by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Despite slight overall increases last year, school crime, suspension, and dropout rates have been on the decline in North Carolina over the last five years.
Next week, the NC State Board of Education will discuss and likely approve the draft Consolidated Data Report for the 2014-15 school year. The report includes data on school crime and violence, suspensions, expulsions, corporal punishment, reassignments for disciplinary reasons, alternative learning placements, and dropout rates. North Carolinians take the most interest in school crime and violence rates, suspensions, and dropout rates, and I will highlight those specific data points here.
School crime and violence
The rate of reportable acts of crime and violence per 1,000 K-13 students increased by 0.10 percentage points. Last year’s rate of 6.89 percent, while higher than the 2013-14 rate, is lower than any school year between 2003 and 2013. There were notable increases in the number of reported cases of possession of a controlled substance and students in possession of a weapon. Fortunately, there was a decrease in the number of reported assaults of school personnel, possession of an alcoholic beverage, and sexual assaults.
Short- and long-term suspensions
There was a nearly 10,400 increase in short-term suspensions last year, from 198,254 suspensions in 2013-14 to 208,650 suspensions in 2014-15. Almost 114,000 different students received short-term suspensions for an average of 1.83 short-term suspensions per suspended student. There are more than a few repeat offenders out there.
Males and African American students were more likely to receive a short-term suspension than their peers, but the number of short-term suspensions plummeted over the last five years. In 2011, male students received 194,636 short-term suspensions. The number of suspensions dropped by an astounding 41,000 by 2015. Similarly, the number of short-term suspensions for African American students peaked at 149,654 in 2011. Five school years later, African American students received just over 118,100 short-term suspensions.
The number of long-term suspensions decreased slightly last year. Similar to the trends in short-term suspensions, long-term suspensions have been on the decline. Last year, male students earned 860 long-term suspensions. In 2011, the number of suspensions for male students totaled 2,100. The number of long-term suspensions for African American students in 2015 was more than half of what it was in 2011.
As I noted last year, the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal Department of Education disseminated a "dear colleague letter" in 2014 to prepare school districts for more stringent federal regulations and closer monitoring of disciplinary policies and practices. Some of the reductions in short- and long-term suspensions among African American students may be a preemptive response to expected action by the Obama administration.
The dropout rate represents the percentage of students who drop out of school in a given year, whereas the graduation rate reflects the percentage of students who start ninth-grade and graduate four years later. Simply put, the dropout rate is an annual rate. The graduation rate is a cumulative one.
The statewide dropout rate increased by 0.11 percentage points last year. The 2.39 percent rate in 2014-15 was around half of the 2005-06 rate of 5.04 percent.
Last year, 40 percent of students cited attendance issues as the primary reason why they dropped out. Enrollment in a community college was a distant second at 15.8 percent. "Unknown," lack of engagement with school and/or peers, and choice of work over school rounded out the top five.
Among ethnic and racial groups, white and Hispanic dropouts increased significantly. Between 2014 and 2015, the state had a 352 increase in white dropouts and a 271 increase in Hispanic dropouts. That said, American Indian and Hispanic students had the highest dropout rates in the state.
Despite slight overall increases across most categories in 2014-15, school crime, suspensions, and dropouts have been on the decline over the last five years. It is not clear why, however. A combination of economic conditions, personal circumstances, school-based disciplinary reform efforts, and various other factors have led to these positive changes.
Acronym of the Week
LEA — Local Education Agency
Quote of the Week
"This consolidated report on school crime, suspensions, and dropouts was created with the hope of gaining new insights by analyzing and reporting these data together. Problems in schools can negatively impact a number of measurable outcomes, including crime, suspension, and dropout rates. In the same way, improvements in school operations can lower crime and suspension rates and make it more likely that children will remain in school. Schools and school districts that do well in one of the areas featured in this report will often also excel in another. In highlighting these high performers we hope that the programs and policies that contribute to success will be emulated by others."
– NC Department of Public Instruction, "2014-15 Consolidated Data Report," February/March 2016, p. 1
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