Texas study questions use of harsh disciplinary policies
On Board Online • August 15, 2011
By Gayle Simidian
A study of almost one million Texas schoolchildren by researchers at Texas A&M University chips away at the popular notion that strict disciplinary measures such as suspension or expulsion are the best way to address disruptive student behavior.
“A school that makes frequent use of suspension and expulsion does not necessarily create an environment that enables the overall school to achieve better academic outcomes,” according to Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement.
“The researchers identified examples in which schools with similar student bodies that suspended and expelled students at higher rates did no better on key performance measures than those schools that had fewer suspensions and expulsions.”
The report, sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, did not explain why schools with similar student and community demographics differed so much in their use of suspensions and expulsions.
The study was unprecedented in that it tracked not just a sample of students, but all seventh graders in the entire state for six years. Among the most startling findings was that nearly 60 percent of Texas students were suspended or expelled between seventh and 12th grade. African-American students and those with certain educational disabilities were overrepresented.
In some cases, punishments were mandatory, such as possession of drugs. In other cases, such as fights, school officials had discretion. Black students were 31 percent more likely to be disciplined in those cases.
The report also documented the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which students who get in trouble in school end up in jail. Among the disciplined students, 23 percent had contact with the juvenile justice system, compared to only 2 percent of students without such a disciplinary history.
“This report demonstrates that if we want our kids to do better in school and reduce their involvement in the juvenile justice system, we in the legislature need to continue looking into how teachers can be better supported and how the school discipline system can be improved,” said state Sen. John Whitmire (D), chair of the Texas Criminal Justice Committee.
For a copy of the report, see http://justicecenter.csg.org/resources/juveniles.
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