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At first blush, it might appear to make sense to remove disruptive students from classrooms so they don’t spoil learning opportunities for the rest of the class.

But a growing body of evidence, based on studies of what are known as “exclusionary disciplinary measures,” reveals just how costly kicking kids out of school can be to communities and students.

According to the Center for Promise, when young people are taken out of school, it results in the following:

  • Reduced academic performance.
  • Lower levels of school engagement.
  • Higher risk for dropping out (some studies say the likelihood of graduation drops 10% for each suspension or expulsion).
  • Increased potential for entering the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Higher (not lower) levels of school violence and antisocial behavior.

Perhaps the most surprising -- and counterintuitive -- result of removing misbehaving kids from class is that it reduces test scores for the rest of the kids whose educational opportunities the practice is supposed to be protecting.

For those reasons and more, education organizations, including the National Education Association, took the lead to change the system. The Illinois Education Association, for example, signed onto a 2016 law that banned “zero-tolerance” policies and strictly limited use of three-day suspensions to behavior that represents a serious threat to others. Good. Schools must have the authority to keep kids safe. But such threats are rarer than one might think. According to the NEA, more than half of school suspensions are handed down for minor infractions.

It’s hard to tell how well a new law works without some way to measure progress. The 2016 law provided one. It directed the Illinois State Board of Education to track and record compliance. The ISBE compiles an annual list of districts in the top 20% for employing the most exclusionary disciplinary measures.

First, the good news from that report: It showed that only two Illinois Q-C metro school districts were among the 77 in the state in the top one-fifth of districts for employing exclusionary discipline. Only Rock Island-Milan and Silvis made the list in all three years the ISBE has tracked: 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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The list, which ranks out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, also tracks whether there is an overrepresentation of students of color or white students disciplined in comparison to the total student population.

We were pleased that no Rock Island County district made the top 20 percent list for racially disproportional discipline in 2018. And that Rock Island-Milan, which had been included among the top 20% for racial disproportionality in 2016, is missing from that list for the second straight year. The school district's immediate and continued efforts to reduce that key indicator -- as well as its overall suspension rate -- show that Rock Island-Milan educators are committed to keeping kids in class whenever possible.

As for Silvis, Superintendent Terri VandeWiele said the district has implemented new initiatives that are working.

“As compared to last year, we’ve seen an 84% decrease in suspensions district-wide,” she said. “And compare that to two years ago, that’s an 86% decrease. We’ve done a lot of positive things to be able to address that and keep kids in school. The big thing is we really need to keep kids in school, rather than sending them home.”

Kids can’t learn when they’re not in class. And, it turns out, other kids can’t learn as well when their classmates are expelled or suspended.

Teaching today is more challenging than ever before. And there's no doubt it's easier, and cheaper, to send the kids who make it even more challenging home than to provide them with the help they need to succeed in-school.

Our educators and school districts are committed to taking the harder, necessary path. And our community, which has a huge stake in whether or not they succeed, would be wise to support those efforts at every opportunity.

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