One of the things that makes the topic of discipline disparities so difficult is that it’s hard to untangle students’ behavior from adults’ responses. As Matt Barnum put it in a recent Chalkbeat article, “black and poor students have substantially higher suspension rates than white and more affluent peers. Figuring out why is tricky. Is it because certain groups of students behave differently, or because teachers and administrators respond differently to the same behavior?”

That’s the essential question, because different answers will lead policymakers and civil rights investigators to pursue radically different strategies. So which is it?

Before we get to that, let’s try a thought experiment regarding the achievement gap, one I also ran past Barnum. African-American twelfth-graders are 2.6 times likelier to score below the proficient level on the NAEP reading exam than are white students. Yet no one but an extremist would chalk up the entirety of that achievement gap to racially biased teachers. To be sure, bias plays a role, as studies are finding that teachers tend to have lower expectations for children of color. Systemic inequality is certainly a factor as well, given that children of color are more likely to...

A recent study from the Education Research Alliance at Tulane University uses thirteen years of student-level data from Louisiana to examine differences in suspension rates for black and white students, as well as poor and non-poor students. Overall, it finds that black students are about twice as likely as white students to be suspended and low-income students are about 1.75 times as likely to be suspended as non-low-income students. However, as with previous studies of this topic, it is difficult to know whether (or to what extent) these gaps reflect educator bias, as opposed to differences in behavior or school culture.

According to the authors, suspensions for black students in Louisiana last an average of 0.40 days longer than suspensions for white students who commit the same type of infraction. This difference could be interpreted as evidence of bias (or at least systemic inequity). However, when comparisons are restricted to students in the same school, grade, and year, the difference between black and white students is just 0.10 days. So, at the very least, the first estimate overstates the bias exhibited by individual educators.

Further complicating matters, since suspensions for low-income students are 0.18 days longer than suspensions for their...

A new recent study conducted by David Blazer of the University of Maryland examines whether teachers affect student outcomes other than test scores, including students’ self-reported behavior and happiness in class and self-efficacy in math. The study collects data from fourth and fifth grade teachers in four anonymous school districts in three states on the East Coast across three school years (2010–11 to 2012–13).

The analysis focuses on a subset of forty-one teachers who were part of a random assignment study in year three and a group of students (and their teachers) who completed a survey about their attitudes and behaviors during all three years. Analysts had access to student demographic and achievement data, teacher value-added data, and student survey data on three constructs, behavior in class (e.g., “My behavior in this class sometimes annoys the teacher”), self-efficacy in math (e.g., “In this class, math is too hard”), and happiness in class (e.g., “I enjoy math class this year”). Regarding the causal nature of the study, in the spring of 2012, fourth and fifth grade teachers were randomly assigned to class rosters of the same grade level; participants were generalists who taught all subject areas such that their contribution to...

Over the past thirty years, the school discipline pendulum has swung wildly from one extreme to the other, as policymakers have struggled to solve an inherently difficult problem. Today, the “zero tolerance” policies that were all the rage at the end of the last century are generally viewed as heavy-handed and blunt, removing administrator discretion and treating many different kinds of offenses as equally injurious. Yet as the tide of elite—and education reform—opinion has turned against over-suspension, the instinctive response of policymakers has once again been to tie the hands of teachers, principals, and local officials, this time with the explicit goal of reducing the use of suspensions, especially for traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Overall, we agree that suspensions are unlikely to benefit suspended students. But an important question about school discipline is also whether the push to reduce the number of suspensions is harmful to the rule-abiding majority. According to a 2004 study, 85 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents felt the “school experience of most students suffers at the expense of a few chronic offenders.” And that was before the push to reduce suspensions. A more recent study by the Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden showed...

One important question about school discipline is whether it helps or harms those being disciplined. But a second, equally important question is whether a push to reduce the number of suspensions is harmful to the rule-abiding majority.

Fordham’s newest study, The Academic and Behavioral Consequences of Discipline Policy Reform: Evidence from Philadelphia, examines outcomes in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), which made dramatic changes to its code of conduct during the 2012–13 school year. Specifically, it instituted a new ban on out-of-school suspensions (OSS) for low-level “conduct” offenses—such as profanity or failure to follow classroom rules—and reduced the length of OSS for more serious infractions. To gauge the impacts of these changes, Matthew Steinberg (University of Pennsylvania) and Johanna Lacoe (Mathematica) examined data before and after they were implemented, and penned two scholarly papers: one that focuses on the district-level effects of the change in discipline policy, and a second that explores patterns of attendance and achievement at the school, grade, and individual levels.

Here we combine those papers and synthesize their key findings for a lay audience, which include:

  • Changes in district policy had no long-term impact on the number of low-level “conduct” suspensions, and most schools
  • ...

