A new report being released today apparently finds that 60% of students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between 7th and 12th grades. As the NY Times reports, that's a huge number (though I don't quite understand why only 31% were suspended out of school -- apparently half of the kids received in-school suspensions instead (supposedly that's less severe, but does that seem like a worse punishment to anybody else?)). Everyone interviewed in the article seems outraged at the number, and rightly so -- there's simply no way that 60% of students really cause serious problems in schools.
That said, simply reducing such punishments is no answer either. My school, for example, was under a good deal of pressure to reduce suspensions (word on the street was that our first principal resigned under pressure largely because the rate was deemed too high). The result was that a few students got away with ludicrous behaviors, significantly reducing what the vast majority of students learned while simultaneously frustrating teachers in a building that already had a serious attrition problem.
So, I empathize with all those who are outraged by the sky-high numbers in this report. We should certainly try to spend less time punishing, and more time teaching, our students. But I also empathize with all those students and teachers whose learning and teaching are unnecessarily inhibited on a daily basis by a few students acting out. I completely agree that we need to reduce the number of punishments meted out, but that can't be the only goal -- we simply cannot sacrifice student learning in the pursuit of less distressing numbers.