Sam Buchanan's weblog.


A week or so ago a local newspaper published a couple stories about how a too-large number of public school students in Minnesota are being suspended (sent home from school as a disciplinary action). The articles express a justifiable concern that suspension is an unnecessarily harsh punishment for the sorts of behavior for which it's being used.

I agree. Students are suspended far more often than they should be. Something that has escaped the public debate, though, is that out-of-school suspension is often the only disciplinary option available — because schools do not have the staff to supervise students who are removed from the classroom. Schools have often had to cut those positions because they don't have money to pay for them. When faced with deciding whether to pay for a study hall / in-school suspension supervisor or a teacher, the districts and schools are correctly choosing to keep their teachers. One school in my local district ran out of money for paper a few months ago. Paper. Should they lay off a teacher, or go without basic school supplies? Schools shouldn't be faced with this choice, but in a climate where state and local government are more concerned with funding a sports stadium than they are funding education, what do you expect?

What happens when a student needs to be removed from the classroom to cool down for a bit? No one can supervise them, so they're sent home. What happens when a kid really doesn't want to be in school but in-school suspension isn't available? They quickly figure out how they can act out to get sent home.

I think that everyone agrees that suspension is being meted out too often, and that it does no one any good. I don't understand, however, how the funding issue hasn't been considered as a part of the problem. There's a clear causal relationship. Don't bellyache about how public schools are failing so don't deserve to be funded: when they fail it's because we don't provide the means to succeed.