Fiscal Year 2014-15 Performance Oversight Hearing on the DC Public Schools

Testimony of Alex Peerman, Policy and Advocacy Associate

Wednesday, February 19, 2015, 10:00 a.m.
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC


Good morning Chairman Grosso, and members of the Committee on Education.  My name is Alex Peerman and I am the Policy and Advocacy Associate at DC Lawyers for Youth, a research, advocacy, and direct service organization that seeks to improve DC’s youth justice system.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at the performance oversight hearing for the DC Public Schools (DCPS). 

As youth justice advocates, we want the best outcomes for DC children, and being engaged in and successful at school places youth on the path to productive adulthood. My testimony today will focus on trends in the use of suspension in DCPS schools, the negative impact of those suspensions, and steps that DCPS could take to help its schools decrease their use of these practices.

Research shows that suspensions hurt kids, even those who are not themselves suspended.

Research has long shown that being suspended puts a student’s education off track. Suspended students are more likely to repeat a grade and to come in contact with the juvenile justice system.[1] And a recent study has shown that high suspension rates negatively affect the learning of non-suspended students as well.[2] Using longitudinal data, this study found that, independent of student-level factors like poverty and school-level factors like rates of misbehavior, schools with higher-than-average suspension rates had lower student achievement on reading and math standardized tests.[3] This effect may be because harsh disciplinary climates distract students from learning or because high suspension rates create instability and fragmented relationships in the classroom.[4]

The key take-away is that, on average, school exclusions hurt both those students who are pushed out and their peers.

DCPS should make its aggregated discipline data easier to access.

We commend DCPS for participating in the 2013-14 school equity reports. Having data that is the same for all schools is a useful tool for outside researchers and for parents comparing school options for their children. However, DCPS should also publish its own internal data on school discipline, as the Public Charter School Board does. One of the most useful sources of information that DC Lawyers for Youth has found for researching school discipline in DC is the DCPS Student Behavior Tracker Principals’ Report.[5] However, we have generally had to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain it each year. This information should be available on DCPS’s “data sets” page alongside its enrollment, graduation, and standardized test data.[6] Such transparency is key for advocates and parents who want to know what is going on in DC schools.

Exclusions from DCPS schools seem to be coming down.

Unfortunately, DCPS has not published discipline data from the 2013-14 school year, but based on data from the previous two school years, it seems that suspensions are becoming less frequent in DCPS schools. To be specific, they decreased 13% from the 2011-12 school year to the 2012-13 school year. Also, we commend DCPS for having consistently low expulsion rates. Nearly all of DC’s expulsions continue to come from the charter sector.

Table 1: DCPS schools decreased suspensions by 13% from SY11-12 to SY12-13.[7]


DCPS schools are still issuing thousands of counter-productive suspensions.

However, based on the most recent data, there is still about one suspension for every five DCPS students. These exclusions undermine student achievement and create downstream costs in the juvenile justice system. With that in mind, I will turn to our recommendations for how to continue decreasing suspension rates in DCPS schools.


The DCPS disciplinary code should be revised to prohibit suspension for misbehavior that is disruptive, but not dangerous.

Specifically, the DC Municipal Regulations, title 5-B, chapter 25 should be revised such that out-of-school suspension is not a permissible response to Tier 3 misbehavior. Though the current data are imperfect, they indicate that two of the most common behaviors for which DCPS students were suspended were “disruption of the school environment” and “reckless behavior.”[8] Given the counterproductive effects of suspension, these offenses and others of similar severity should be universally handled with approaches that keep kids in school, like restorative justice, behavior contracts, or detention. Right now, Tier 3 provides almost no guidance for the appropriate way to manage these behaviors, and allows for responses ranging from verbal redirection to a nine-day suspension.[9] The regulations should set a minimum standard that students not simply be sent home for these behaviors, and instead be disciplined in a way that keeps them connected to school and learning.

DCPS should continue and expand its central office initiatives to support alternatives to exclusionary discipline.

Suspensions that are eliminated will generally need to be replaced with alternatives. This is likely to pose a particular challenge for staff at schools that currently have high suspension rates. We are pleased that DCPS is supporting a restorative justice pilot at Cardozo Education Campus.[10] However, it is our understanding that much of the funding for this program is coming from a Johns Hopkins research grant. Since restorative justice practices often take a few years to become ingrained in a school’s culture, we hope that DCPS will continue to support this program during and after the expiration of the initial grant funding. Also, we hope to see a publication consistent with the provision that Chairman Grosso placed in last year’s Budget Support Act requiring DCPS to report on its implementation of a restorative justice pilot program.[11]

We recommend that these restorative justice efforts be just the start of DCPS’s investment in alternatives, not its full extent. Expanding alternatives to suspension is consistent with DCPS’s budget goals for the coming year, especially “empowering males of color” and “improving our high schools,”[12] since high-school-aged male youth of color face increased risk of suspension.[13] DCPS should identify school leaders who are committed to trying alternatives to exclusionary discipline and support them in getting programs off the ground by the beginning of next school year.

DCPS should independently publish its school-level discipline data online.

In many ways, DCPS’s internal discipline data collection is superior to what is reported in the Equity Reports. For example, it includes individual suspensions, not just the number of students suspended; it has a more granular breakdown of suspension length; and it provides information about the behaviors for which students were suspended. This information would be useful to the public and should be made more accessible.


In closing, I want to thank the Committee for its commitment to student achievement and its interest in school engagement issues. We hope to work with you on these recommendations and future efforts to ensure that every student is in school every day. Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I welcome any questions.

[1] Tony Fabelo et al., Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement (The Council of State Governments Justice Center, July 2011),

[2] Brea L. Perry and Edward W. Morris, “Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools,” American Sociological Review 79, no. 6 (2014): 1067–87.

[3] Ibid., 1078–80.

[4] Ibid., 1083–84.

[5] See Alex Peerman, District Discipline: Statistical Appendix (DC Lawyers for Youth, June 2013),

[6] See “DCPS Data Sets,” DC Public Schools, Washington, DC, accessed February 18, 2015,

[7] Student Behavior Tracker Weekly Principals Report SY11-12; Student Behavior Tracker Weekly Principals Report SY12-13.

[8] Student Behavior Tracker Weekly Principals Report SY12-13.

[9] Grounds for Disciplinary Action, 5-B DCMR § 2502, 2009,

[10] Mali Parke, “September | 2014 | DC Alliance For Restorative Practices,” accessed February 18, 2015,

[11] “Grosso Reports FY2015 Budget Victories,” David Grosso, Chairperson, Education Committee, accessed February 18, 2015,

[12] See “Engage DCPS: Budget Matters,” DC Public Schools, Washington, DC, accessed February 18, 2015,


[13] Reducing Out-of-School Suspensions and Expulsions in District of Columbia Public and Public Charter Schools (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, June 2014),

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