Below is testimony I submitted in support of MD HB950, a bill set to increase access to school discipline data and to set a more ambitious target for reducing racial disparities in school discipline.
The full text of the bill can be found here.
Testimony for the House Ways and Means Committee
HB 950 – State Department of Education – School Discipline – Data Collection
February 28, 2019
I write from the perspective of an educational researcher and as a former public school teacher. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the UMBC School of Public Policy where my research has led to presentations and publications on school discipline in many of the top education policy journals and coverage by many leading media outlets. I have recently presented on school discipline before the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as well as several other working groups addressing this issue in the state.
From the perspective of my expertise in school discipline, I write to support the proposed language in HB950 that expands the accessibility of school discipline data as well as the provision to lower the threshold used to identify schools that disproportionately suspend subgroups of students.
First, effectively addressing the over and disproportionate use of suspensions in schools requires transparency in the data that convey current use of suspension. To date, discipline data provided by the state has been provided in a format that prevents or at least makes difficult analysis of the data. Typically, such data has been reported only as a PDF document with a pre-existing set of categories1. Such communication of data limits comparisons across schools and districts and makes difficult analyses that could yield insights into the predictors or causes of suspensions. Making this data available in downloadable spreadsheets would greatly enhance the use of this data for both researchers and the public to better understand and reduce the use of suspension in Maryland schools.
Second, I support efforts to set more ambitious targets for reducing racial disparities in the use of school suspension. Research has consistently shown that black students and students with disabilities experience disproportionate rates of suspension from school and that such suspensions can have immediate and long lasting negative impacts on their academic and life trajectories2. While it would be a mistake to hold schools solely responsible for disproportionate discipline (correlates of race such as poverty and contexts outside of school are certainly contributors), my research and that of others has shown that school policies and practices contribute much to these disparities3. A lower threshold for identifying schools that disproportionately suspend subgroups of students may contribute to increased efforts to improve equity in school discipline.
That said, I encourage the careful consideration of measurement of disparities by the state department of education and by policymakers. Research I have conducted with Dr. Maida Finch of Salisbury University demonstrates that school districts with relatively low rates of suspension for both white and black students can nevertheless have a high relative risk ratio4. As such, relative risk ratios should be considered in conjunction with other measures – such as the percentage point difference in the suspension rates of subgroups – to provide a fuller picture of the disciplinary climate of a school or district.
Finally, I note the importance of coupling more ambitious standards for measuring discipline disproportionately with adequate resources for schools and locales to address contributors to the use of exclusionary discipline. Training for teachers, counselors for students, and resources to address underlying trauma and disadvantage for subgroups of students are also critical to ensuring that schools can reasonably reach targets for improved disciplinary environments.
In summary, I encourage the passing of HB 950 and other legislation that may support schools in reducing the use and disproportionate use of suspensions.
F. Chris Curran, PhD
Assistant Professor of Public Policy
UMBC School of Public Policy
1. MSDE. (2017). Suspensions, Expulsions, and Health Related Exclusions Maryland Public Schools 2016-2017. http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/about/Documents/DCAA/SSP/20162017Student/2017ProdSuspExpulHRExc.pdf
2. Henry, M. (2015). Out-of-school Suspension in Maryland Public Schools, 2008-2014. UMD Policy Brief.
3. Curran, F. C. (2016). Estimating the effect of state zero tolerance laws on exclusionary discipline, racial discipline gaps, and student behavior. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(4), 647-668.
4. Curran, F.C. & Finch, M. (2018). Maryland School’s Codes of Conduct – Comparing Discipline Policy Across Districts. UMBC Ed Policy Lab. Retrieved from: https://edpolicylab.umbc.edu/files/2018/04/Maryland-Schools-Codes-of-Conduct-Comparing-Discipline-Policy-Across-Districts.pdf