The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL
Backing Away From Zero Tolerance
|Students entering their Chicago high school|
A new study of Chicago public schools by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that the trend is beginning to take hold there as well. Beginning in 2009, the district started using policies that were intended to cut down on suspensions and expulsions by solving garden-variety disciplinary problems within the school walls. Among these was the Culture of Calm initiative through which high schools stepped up counseling and introduced a peer-driven system for student juries to mediate disputes that might otherwise have led to fights and suspensions.
Judging from suspension data, the initiatives seem to be working. In the 2013-14 school year, for example, 16 percent of high school students received an out-of-school suspension, down from 23 percent in 2008-9. Over the same period, both high school students and high school teachers have reported in surveys that their schools felt much safer, less disruptive and more orderly.
While these data are promising, out-of-school-suspension rates in the district are still too high, particularly for at-risk students. For example, 24 percent of high school students with a disability and 27 percent of the lowest-performing high school students received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-14. Suspension rates for African-American boys were unacceptably high, with a third of them receiving at least one out-of-school suspension that year.
Principals and teachers are clearly doing a better job of resolving disciplinary problems without excluding children from school. But schools serving the highest-risk students clearly need more support services and training to help those children as well.