School Climate & Safety

Suspensions Linked to Lower Graduation Rates in Fla. Study

January 10, 2013 4 min read

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

School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
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
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools

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

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 Climate & Safety Sponsor
Putting safety first: COVID-19 testing in schools
Are schools ready to offer a post-pandemic place to learn?
Content provided by BD
School Climate & Safety How Biden's New Actions on Guns Could Affect Students and Schools
President Joe Biden announced steps to prevent gun violence through executive action and a push for state and federal legislation.
5 min read
High school students rally at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 21 in support of those affected at the Parkland High School shooting in Florida.
High school students rally at the U.S. Capitol in February 2018, three days after a former student shot and killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla.<br/>
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
School Climate & Safety What the Research Says Teens Are Driving COVID-19 Surges. Can Schools Counteract That?
Teenagers and young adults are now driving COVID-19 cases in some states, and experts say schools may be critical in preventing outbreaks.
4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Empowering Teachers and Parents to Speak Up on School Safety
Rick Hess shares practical suggestions from Max Eden on how to ensure school discipline reforms are indeed keeping students and staff safe.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty