Philly Schools Tormented by Decision to Reduce Suspensions

Read this piece at Manhattan Institute


Philly Schools Tormented by Decision to Reduce Suspensions by Max Eden

Under an Obama-era directive and the threat of federal civil rights investigation, thousands of American schools changed their discipline policies in an attempt to reduce out-of-school suspensions. Last year, education-policy researchers Matthew Steinberg and Joanna Lacoe reviewed the arguments for and against discipline reform in Education Next and concluded that little was known about the effects of the recent changes. But this year, the picture is becoming ever clearer: Discipline reform has caused a school-climate catastrophe and Philadelphia is the latest city to fall into this crisis, according to a new study conducted by Lacoe and Steinberg.

The school district of Philadelphia serves 134,000 students, about 70 percent of whom are black or Latino. In the 2012–13 school year, Philadelphia banned suspensions for non-violent classroom misbehavior. Steinberg and Lacoe estimate that, compared to other districts, discipline reform reduced academic achievement by 3 percent in math and nearly 7 percent in reading by 2016. The authors do report that, among students with previous suspensions, achievement increased by 0.2 percent. But this only demonstrates that well-behaved students bore the brunt of the academic damage.

Lacoe and Steinberg also report another small improvement among previously suspended students after the policy shift: their attendance rose by 1.43 days a year. But again, this development was more than offset by the negative trend in the broader student body. Truancy in Philadelphia schools had been declining steadily before the reform, but then rose at an astonishing rate after, from about 25 percent to over 40 percent.

Perhaps students were staying at home because they were scared to be at school. Suspensions for non-violent classroom misbehavior dropped after the ban, but suspensions for “serious incidents” rose substantially.

In a sad irony, the effort to reduce the racial suspension gap actually increased it, and African-American kids spent an extra 15 days per 100 students out of school.


Read the entire piece here at The Philadelphia Inquirer, originally appearing on December 27, 2017.


Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter hereThis piece was adapted from City Journal.