The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Monday plans to "reduce the inappropriate or excessive use of long-term suspensions and expulsions" in schools.
These punishments, according to both national and Massachusetts data, primarily affect black and Hispanic students, as well as those with disabilities. Additional research has found suspended students are also more likely to drop out.
Due to Massachusetts regulations that went into effect in 2014, the department is required to identify schools with the highest percentage of students either expelled or suspended for more than 10 days in a school year. Based on the data collected, 42 schools and districts will participate in this project, including 10 charter schools.
According to a statement from the department, it will work with schools and districts to reduce this rate through forums starting in the fall. While the department is required to recommend models to help reduce these punishments, these forums will also be a chance for education officials "to understand the various reasons that schools and districts suspend and expel students as well as how the agency can be helpful to and learn from schools and districts statewide."
Yet a concern among local leaders is the newness of the regulation, resulting in questions about the accuracy of the collected data. Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle told the Worcester Telegram & Gazzette there is not enough uniformity among schools with regard to how incidents are recorded and interpreted.
In addition, it is hard not to be a tad skeptical about the state's ability to figure out what's best. Schools know their students better than the state, and giving the department too much of a say regarding changes could be more damaging than beneficial. Forums are fine for discussing the best avenues for addressing problems, but when it comes time to implement new policies, shouldn't schools and districts have the freedom to decide the best approach?
Still, the original idea sounds promising. Schools are supposed to be places where students learn both academic and life lessons, including proper behavior. If kids are continuing to be kicked out of class, it does not provide them the chance to learn and—as research suggests—pushes them towards committing further crime later in life.
The effectiveness of punishments such as suspension has been questioned in recent years, especially as use of these practices has grown. A recent study found while the rate of suspensions and expulsions has increased, student behavior did not improve.
On the other hand, research shows schools that encourage positive behaviors over punishing negative ones not only have a decrease in disciplinary problems, but also an increase in test scores.