New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new education agenda, announced last week, proposes to raise the city’s on-time graduation rate from 68 percent to 80 percent over the next ten years. A dramatic increase in high school graduation rates is a laudable goal and critical to championing equity; the devil will be in the details, which are yet to be made public. His plans to invest in pre-K and reading by 2nd grade are a critical foundation, but when it comes to keeping older students on track through high school, the mayor would do well to look to a new report released last week by the Center for Promise. Called Don’t Quit on Me, the report provides valuable insight into the role that relationships play in young people’s decisions to stay in high school. The findings point to three key considerations for any city seeking to build a plan to keep all youth on the path to graduation:
Take a hard look at school discipline policies.
The study found that young people who left school were more likely to have experienced multiple adverse life experiences between ages 14 and 18, compared to youth who stayed enrolled. One of the experiences that was a top predictor of leaving school before graduation was suspension or expulsion; being suspended or expelled more than doubled the odds that a young person would not complete high school.
The link between being suspended or expelled and leaving school—consistently found in other research as well—is particularly troubling given the well-documented fact these disciplinary actions are disproportionately meted out to students from certain demographic groups. For example, in the 2009-10 school year, 17 percent of Black children in grades K-12 nationally were suspended at least once—more than three times the suspension rate of white students. The suspension rate for Black students with disabilities was even higher, at one in four (25 percent). In order to keep more students enrolled and increase equity in graduation rates, it will be critical to promote school discipline policies that create safe and productive classroom environments by employing effective alternatives to out-of-school suspension.