Last week, an NPR affiliate threw super-cooled water on D.C.’s Ballou High School’s so-called success in graduating 64 percent of its seniors and earning every senior, regardless of whether they graduated, college acceptance. Turns out that, although 164 students were granted diplomas, more than half of those who walked across the graduation stage tallied at least sixty days of unexcused school absences, and one cap-and-gown wearer recorded more than 150.

As shocking as these seat-time revelations are, they merely add to other signs of academic struggle at Ballou. Last year, for example, only 9 percent of the school’s pupils passed the English language arts portion of D.C.’s annual standardized test. None passed the math portion.

Perhaps even worse, considering that all of these young people may now be college-bound, are the school’s woeful SAT scores. Last year, the average total score was 782 out of 1600, which falls into the 11th percentile nationwide, and 8th percentile among SAT users. That score represents the sum of the exam’s two “objective” parts—essentially reading and math—and Ballou’s scores were equally low in both, earning a 382 and 381, respectively. Neither is remotely close to...

The House and Senate have now passed versions of a bill that will overhaul the U.S. tax code for the first time in decades. The GOP will soon iron out differences between the two bills in a conference committee, and then the final legislation will head to President Trump's desk for approval. Regarding education policy, one of the areas that has kicked up the most dust is the expansion of tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans, which will allow families to use the savings for K-12 expenses and not just higher education. Provisions for this expansion are found in both versions of the bills.

Some believe that this expansion ought to be celebrated because it will allow more families to consider more choices when it comes to which school their child can attend. Others, however, worry the change uses scarce political and financial resources to advantage families with enough money to save for private school. Perhaps, they argue, we should instead invest in ways to give poor and working-class families more options.

To explore the issue in more depth, we’ve featured opposing perspectives from a trio of experts. Praising the 529 expansion is Peter Murphy, the Vice President for Policy at...

Like pumpkin-spice lattes during autumn, ways of getting college credit during high school (CCHS) are big business nowadays, whether one is looking at such tried-and-true vehicles as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate or fast-growing newcomers like dual credit, dual enrollment, early-college high schools and P-tech schools. As with any growth industry, however, all sorts of issues have arisen in this realm, important ones involving comparability, quality control, transferability of credit, equitable access, and program accountability.

To tackle these, the College Board convened a “working group” of eighteen individuals drawn from many parts of the CCHS galaxy and elsewhere in K–12 and postsecondary education, and that group’s new report is a welcome contribution to a complicated field.

Yes, the College Board has a large horse in this rodeo—the AP program being a major revenue source for them, as well as a long-standing symbol of educational rigor—but they were scrupulous in bringing diverse views together and seeking consensus where it could be found among oft-competing entities, strong-minded individuals, and rival approaches affecting millions of kids each year (although the dual-credit numbers are woefully out of date).

The result is eight sound guiding principles organized under four important questions about rigor,...

Maryann Woods-Murphy

I am a gifted and talented specialist for a school district in New Jersey. It is my job to make sure that students receive the proper level of acceleration and enrichment in elementary school.

But every single day, I fail at my job.

I pull students out for challenging lessons or guide them through academic competitions and enrichment experiences, but it is not enough.

They seek me out, even in crowded hallways. “I’m studying botany now,” said one fifth-grader as he lugged his backpack to class, making sure to keep in a straight line. “I’ll let you know how it goes.” I remind him that he can check in on our Google classroom to get feedback on his project and I feel confident that his classroom teacher will be interested in listening to his ideas.

The teachers I work with are magicians at differentiating instruction, creating online folders and spaces for students to go when they are finished early with their regularly scheduled work. Still, they too admit that they can never do enough for their gifted, talented, and advanced learners.

In recent years, the need for extreme differentiation has become even greater, as knowledgeable parents load their children’s...

Andrew Tripodo

How can schools encourage responsible and engaged citizenship? This question has moved from ever-relevant to deeply urgent by a political climate defined by coarsened discourse, sharp polarization, and profound distrust.

While many educators are justifiably demoralized by our current situation, some choose to be hopeful. Richard Kahlenberg and Clifford Janey spoke for many in education when they asked in The Atlantic if 2016's crazed election cycle might represent a "Sputnik moment" for civic education: Just as the Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957 drove an urgent and renewed national commitment to science and math education, perhaps concern about our contentious political discourse and decayed common knowledge base will do the same for civic education today. Forty years ago, all eyes were on the stars, and educators leveraged the public attention to improve science and math education. Today, all eyes are on Washington, and by extension on our schools: Could civic education undergo a similar transformation?

A promising sign comes from Louise Dubé, executive director of iCivics, an educational content provider. In a recent phone conversation, she told us that the explosion of interest in her organization's civic education tools and online games during the election...