How Should Schools Deal with Misbehaving Students?
About 2.8 million American children were told at least once during the 2013-2014 school year to leave public school for bad behavior.
In the United States, forcing a student to leave school is a punishment known as suspension. It is designed to stop misbehaving students from interfering with classroom activities.
But a number of recent studies suggest the punishment does not work.
One group, for example, found that suspended students are more likely to be arrested by police or drop out of school. The Council of State Government carried out the study.
Another survey found that suspensions in 10th grade alone cost U.S. taxpayers $35 billion for extra prison and social welfare spending. That finding came from researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
And suspensions may unfairly target African-Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It reported in June that African-Americans are 3.8 times more likely to receive one or more suspensions as white students.
Education officials across the country are debating what to do with students who talk loudly in class, throw things at other students or arrive late. There is more agreement that a student who physically attacks a fellow student or teacher should be removed.
Misbehaving students must face "consequences"
Lynette Stream has three children attending public schools in Oskaloosa, southeastern Iowa. Oskaloosa is home to about 12,000 people.
In her daughter's kindergarten class, Stream said, some students arrive late all the time. She said this forces teachers to repeat lessons, taking away teaching time.
Some students refuse to sit down in the classroom, choosing instead to walk around and talk. This makes it hard for other students to keep their attention on what the teacher is saying, Stream said. Bad behavior is even more of a problem in middle school, she added.
"Students know they can run all over the teachers," Stream told VOA. "Students need to know there will be consequences if they don't behave."
‘Alternatives' that keep students in school
Better ways than suspension are available to deal with misbehaving students. So says Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.
Russell Skiba is an education specialist and professor at Indiana University. He said more counselors for students and training teachers to deal with misbehaving students work better than suspensions from school."There are many alternatives that teach good behavior and hold students accountable for their conduct while keeping them in school," he said.
"No one argues that we should be tolerating students who are disrupting classes. But I think it is the schools' responsibility to make it clear to parents there are more effective methods," he said.
Shaun Harper directs the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Study of Race and Equity. Harper said he found a successful alternative program at 40 small public high schools in New York City.
The program uses student-led groups, working with teachers and counselors, to decide punishment for misbehaving students. Harper said the students are more likely to react positively when they are "part of finding a solution."
John King is the U.S. Secretary of Education. In June, he reported a nearly 20 percent reduction in school suspensions nationwide.
"Fewer suspensions is an important sign of progress," King said. But he said concern remains over continued higher suspension rates for African-Americans.
Union questions ban on suspensions
Recently, the labor union representing 200,000 New York City teachers objected to a plan to ban suspensions for young children. Under the plan, school officials would be barred from removing boys and girls in grades K (Kindergarten) through Grade 2.
"In a perfect world, no child under the age of eight would ever be suspended," said union president Michael Mulgrew. But he said the proposed ban would hurt thousands of children "who will lose" education time because of disruptive students.
Mulgrew said ending suspensions will only work when New York City officials agree to more counselors and better teacher training.
In Texas, a member of the Dallas school board also proposed a ban on suspensions for students from pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade. Miguel Solis said his proposal would make suspensions the "last alternative" for students in grades 3-5.
Some Dallas school board members worry about doing anything to make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn, reported the Dallas Morning News. The board decided to study the suspension issue before voting on the suspension ban proposal.
Solis understands. "I think it best that we take a hard look at our own practices to see if they are adding to the problem," he told VOA.
Solis worries about higher suspension rates for African-Americans and higher school dropout and arrest rates for suspended students.
I'm Bruce Alpert.