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Washtenaw United: Building Educational Futures Through Relationships

Susan Smith
United Way of Washtenaw County
(From L to R) Anell Eccelston and Jakobie Pillar at the WEMU studio.

Get a personalized look at the work of the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan.  It’s been around since 1975 and now has offices in Ypsilanti, Jackson, and Detroit, and there can be no question it is a community resource that is changing lives.  Anell Eccleston is programs manager for the Student Advocacy Center and Jakobie Pillar is one of his mentees who just graduated from ACCE High Schoolin Ypsilanti.  Their story comes to you through WEMU’s partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County in this week’s edition of "Washtenaw United."

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Washtenaw United
Credit Student Advocacy Center of Michigan / studentadvocacycenter.org
(From L to R) Anell Eccelston and Jakobie Pillar

Student Advocacy Center Data


  • National suspension rates show that 17%, or 1 out of every 6 Black school children enrolled in K-12, were suspended at least once. That is much higher than the 1 in 13 (8%) risk for Native Americans; 1 in 14 (7%) for Latinos; 1 in 20 (5%) for Whites; or the 1 in 50 (2%) for Asian Americans.
  • Black boys are suspended three times as often as white boys, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Black girls are suspended six times more often than white girls.
  • One out of every four (25%) Black children with disabilities enrolled in grades K-12 was suspended at least once in 2009-2010.
  • Students with disabilities and Black students were also more likely to be suspended repeatedlyin a given year than to be suspended just once.  The reverse was true for students without disabilities and for most other racial/ethnic groups.


  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13%) than students without disabilities (6%).
  • Homeless children and youth often have interrupted and delayed schooling and are twice as likely to have a learning disability, repeat a grade, or to be suspended from school (American Psychological Association, accessed 2016).
  • A study by the Area Health Education Center of Washington State University found that students with at least three Adverse Childhood Experiences (abuse, neglect, divorce, parent incarceration/substance abuse/mental illness) are three times as likely to experience academic failure, six times as likely to have behavioral problems, and five times as likely to have attendance problems (Stevens, 2012).


  • Chronic absences increase dramatically when a student has a suspension or expulsion (State of Michigan Department of Education, 2016).  In southeast Michigan, nearly 60% of chronically absent students also have a discipline record involving suspension or expulsion.
  • The attendance, achievement and dropout are intimately linked.  When chronic absenteeism is widespread, it impacts students who are not absent, as teachers are required to either slow down instruction for the entire class to help absent students catch up or maintain their normal pace, frustrating achievement for those chronically absent students (Chang & Jordan, 2010; Education Commission of the States, 2009; Balfanz et al., 2008; Nauer et al., 2008; Sundius & Farneth, 2008b).
  • The National Center for Children in Poverty’s national data analysis found that chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in first grade (Chang and Romero, 2008).
  • Among poor children, chronic absences in kindergarten predicts the lowest levels of educational achievement at the end of fifth grade.  Going to school regularly in the early years is especially critical for children from families living in poverty who are less likely to have the resources to help children make up for lost time in the classroom.
  • Balfanz and Herzog (2005) found that more than half of sixth graders with low attendance (attended less than 80% of the time), poor final grade in behavior, and failing grade in either math or English eventually left school.  Sixth graders with at least one risk factor had only a 10 percent chance of graduating within four years of entering high school and only a 20 percent chance of graduating a year late (Balfanz & Herzog, 2005).


  • Even when controlling for contributing background variables (i.e., poor academic performance and economic status), the graduation rate for students with a history of suspension is still 12 percentage points lower than non-suspended students.  (Rumberger and Losen, 2016)
  • Being suspended even once in 9th grade increases the chance of dropout by 20% (Skiba, Arredondo & Rausch, 2014).
  • About 10 percent of students suspended or expelled between 7th and 12th grade dropped out.
  • On average, individuals who drop out of high school earn $10,000 less per year than high school graduates (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012) and are more likely than their peers that graduated to be unemployed, incarcerated, living in poverty, on public assistance, single parents, and in poor health (e.g., Bridgeland, DiIulio, Morison, 2006; Levin, Belfield, Muennig, & Rouse, 2007; Sum, Khatiwada, & McLaughlin, 2009).
  • Hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented if individuals had graduated from high school (or college) (Krueger, Tran, Hummer and Chang, 2015).


