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Reduce High School Suspensions, Save Communities Billions

The long-term costs of high school suspensions are too great — $35 billion annually. Earlier this summer, the UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project released a report that quantifies the economic cost of suspending students.

The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact” report expanded on the link between suspensions and high school dropouts, and used estimates on lost tax revenue, health care, and criminal justice expenses for high school dropouts to quantify the total economic cost at the U.S.’s current suspension rate of 16%.

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[Image Source: NPR]

The graduation rates of 10th graders who were suspended at least once were 23 percentage points lower than 10th graders who were never suspended. Controlling for external factors, such as household income and parental education, the report found a 12 percentage point impact on dropout rates from suspensions alone.

In other words, if looking at two 10th-grade students with similar backgrounds, and student A is suspended just once, he is 12% less likely to graduate than student B.

The study also found racial disparities in suspension rates: African-American students made up 13 percent of all 10th graders, but 25 percent of all suspended students, representing nearly $9 billion in economic losses, such as lost tax revenue for lower lifetime earnings, increased healthcare costs, and increased criminal justice expenses for high school dropouts.

Three core recommendations are included in the report:

  1. Include suspension rates as a key metric when evaluating school performance.
  2. Review and collect suspension data at the school level and across categories such as gender, race, and disability status.
  3. Direct resources toward effective discipline practices that keep children in schools.

The positive behavior reinforcement program, Learning Earnings, can help schools accomplish the third recommendation. Learning Earnings has already helping schools in Alabama and Mississippi to reduce overall discipline infractions. Participating schools in Alabama saw a 50% reduction in discipline infractions during the 2014-15 school year. Participating schools in the Lafayette County Schools in Mississippi saw a 51% reduction in reported disciplinary infractions during the first grading period of the 2015-16 school year.

Learning Earnings drives student achievement by keeping students motivated, making learning more engaging, and improving classroom and school culture. Teachers and principals can set goals for students demonstrating desired behaviors. Students can earn credits for achieving goals, and save or redeem points for prizes. Parents can log in and watch their child’s progress

Reinforcing positive behavior encourages students to learn and is more effective than suspensions, which negatively impact graduation rates.

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