Pay Now or Pay Later

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New data from the U.S. Department of Education shows suspensions and expulsions reached double digits in many California school districts, with some exceeding 25 percent.

Over the last three years, California schools issued over 2 million suspensions. The issues schools are dealing with are real. I know. I've been a teacher myself.
But that's simply too many kids.

Suspending students has real consequences. Excluding them from the classroom hurts academics, decreases their connection to school and increases the odds they'll get in trouble with the law.

A disruptive student needs the most supervision. Kicking him out of school guarantees he will get the least. It doesn't make sense.

What bothers me most is the missed opportunity. When a child acts out, he's crying out for help. There's usually an underlying issue -- maybe there's trouble at home, or he's lost a family member, or he deals with violence in his community.


Ignore those issues, and behavior won't improve, no matter how many times you suspend the student. If we were treating broken legs, we wouldn't just cover their mouths while they scream in pain. We'd heal them.

But most California schools aren't doing that. Listen, I know it's easier to heal a broken leg than a broken child. But it's easier and cheaper to heal our kids now -- while they're still-coming to school -- than when they've dropped out, or worse.

I remember a kid who just couldn't sit still. He couldn't stay focused and disrupted class. He didn't turn in an assignment all year. Ultimately, he got into a fight and was expelled. He bounced around to four different middle schools. A few years later I saw him at Juvenile Hall, while I was running a program there. It turned out he hadn't been screened for special education. We got him counseling, and into a smaller classroom that gave him more options to work in ways that work for him. Last I hear, he was still in school.

I know you think this sounds expensive, and we can't afford it. But we can either pay a little now, while the problems can still be addressed, or a lot more later. To me, the choice is clear.
With a Perspective, I'm Castle Redmond.

Castle Redmond is program manager with the California Endowment.