California Endowment President Promotes Discipline Reform and School Safety Enhancements at Assembly Hearing

Robert K. Ross, M.D., Releases New Student Poll Showing Strong Support for School Counselors and Increased Mental Health Services on Campus

(Sacramento, CA – April 12, 2013) In testimony today before the Assembly Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development, California Endowment President and CEO Robert K. Ross, M.D., urged legislators and education leaders to overhaul California’s extreme school discipline policies, put more counselors on campus, and increase student access to health services. Ross argued these reforms would not only improve safety on campus but also boost student health and academic achievement.

“It’s prevention that’s key. I have served as a practicing pediatrician, but you don’t have to be a doctor to know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s cheaper and more effective to stop violence before it starts—to reach out to young people headed for trouble and offer them help before it’s too late,” Ross told Committee members.

In his testimony, Dr. Ross released new data from a survey exploring California students’ views on school safety and the links between security, health, and academic achievement.

Students surveyed agreed that violence in school was a serious issue facing young people today. However, 93% said they feel safe in their school on a day-to-day basis (44% very safe; 49% somewhat safe). Students said bullying is the leading threat to safety on campus.

When presented with a list of policy options to improve safety and prevent violence in schools, students expressed strongest support for requiring schools to develop safety and emergency response plans (96% support). Putting more trained counselors in schools (91%) and increasing mental health services (89%) also received strong support. Students rejected the idea of allowing teachers to bring firearms to school, with only 30% expressing support.

Dr. Ross noted that California currently has one guidance counselor for every 1,000 students, the worst student-to-counselor ratio in the nation and four times the standard of one counselor per 250 students recommended by the American School Counselor Association.

Ross said that access to counseling services can help students exposed to violence and other trauma process their feelings and reduce risk for acting out in school. Research shows that exposure to childhood trauma is the leading predictor of school misbehavior and the second leading predictor of academic failure. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 60% of children in the United States are exposed to trauma each year.

Dr. Ross urged the committee to support common-sense school discipline approaches that address the underlying causes of student misbehavior, rather than automatically suspending students for every minor offense. From 2008 to 2011, California schools issued more than 2 million suspensions, the majority unrelated to violence or drugs. California suspends more students than it graduates each year, according to data collected by The United States Department of Education and California Department of Education.

Ross cited Garfield High in East Los Angeles and Davidson Middle in the Bay Area as examples of schools that reduced suspensions while increasing academic achievement. Garfield principal Jose Huerta also testified at the hearing, telling legislators how his school reduced suspensions from more than 500 in the 2008-2009 academic year to nearly zero today. During that same time period, Garfield’s performance on California’s Academic Performance Index increased by more than 100 points.

Research from the American Psychological Association, American Association of Pediatrics, and others shows clearly that high suspension rates do not create healthier learning environments or improve academic achievement. However, the effects of suspension on students themselves are serious and far-reaching. One recent study showed that even a single suspension in the ninth grade doubles the risk of dropout, increasing risk for poor health and long-term unemployment. Suspension reports also show a persistent racial and ethnic gap: across California, nearly 1 in 5 African Americans and 1 in 9 Native Americans were suspended during the 2009-2010 school year, compared to 1 in 17 White students.

“The decision to suspend a student is no small thing—it’s a high-stakes moment in the life of a young person that can play a major role in their future success and well-being,” Dr. Ross said. “There is a better way. Schools in California and across the nation have identified alternative approaches to school discipline—strategies that reduce suspension rates while holding students accountable for their actions and keeping them in school. These alternatives are working,” he added.

Dr. Ross’ complete testimony is available here. Key findings from the student survey are available here.

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The California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation, which was established in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, The Endowment has regional offices in Sacramento, Oakland, Fresno, and San Diego, with program staff working throughout the state. The Endowment challenges the conventional wisdom that medical settings and individual choices are solely responsible for people’s health. The Endowment believes that health happens in neighborhoods, schools, and with prevention. For more information, visit The Endowment’s homepage at www.calendow.org.

Survey Methodology: From March 27 to April 2, 2013, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) completed 600 on-line interviews with California youth between the ages of 13 and 18. Quotas were established to ensure representativeness of the sample by age, gender, geography, and race.

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