School Discipline Policies Should Aim to Keep Students in School and Engaged, According to a New Alliance Report
“Schools and districts have the opportunity to change discipline practices and break the school-to-prison pipeline by engaging students in learning,” says Gov. Bob Wise
WASHINGTON, DC – Middle and high school students subjected to harsh school discipline policies and practices such as suspensions and expulsions are more likely to disengage from the classroom and course work, and increases their chances of dropping out, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report, Climate Change: Implementing School Discipline Practices That Create a Positive School Climate, recommends implementing measures that address discipline in fair and equitable ways so that schools and districts can improve school climate and ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career.
Negatively affecting school climate are student discipline policies that (1) keep many students out of school and away from the classroom, causing them to lose critical learning time, and (2) fail to address underlying issues within the school, the report notes. The report recommends replacing these ineffective policies with ones that help build positive school climate and engage students. Positive school discipline practices include “restorative justice,” which focuses on repairing the harm a student’s actions have caused and preventing future incidents. Other successful practices include positive behavior reinforcement, culturally relevant pedagogy, and teacher training in classroom management and engaging instruction to see effective results from any of these strategies.
“Students cannot be engaged when they aren’t allowed in the classroom, as is the case in too many schools employing exclusionary discipline practices,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Schools and districts have the opportunity to change discipline practices and break the school-to-prison pipeline by keeping students in school and engaging them in learning.”
The report highlights inequities in exclusionary discipline practices, stating that students most affected by punitive discipline practices are students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners (ELLs), all of whom are disproportionately suspended and expelled compared to their white and non-disabled peers. The report notes strong evidence of a positive correlation between the number of suspensions a student endures and that student’s academic disengagement: a student suspended once in ninth grade is twice as likely to drop out of high school.
The also report reveals that although African American and Latino students comprise just 16 and 24 percent of the nation’s public-school–age student population respectively, they represent more than 70 percent of the students who are involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement by schools. As schools and districts have adopted increasingly stricter discipline policies, minor infractions at schools today can be punishable by fines, arrests, and entry into the juvenile detention system, bolstering the school-to-prison pipeline or the policies and practices that push the nation’s schoolchildren—especially those most at risk of failing or dropping out—out of the classroom and into the justice system.
“If disciplinary practices that push students out of school aren’t addressed and eliminated, any effort to address the nation’s dropout crisis and close the graduation rate gap between white students and students of color and students with disabilities will be limited, at best,” said Wise.
In an effort to prevent discipline issues, the report recommends that schools and districts consider using early-warning indicator systems to identify and respond to potential incidents. Poor behavior and truancy are early-warning indicators that students are becoming increasingly disengaged from school.
“Improving school climate by addressing and eliminating discipline practices that target certain student groups, prevent students from attending school, and criminalize student misbehavior will not only narrow achievement and graduation rate gaps, it will ensure students leave high school in a graduation cap instead of prison stripes,” Wise said.
The full report is available here.
The report is the second in the Alliance’s Climate Change series, which focuses on how to best create a positive school climate through an integrated approach involving improving school discipline practices and access to rigorous course work and effective teaching. The first report, Climate Change: Creating an Integrated Framework for Improving School Climate, is available here.
The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization that works to improve national and federal education policy so that all students can achieve at high academic levels and graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship in the twenty-first century. www.all4ed.org.
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