Bills Take New Approach to Student Discipline
KQED's CY MUSIKER: California schools will take a new approach in the new year to student discipline and principal evaluations. The governor signed bills in the past week giving school administrators more alternatives to suspension or expulsion for troubled students and another bill that sets standards, for the first time, for evaluating principals.
Kathy Baron is a senior reporter for EdSource Today, and she's the former education reporter here at KQED.
Kathy -- the governor signed three bills designed to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions. Tell us about them.
KATHY BARON: So, the three bills that he signed so far, one is by Tom Ammiano, who is a San Francisco Democrat, and that gives principals and superintendents more discretion to use alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. Another by V. Manuel Perez gives a very slight change to the zero-tolerance laws, and this one allows principals to use alternative punishments, rather than zero tolerance, which means you're out of school -- for students who are caught with a toy gun or some kind of over-the-counter medication, like aspirin. Because zero tolerance, as the name implies, is very strict and has virtually no leeway. This provides a little. And then the third bill by Curren Price from Los Angeles says that schools cannot arbitrarily refuse to re-admit a student just because that student was in the juvenile justice system.
MUSIKER: And this is to deal with students being disruptive in class, or much more serious offenses -- getting caught with drugs, say, or in possession of a gun.
BARON: Yeah, within the three bills that he did sign, primarily it is about students who are being disruptive in some way. And the problem is is that there are so many suspensions in California schools. About 750,000 in 2009/10, which is the last year that we had data. So, to put that in perspective, San Francisco has a population of about 813,000. So that means there were nearly as many suspensions that years as there are people living in the city of San Francisco. That's a higher percentage than in any other state.
MUSIKER: And these bills, in fact, were designed to address the problem that black and Latino students suffer a disproportionately high rate of suspensions and expulsions.
BARON: Absolutely. The UCLA Civil Rights Project -- and this is just one of many reports on the subject - but they found that nationwide, one out of every six black students is suspended, and one out of 14 Latinos students, and if you compare that to white and Asian, it's about one in 20 for white students and one in 50 for Asian students. So it's a huge disproportionate number.
MUSIKER: And what are some of the alternatives that principals might try to help students in trouble.
BARON: There's kind of a range of programs that fall under the general category of social-emotional learning. And they're all about values-based education and modeling those in schools. Getting students to make a connection to the school, to connect to one another and to connect to an adult at the school, so that they feel they have a sense of belonging there. That they can speak with someone about problems they may be having, and that they learn to respect one another.
MUSIKER: And, now the principals doling out discipline to their students are getting a new level of scrutiny themselves. What's the change there?
BARON: The governor approved ... he signed a bill for principal evaluations by Carol Liu, a Pasadena Democrat, and it's a voluntary evaluation system. Basically what she said - it's to guide principal growth and improve principal performance while raising pupil achievement. And what was important about that was that it was very clearly not defined to weed out bad principals, but to work with principals to improve their leadership style.
MUSIKER: Thanks for talking to us.
BARON: You're welcome.
MUSIKER: Kathy Baron is a senior reporter for EdSource Today.