School Climate & Safety

Suspensions Linked to Lower Graduation Rates in Fla. Study

January 10, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

About three-fourths of Florida 9th graders who were never suspended out of school as freshmen graduated from high school, compared with a 52 percent graduation rate for those suspended once and a 38 percent rate for those suspended twice in their first high school year, an analysis has found.

And often, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found, students suspended also were failing courses and absent from school for other reasons.

While there has been a push, especially in recent years, to cut out-of-school suspensions, the findings suggest that changing discipline policies in a way that would curb suspensions alone isn’t a sure way to improve student achievement or graduation rates, said Robert Balfanz, the co-director of the university’s Everyone Graduates Center in Baltimore, and the study’s lead author.

Schools must find ways to motivate students who aren’t engaged in their learning, he said, and intervene when students miss a lot of school, misbehave, and perform poorly in class—all of which are early warning signs that a student may drop out.

“We need a more holistic answer to this problem than ‘Suspend fewer kids,’” Mr. Balfanz said.

See Also

The 2013 issue of Education Week‘s Quality Counts has a special focus on discipline and school climate. Read the full report.

The report includes an original analysis of data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education on suspensions and expulsions. Browse this data.

The study, discussed Thursday at a national conference about the effects of disciplinary policies that remove students from school, looked at nearly 182,000 Florida students who were 9th graders during the 2000-01 school year and followed their educational trajectories through 2008-09.

“We knew from a lot of the other work that’s been done recently that lots of kids get suspended,” Mr. Balfanz said. Of the Florida students, 27 percent were suspended at least once in 9th grade. And the study, like many others on the issue of out-of-school suspension, found that black students, special education students, and low-income students were disproportionately affected by the disciplinary measure.

“We wanted to figure out what are the consequences of that common occurrence,” Mr. Balfanz added. “What we found that did surprise us a little bit: Even one suspension matters.”

And the effects appear to be long-lasting: A larger percentage of students who had never been suspended as freshmen enrolled in postsecondary coursework. And students who went to college who had never been suspended completed, on average, four terms in college, compared with slightly less than two college terms completed by students suspended once as freshmen.

Findings Echoed

Although the research focused on students in Florida, Mr. Balfanz said he believes the results are representative of the entire nation.

Jadine Johnson, a staff lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., agreed. A 2009 study by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama found that one out-of-school suspension for a 9th grader in the Mobile, Ala., public schools was also an indication that a student might drop out of school.

“It is happening all across the country. [Mr. Balfanz’s] research just reflects that,” Ms. Johnson said.

The law center sued the 63,000-student Mobile district in 2011 over long-term suspensions of students that the organization says were handed down without following due process, Ms. Johnson said. A trial is scheduled to begin in federal court in August.

Mr. Balfanz’s latest research, she said, shows that “the impacts of suspension, particularly for 9th grade students, cannot be overstated.”

“As districts continue to work on graduation rates, they have to look at suspension rates,” Ms. Johnson added, as well as why students are being suspended and how they are being suspended.

The Jan. 10 conference included discussions of other studies looking at student behavior, school climate, and school safety. The event, called “Closing the School Discipline Gap: Research to Practice,” was organized by the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles. Findings from Education Week’s 2013 Quality Counts report, “Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate,” also were slated to be presented at the day-long meeting.

Especially for students with multiple out-of-school suspensions, schools must dig to find out what’s at the heart of the behavior problems triggering the suspensions and work on ways to engage the students in their learning, Mr. Balfanz said. Multiple suspensions, he said, only add to the students’ disengagement and likelihood of quitting school altogether.

“If the first suspension isn’t working, suspension isn’t a very effective strategy,” he said. But his research found that many students who were suspended as freshmen but not failing courses or otherwise chronically absent ended up missing school repeatedly or failing courses as they continued high school.

“This suggests that for about 20 percent of the students suspended in 9th grade, efforts to find alternatives to suspensions alone could have a significant payoff in terms of reducing dropout and increasing postsecondary attainment rates,” the study says.

Nirvi Shah, Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as Suspensions Linked to Lower Graduation Rates in Fla. Study

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
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
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
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education

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

School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Calls and Lockdowns: Tips for Schools to Ease the Anxiety and Disruption
How school administrators can prepare for lockdowns and restore calm.
4 min read
A male police officer in a dark blue uniform walks between two white police SUVs parked in front of a three-story, red brick school building.
A police officer patrolled Glennwood Elementary School in Decatur, Ga., while the school was on lockdown in 2018.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know
School lockdowns can cause stress to students, teachers, and families, even if threats don't materialize.
8 min read
A bald man and a woman with long brown hair tearfully hug a teen girl who is wearing a pale beighe backpack. Three women look on with concerned expressions.
A family shares a tearful reunion after Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, went into lockdown because of a false report of a shooting.
Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety How to Spend $1 Billion in School Safety Funds: Here's What the Feds Recommend
A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department puts a priority on creating inclusive, equitable school environments.
4 min read
The U.S. Department of Education urged schools to use federal funds to support the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students in a "dear colleague" letter sent Sept. 15.
Third grader Alexis Kelliher points to her feelings while visiting a sensory room at Williams Elementary School in Topeka, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP