Suspension is without a doubt the most pressing issue of 2016 for administrators, teachers, and legislators.

Change in education seems to follow the punctuated equilibrium rather than the gradualist model of evolution. Certain policies seem immovable, intractable–until all of a sudden they aren’t, and a cascade of changes happen quickly. Many educators and researchers have known for two decades that zero-tolerance, high-suspension policies do more harm than good; but now that the idea has “tipped,” it seems almost every week we hear of new policy changes in states and jurisdictions.

Though most seem to now agree that suspensions are harmful, we don’t necessarily agree on why. All of the following have been posited as reasons why we should seek to reduce the number of suspensions issued:

  1. suspension policies disproportionately target black and Hispanic students
  2. suspensions cause low-performing students to fall even further behind academically
  3. suspensions (counterintuitively) have actually been shown to hurt students who are not suspended (this is still a little-understood phenomenon)
  4. suspensions do not teach students the skills they need to handle the situation in which they transgressed when they encounter that situation again
  5. suspensions do not give the opportunity to make amends for harm caused to the community
  6. suspensions send the message that students’ membership in the community is contingent, that they are not wanted or welcome
  7. suspensions are not an effective deterrent to misbehavior

When you think about it, the anti-suspension coalition is actually a motley crew, an unlikely “team.” For someone who’s primary concern is #3, #5 and #6 may be irrelevant; in fact, many may still believe that #6 is one of the reasons suspensions are actually good. An administrator with a strictly utilitarian approach to school discipline may only care about #7.

So does it matter that not everyone who opposes suspensions does so for the same reasons? Or is it enough that the net effect of their actions will move us toward more just and viable practices?

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2 thoughts on “Do we agree on why suspensions are bad–and does it matter?

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