COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For years the achievement gap has been studied and according to Republican Ohio State Senator Peggy Lehner, we have failed to make a dent in the problem.
She says schools and teachers have been blamed for the achievement gap for far too long when instead we should be looking at how children are disciplined.
Lehner says there is a striking correlation between who is being suspended and their achievement.
Children who have a disability; are economically challenged, or are of a minority are at a greater risk of academic failure due to out of school suspensions and expulsions.
In Ohio, according to Lehner, there were more than 36,000 student suspensions of at least three days in 2015. She says, more than 90% of them were children who are economically challenged, and 65% were African American boys.
According to Lehner, these out of school suspensions put these students even further behind and as a result, the students do not feel welcomed in the classroom.
In order to turn this around, Lehner has announced her Supporting Alternatives for Fair Education Act.
The bill seeks to eliminate out of school suspensions and expulsions for Pre-K through 3rd graders over a four-year phase in period.
Lehner says she would like to see this applied to all grades but is willing to start with the youngest and most affected by the suspensions.
The phase-in process would work like this; the year the bill becomes law schools would have to report the number of out of school suspensions they had as well as the reason for them.
This would become the baseline for that school.
The next year, the school would be expected to reduce the number of suspensions given by at least 25%.
The following year the expectation would be a reduction by 50% of the benchmark amount; and then the third year a 75% reduction so that by year four there would be 100% compliance.
Suspensions for dangerous and violent outbursts would still be allowed, and not counted against a school’s efforts.
Lehner says this will force schools to find a new way to deal with behavioral issues students have than simply suspending them.
At her announcement, Lehner was joined by the Superintendent of Cincinnati schools where much of this is already happening.
In fact, by directive of the Ohio Department of Education, every school should be operating a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) system; however, Lehner claims that surveys of teachers and administrators show such a system is not always being implemented in the schools and often when it is implemented it is not with fidelity.
Her bill would also give institutions of higher learning four years to begin preparing their students, who are seeking teaching degrees, how to handle behavioral problems like disobedience and defiance in the classroom; and how to recognize when that behavior is systemic of an underlying problem.
Lehner claims that teachers tell her they are unprepared when they graduate college to handle the behavioral issues they face in classrooms every day.
Finally, Lehner announced the legislative leadership of the Senate is trying to find money to attach to the bill to help offset the cost of training teachers to meet those needs.
The bill has not yet been introduced as this financial commitment was a last minute addition to the bill.
Once those details have been worked out, the bill will be introduced, it will receive a number, and be assigned to a committee for hearings.