correlation to whether or not the student graduates. This correlation is particularly profound for students who are suspended.

Reeves 102006

Thus, while school discipline policies must continue to reduce the likelihood of suspension due to the long term problematic outcomes for suspended students, the larger picture of family stability and parental success must also be supported if we hope to stop the generational poverty which burdens our society.

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