Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Rethinking School Discipline

By Guest Blogger — March 02, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Taking over the guest blog this week is Constance Lindsay. Constance is a research associate at the Urban Institute, where she focuses on issues like teacher quality and diversity, racial achievement gaps, and school choice. Before joining Urban, she received her doctorate in human development and social policy from Northwestern.

In 2014, the Department of Education released results of its Civil Rights Data Collection that contained some alarming statistics about racial disparities in school discipline. The subsequent departmental guidance charged states and districts with changing their discipline practices to remedy these disparities. With the change in administration, there is discussion around rescinding this guidance. This shift in thinking reflects a larger discussion on the role of discipline in schools.

There’s a lot to reconcile here. On one hand, you have those who want to close racial and socioeconomic gaps in the usage of exclusionary and harsh disciplinary actions. On the other, you have those who say these types of disciplinary actions are necessary to sustain a safe and productive school climate. This argument maintains that teachers and administrators need to be able to suspend or even expel students to keep school climates conducive to learning.

In my research on teacher-student race match and student discipline, we find that black students (who by far experience the highest rates of suspensions and expulsions) who have a same-race teacher are less likely to experience exclusionary discipline. In some additional exploratory analyses, we also found that, conditional upon being suspended, students with more than one suspension who have a subsequent infraction are usually out of the classroom for more than a week. In our data, that number goes from three days (after your first suspension) to six days. These suspensions can be particularly harmful for students because of lost instructional time.

We also found that there was a subset of schools that could be labeled as “persistently exclusionary.” These are schools that suspend about 25 percent of their student population over the course of the year, for multiple years. We also found that younger teachers are more likely to use exclusionary discipline. And, of course, young black men are excluded the most. These data are from North Carolina, but patterns are similar in national data.

The most interesting thing we found, however, was that the findings about black students with same-race teachers experiencing less exclusionary discipline were driven largely by a reduction in “willful defiance” incidents. These are the incidents that are most open to teacher discretion—and can reflect a cultural mismatch between teachers and students. You can imagine teachers reading students’ behavior incorrectly, and students behaving better (or worse) for different teachers. There are lots of dynamics at play when it comes to school discipline, including school climate and interpersonal relationships.

A school that excludes a quarter of its students needs to think seriously about the larger school climate. Researchers can be helpful here. Most of the research on discipline disparities is focused on the student who’s been excluded—not necessarily the class or school left behind. Those students may experience a benefit from the offending student being excluded. My paper doesn’t speak to outcomes of students who are not suspended, so there’s work to be done there.

Here in DC, the city council is considering a bill that would severely restrict the use of suspensions. Much like the national conversation, the focus in DC is on students who are suspended at high rates for many days—who are also disproportionately disadvantaged students. Educators have pushed back, rightfully noting that we have to grapple simultaneously with disparities and school safety. Implementing or legislating required declines in suspensions and expulsions has the potential to produce unintended consequences. Teachers and administrators should have the professional discretion to discipline students. They should also be held accountable for racial disparities in discipline.

Schools seem to be addressing these issues by using other strategies such as trauma-based approaches and restorative justice practices. Restorative justice policies seem to be a promising way to address the myriad issues that chronically disciplined students may be facing—but represent a paradigm shift in how schools do business. I have no doubt the debate over school discipline will carry on, but a call for the equal application of discipline policies doesn’t have to mean schools can’t discipline students at all.

Constance Lindsay

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP