Study Quantifies Cost of Disruptive Students, Recs Online Schools

A study from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has finally quantified the impact that disruptive students have on their classmates' academic achievement. By looking at differences in grades on standardized test scores between districts that high suspension rates and low ones, the study was able to conclude that lowering the suspension rates by just 5% would translate to a 3.5% gain in the number of students proficient in reading and a full 5% in rates of proficiency on mathematics.

WPRI Research Director Mike Ford called the gains statistically significant and said that the study is only one of a number that shows what schools can achieve by removing disruptive elements from the classroom.

Ford stresses that all students – disruptive and not – have a right to a public education, yet because of the nature of a traditional classroom, those who interrupt the teacher by misbehavior make learning a zero-sum game. When they continue to disrupt class, no one learns.

The study not only shows the impact the misbehaving students can have, it also proposes a solution to the problem.

The study, The Impact of Disruptive Students in Wisconsin School Districts, recommends that chronically disruptive students be removed from classrooms and enrolled in a statewide virtual school created specifically for them. The virtual school could be hosted by a district or districts willing to enroll pupils via the state's open-enrollment program. Students enrolled in such a school could be provided with both a computer and an Internet connection. They would continue to have the opportunity to learn, but would no longer be a detriment to the education of their classmates.

In addition to setting up an online school as an alternative for those who don't perform well in traditional classrooms, the authors also recommend that Wisconsin invest in so-called "character education" — lessons in values such as respect for fellow students and teachers, self-sufficiency, responsibility, honesty, fairness and empathy.

In practice, applying this lesson to the problem of disruptive students might be as simple as automatically enrolling students deemed chronically disruptive in a statewide virtual school created specifically for disruptive students.

Specifically, school districts would be given the option of assigning students to a statewide virtual school as an alternative to expulsion. The virtual school could be hosted by a school district (or districts) willing to enroll these pupils via the state open-enrollment program. Under that set-up, resident school districts would still be able to count these students in their enrollment, while sending a transfer payment to the district(s) housing the virtual school.

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