  • Researchers have found out-of-school discipline increases the chance of students becoming involved in the juvenile justice system, which costs more than $90,000 each year per youth placed in residential placement.
  • Students suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are nearly three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year (Council of State Governments’Justice Center, 2011). 
  • Eighty-eight percent of all high school dropouts who do not receive at least their GED will be incarcerated by the time they are 25, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • About 68 percent of Michigan’s prison population does not have a high school diploma.
  • Increasing male graduation rates by 10 percent would result in $560 million annual crime savings and earnings in Michigan.


  • Researchers have found that higher rates of out-of-school suspensions actually predict higher future rates of misbehavior and damage perceptions among students of school safety (Skiba, 2000).
  • Schools with higher rates of school suspension and expulsion appear to have less satisfactory ratings of school climate and less satisfactory school governance structures, according to the American Psychological Association.  They also appear to spend a disproportionate amount of time on disciplinary matters.
  • School removals do not get to the root of the problem. Research shows that suspensions do not successfully deter future misbehavior. In fact, research has shown that suspensions actuallyhave negative impacts on future school behavior.(Resources here and here);
  • “A punitive responseto misbehavior can, ironically, alienate disaffected students and thus incite the destructive, oppositional behaviors it aims to prevent. ... Much research shows that feeling respect for and being respected by authority figures can motivate people to follow rulesenforced by those figures, especially in conflicts.” 


  • Researchers have associated out-of-school removal with greater risk of school failure and risk of repeating a grade.
  • High rates of school suspensions harmed math and reading scores for non-suspended students, even when results were controlled for level of violence and disruption in school, school funding, and student-teacher ratio, a robust study found in 2014.
  • Researchers find that the frequent use of suspension brings no benefits in terms of test scoresor graduation rates.  Research suggests that a relatively lower use of out-of-school suspensions, after controlling for race and poverty, correlates with higher test scores, not lower.


  • Economists estimate that dropouts will cost the nation $1.5 trillion over the next decade due to lost earnings, lost tax revenues, less purchasing power, lower levels of worker productivity, higher crime, incarceration, and public assistance (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011).
  • Conservative estimates suggest that suspensions in 10th grade alone produced more than 67,000 dropouts in the U.S. and generated social costs to the nation of more than $35 billion for the graduating class of 2004. (Rumberger and Losen, 2016)
  • It is estimated that a 20-year-old dropout generates an average $209,210 in economic losses to taxpayers over his or her working lifetime; the same study estimated that an average dropout generates $168,880 in fiscal losses to federal, state, and local governments, but $391,110 in total economic losses to the larger economy. (Rumberger and Losen, 2016)
  • Marchbanks et al. (2015) estimated that, if policymakers could remove the entire 14 percent increase in dropouts associated with school discipline, the total lifetime savings for each student cohort would be between $750 million and $1.35 billion dollars. (Rumberger and Losen, 2016)
  • Closing opportunity costs faced by disadvantaged youth (particularly boys of color), over the life of impacted youth, would generate benefits that are more than three times their costs, exceeding the rates of return seen in many private sector business investments (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2015).

United Way's Partnership with the Student Advocacy Center

United Way has been a long-term investor in Student Advocacy Center’s work.  We’ve invested over $585,000 since 2012 in their coreCheck and Connectand Education Advocacy programs, as well as special projects such as capacity building or state-level advocacy for changing school discipline policies.

United Way shifted our funding to Student Advocacy Center in 2012 when the COPE alternative school in Ypsilanti closed.  Serving youth that have the most to gain is one of our pillars, and we recognized that Student Advocacy Center was well-positioned to use this funding to serve kids through piloting a national dropout prevention model (Check and Connect).

United Way of Washtenaw County
Credit Susan Smith / United Way of Washtenaw County
United Way of Washtenaw County
(From L to R) Anell Eccelston, David Fair, and Jakobie Pillar at the WEMU studio.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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