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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Student discipline has results, and that’s the problem

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, Assistant Principal Regina Hauptmann, left, works with a student in the Focus Room during a recent school day.  The Kent School District is looking at how they discipline students and seeking alternatives to suspending them.  Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, Assistant Principal Regina Hauptmann, left, works with a student during a recent school day. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Cacophony is not too strong a word for the collective response to coverage of school discipline.

Readers of our Sunday story on efforts in Kent to rethink student suspensions ranged from blaming parents, to blaming teachers, to blaming the media. But the point of such inquiries — whether they appear in a newspaper or emanate from a think tank — is not to assign fault. It’s to open a discussion. It’s a search for answers.

With this in mind, one study mentioned in the story warrants greater emphasis because it shows that punitive discipline often has serious, detrimental repercussions for students.

In “Breaking Schools’ Rules,” researchers with the Council of State Governments tracked nearly 1 million Texas kids for six years, from seventh through 12th grade, trying to find out what happens to those who get suspended.

Their findings:

  • Most suspended students are repeaters, meaning that tossing them from the classroom is not fixing their behavior. Most embark on a cycle of discipline and academic failure, with an average of four suspensions each. Fifteen percent were disciplined 11 or more times.
  • A student suspended or expelled at the discretion of an administrator — meaning for lower-level infractions, as opposed to breaking the law — is almost three times as likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system the following year.
  • While about 10 percent of suspended or expelled students eventually drop out, that figure shoots up the more times they’re disciplined. More than half the kids suspended 11 times did not graduate from high school during the time of the Texas study.

Only 3 percent of all disciplinary actions were for conduct that legally mandates removal from school, such as bringing in drugs or weapons; the rest came at the discretion of school officials.

“At the end of the day, no single system—not law enforcement, the courts, health services, departments of children and families, schools, or others—is exclusively responsible,” the authors conclude. “Instead, all of these systems have a role to play in supporting these students, their families, teachers, and the communities where they live.”

Screen shot of a graph from the "Breaking Schools' Rules" study

Screen shot of a graph from the “Breaking Schools’ Rules” study

Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, suspensions

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