Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Rethinking school discipline

Wow.

Nearly 60 percent of junior high school and high school students get suspended or expelled, according to a report that tracked about 1 million Texas children over a six-year period.

About 15 percent of the Texas seventh- through 12th-grade students tracked during the study were suspended or expelled at least 11 times and nearly half of those ended up in the juvenile justice system. Most students who experienced multiple suspensions or expulsions do not graduate, according to the study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute of Texas A&M University.

“The findings in this report should prompt policymakers in Texas and in states everywhere to ask this question: ‘Is our (public) school discipline system getting the desired results?’ ” said Michael Thompson of the justice center, one of the report’s co-authors.

The findings suggest an urgent need to stop the criminalization of students for simply misbehaving, said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, longtime chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

Some highlights from the study:

The report also found that during a six-year period, about 15 percent of the students studied were suspended or expelled 11 times or more — and more than half of those students had been on probation or incarcerated by juvenile justice authorities.

The study also found that:

• Nearly 6 in 10 public school students studied were suspended or expelled from at least one class during grades seven to 12, most of them at least four times.

• Only 3 percent of the disciplinary actions were for conduct for which state law mandated suspensions and expulsions; the rest were made at the discretion of school officials primarily in response to violations of local schools’ conduct codes.

• Repeated suspensions and expulsions predicted poor academic outcomes. Only 40 percent of students disciplined 11 times or more graduated from high school during the study period, and 31 percent of students disciplined one or more times repeated their grade at least once.

• Schools that had similar characteristics, including racial composition and economic status of the student body, varied greatly in how frequently they suspended or expelled students.

Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center program and one of the report’s authors, said classroom removal is highly related to an increase of students repeating a grade, dropping out or entering the juvenile justice system.

“We see significant differences in the rates of suspension and explusion for similar student populations, indicating, I think, that it’s possible for schools, by relying less on suspension and expulsion, in theory, to actually reduce juvenile justice involvement and improve academic performance,” Thompson said.

You can find the report and related information here. It’s a first of its kind longitudinal study – every seventh grader was tracked for six years. I think we would all agree that every kid at that age occasionally engages in some knucklehead behavior. What we need to do with all this data is learn how to better distinguish between and deal with the good kids that do dumb things and the real troublemakers. The Trib notes that some school districts are already taking steps.

What the report ultimately means is that schools’ current methods of punishing kids are ineffective, said Deborah Fowler, a contributor to the report and director of Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based nonprofit social justice research and advocacy group.

“The good news is that we know there are alternatives that do work,” Fowler said. She said schools can stop disciplinary problems from happening in the first place with an approach that emphasizes positive behavioral intervention and support, or a “PBIS” model. That allows teachers “to focus less time on disciplinary referrals and … more on the purpose of their role, which is educating the students.”

Several school districts across the state have implemented PBIS models, Fowler said, including Austin, Leander, Amarillo and Pflugerville.

Jane Nethercut coordinates a positive behavioral support program at Austin ISD. She said the model was based on praising students when they are doing something right, rather than punishing them when they are doing something wrong — and that it has “changed the schools” around the district.

“Disciplinary referrals have gone down; attendance rates have gone up,” she said, “This is not rocket science — in the schools that practice PBIS, academic performance has also gone up. We have seen thousands and thousands of hours of recovered learning time.”

That’s the goal, right? Click on to see the full press release from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. There’s a lot we ought to be able to learn from all this data.

Majority of Texas Middle and High School Students Suspended or Expelled:
Repeated Suspensions Predict Later Involvement in Juvenile Justice System
CSG Justice Center Releases New Report on How School Discipline
Relates to Academic and Juvenile Justice Outcomes
New York—In an unprecedented study of nearly 1 million Texas public secondary school students followed for more than six years, nearly 60 percent were suspended or expelled, according to a report released today by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in partnership with the Public Policy Research Institute of Texas A&M University.

Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement features these other key findings:

  • Of the nearly 1 million public secondary school students studied, about 15 percent were suspended or expelled 11 times or more; nearly half of these students with 11 or more disciplinary actions were involved in the juvenile justice system.
  • Only three percent of the disciplinary actions were for conduct in which state law mandated suspensions and expulsions; the rest were made at the discretion of school officials primarily in response to violations of local schools’ conduct codes.
  • African-American students and those with particular educational disabilities were disproportionately disciplined for discretionary actions.
  • Repeated suspensions and expulsions predicted poor academic outcomes. Only 40 percent of students disciplined 11 times or more graduated from high school during the study period, and 31 percent of students disciplined one or more times repeated their grade at least once.
  • Schools that had similar characteristics, including the racial composition and economic status of the student body, varied greatly in how frequently they suspended or expelled students.

“We hope these findings strengthen efforts underway in Texas to improve outcomes for students, and help other states’ policymakers in examining school discipline practices so they can enhance students’ academic performance and reduce juvenile justice system involvement,” said CSG Justice Center Director Michael Thompson. “This report reflects an impressive commitment among Texas leaders to developing state-of-the-art electronic record-keeping systems and then using the data to answer important questions. Such data-driven policymaking should be the goal of state officials everywhere.”

The analysis considered in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) placements, and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP) placements. In-school suspensions ranged from a single class period to several consecutive days, and out-of-school suspensions averaged two days per incident. Students assigned to DAEP were there for 27 days on average; JJAEP students were off the school campus for an average of 73 days. Informal actions (e.g., detention, parent/teacher meetings) were not reported to the Texas Education Agency and were therefore excluded from study.

“One of the most important takeaways from the report is learning that the school a student attends largely influences how, when, or if a student is removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons,” said Senator Florence Shapiro (R), chair of the Texas Senate Education Committee, and one of the lawmakers who supported the study. “The data suggests that individual school campuses often have a pronounced influence over how often students are suspended or expelled.”

This study, made possible in part through funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations, relied on more than 6 million school and juvenile justice records (for every student who was in seventh grade in a Texas public school in academic years 2000, 2001 and 2002), even tracking those that moved from one school to another within the state.

“The report tells us that more than one in seven Texas middle and high school students have been involved with the juvenile justice system. We should ask whether teachers and principals, rather than police officers and judges, are best suited to discipline kids who commit minor infractions.” said Texas Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, who is convening a meeting today in Austin to discuss the study’s findings.

This study is unprecedented in that it tracked not just a sample of students, but all seventh graders in the state for six years. Using multivariate analyses to control for more than 83 variables, the study was able to isolate the relationships between such factors as race and school disciplinary actions, suspensions/expulsions and juvenile justice contact, and discretionary actions and academic success measured by being held back a grade or dropping out.

Senator John Whitmire (D), chair of the Texas Criminal Justice Committee, said, “We need to maintain realistic expectations of what educators alone can accomplish in today’s challenging classrooms. At the same time, this report demonstrates that if we want our kids to do better in school and reduce their involvement in the juvenile justice system, we in the legislature need to continue looking into how teachers can be better supported and how the school discipline system can be improved.”

The CSG Justice Center plans to convene a group of leading experts and opinion leaders to discuss recommendations for policymakers and practitioners. This follow-up effort is meant to reach consensus on approaches across various public systems to address the study findings and build on the strong foundation of work by academics and professionals in the field.

The full report and an FAQ about the study findings can be downloaded at http://justicecenter.csg.org/resources/juveniles.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensusdriven strategies, informed by available evidence, to increase public safety and strengthen communities (see www.justicecenter.csg.org).

Related Posts:

3 Comments

  1. John C says:

    This study blew me away, depressed the $&@& out of me.

    I have read critiques that this study shows that kids are being unfairly punished. But think hard about the point below:
    “Nearly 6 in 10 public school students studied were suspended or expelled from at least one class during grades seven to 12, most of them at least four times.”
    So we have 40% who are never suspended. It sounds to me like the school system can indeed distinguish the “good” kids. But the 60% seem to be chronic misbehavers if “most” have 4 or more suspensions. I have a hard time being sympathetic to the “bad” kids being unfairly or wrongly treated when the profile looks like that. I frankly don’t know how we solve a problem that seems to me is caused by the input, what comes into the schools from the homes, from the parents … 40% good kids who have been taught to respect and want education and 60% bad kids who don’t want to be there and will soon (the study also shows) be running afoul of another of society’s pillars, our laws against stealing, assault etc. The suggestions that school punishment is driving this 60% into a life of crime seems ridiculous.

  2. mary t. says:

    Schools vary widely in how they enforce the code of conduct. I know this from experience with differenct middle schools withing the same district. There is also inconsistency within a single school when it comes to giving detentions for violations of the code of conduct. If as a parent visiting schools only occasionally when a school day is in session can see the disparities, I’m sure the students who attend everyday can see the disparities and it will affect behaviors including reinforcing bad behaviors by children who think there is no point in trying to change.

  3. matt c. says:

    I think that the figures can also be misleading. I have been a middle school principal for the last ten years in a small, rural district. I have not had to expel a single student in that time period. I could count on one hand, and not use all my fingers, the number of high school students expelled during that time period. There have been numerous students who had to spend time in In School Suspension, but not even within rock throwing distance of 60%. Smaller schools usually don’t have the number of discipline problems that larger ones do. That is the main reason I have spent the last 39 years in small schools. I whole heartedly support a positive response system in dealing with students and believe that getting to know students and treating them like I would want to be treated goes a long way to decreasing discipline problems. I always say ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’ to students and expect the same from them. There are a small few who are hard headed however and they will wind up afoul of the law. I have their parents phone numbers on speed dial.