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Stop Suspending Students from School – It’s Counterproductive!

Table of Contents

DRNC strongly supports safe school environments where all children can learn, thrive, and be safe. Student suspensions do not help us reach that goal.  

Data Does Not Support Assumptions about Suspensions

There is no evidence that suspensions deter misbehavior, deter other students from misbehavior, increase school safety or contribute to an environment more conducive to learning. 

Suspensions do not improve behavior for disciplined students or their peers.

  • Frequent suspensions alone have no positive deterrent benefit for suspended students or non-suspended students. NEPC; LiCalsi; USCCR. 

Suspensions do not reduce classroom disruptions, and often encourage them.

  • Suspensions and expulsions do not reduce classroom disruptions. USCCR.  
  • Suspensions can exacerbate student misbehavior and do not serve as a deterrent. NEPC; LiCalsi.   
  • The negative outcomes caused by suspensions, such as decreased school engagement, anger, and decreased trust, have been shown to exacerbate recidivism. LiCalsi. 
  • Students suspended just once are more likely to be suspended in subsequent school years, even after controlling for other risk-factors. NEPC; LiCalsi. 
  • For students with disabilities, exclusionary discipline, such as a suspension, does not reduce or eliminate misbehavior, and tends to exacerbate the underlying causes of disruptive conduct by: (1) disconnecting the student from their classmates, (2) reinforcing inappropriate behaviors, and (3) eroding instructional trust. LiCalsi. 
  • Based on DRNC’s experience with hundreds of students, if the student’s goal is to get out of the classroom, exclusionary discipline reinforces that behavior. It does not address the root cause of why the student wants to avoid the classroom (e.g., bullying, struggling academically). 

Suspensions do not improve outcomes for students, whether suspended or not.

  • Exposure to low-level classroom disorder misconduct does not have any association with peer achievement. Steinberg. 
  • Frequent suspensions alone have no measurable academic benefit to either the suspended student or non-suspended students. NEPC. 
  • Suspensions do not improve attendance for non-suspended students. LiCalsi. 
  • In fact, attending a school with high suspension rates has a negative impact on later-life outcomes for all students, including non-suspended students. 

Suspensions do not prevent, and may increase, the risk of school violence.

  • The majority of suspensions are for non-violent behaviors. NEPC.  
  • Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies for non-violent misbehaviors clearly do not improve school safety or student behavior. NEPC. USCCR. 
  • Exclusionary discipline can increase the risk of school violence. NASP.  
  • Students who attend schools with high suspension rates are more likely to face arrest and adult incarceration and are less likely to attend a four-year college than students who attend schools with low suspension rates. NWLC; NBER. 
  • Students and teachers who attend or work in schools with zero-tolerance policies have lower feelings of school safety, even after controlling for school and student characteristics associated with safety. Huang & Cornell. 

Alternatives to Suspension Are More Effective

  • Discipline referrals decrease by 20-60% in schools that implement evidence-based positive discipline strategies like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) NWLC; NBER.
  • Schools that use alternative discipline practices have better student achievement results overall. NWLC. 
  • Evidence-based strategies for responding to student misbehavior include Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), the School Responder Model (SRM), Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA), and restorative justice. SJP. 
  • More information about the School Responder Model and Youth Mental Health First Aid can be found here: SJP. 
  • PBIS is a behavior management system based on behavioral psychology that reduces student misconduct by encouraging and teaching preferred behaviors. Behavioral expectations are imbedded in the core curriculum when PBIS is implemented school-wide. SJP 
  • Improvements in student behavior increase school safety and improve the learning environment for all students. NASP. 
  • When implemented district-wide, PBIS has been shown to improve academic performance, reduce bullying, decrease rates of student-reported drug and alcohol use, reduce discipline referrals and suspensions, and improve teacher outcomes. PBIS 
  • Schools that participated in the NC PBIS Initiative in 2012-13 had lower rates of out-of-school suspensions than other schools. SJP. 
  • Restorative justice focuses on reconciliation with victims, learning from misconduct, and repairing harm caused by student misconduct. Victim-offender mediation is a common restorative justice program. For one example, in Denver Public Schools, a successful school-based restorative justice program decreased expulsions by 82%, suspensions by 39%, and referrals to law enforcement by 15%. SJP. 
  • Based on DRNC’s experience, for students with disabilities, evidence-based behavioral supports in IEPs, when implemented with fidelity, can be an effective alternative to exclusionary discipline measures, increase participation in instruction, and prevent restrictive placements like modified-day and homebound.  

Why Is this Important?

Certain students are disproportionately suspended. Everyone is harmed by suspensions.

  • 31% of students who are suspended or expelled repeat a grade, compared to only 5% of students who are not suspended or expelled. SJP. 
  • 10% of students who are suspended or expelled drop out of school, compared to only 2% of students who are not suspended or expelled. SJP 
  • The additional dropouts caused by suspensions cost taxpayers an estimated $11 billion in lost tax revenue and $35 billion in social costs over their lifetimes. Reducing suspension rates by just 1% could yield a national fiscal benefit of $691 million and a social benefit of $2.2 billion. SJP. 
  • In North Carolina, over 14,000 students were out-of-school suspended for more than 10 days in the 2018-19 school year. This includes students who received one or more long-term suspensions (575 students) and students whose combined lengths of multiple short-term suspensions exceeded 10 days (13,436 students). DPI. 
  • In that same school year, the average length of a long-term suspension was 73 school days – nearly 40% of the school year. DPI .
  • Black students in North Carolina are more than four times as likely to be suspended or expelled as white students. SJP. Research has found no evidence that the over-representation of Black students in school suspension rates is due to higher rates of misbehavior. NEPC; USCCR.  
  • In NC, for the same category of offense, Black first-time offenders are more likely than White first-time offenders to be suspended for minor offenses like cell-phone use, disruptive behavior, disrespect, and public displays of affection. NEPC. 
  • Students with disabilities in NC are more than twice as likely to be suspended as students without disabilities. SJP. These suspensions are often for behaviors related to the student’s disability.  
  • Black students with disabilities are almost four times more likely to receive multiple out-of-school suspensions and almost two times more likely to be expelled compared to white students with disabilities. USCCR 
  • Black and Native American students with disabilities are more likely than white students with disabilities to be expelled without educational services. USCCR. 
  • Suspension rates are largely the result of policies, not the student population. A study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools found that even though half of all CMS students attended a new school for the 2002-2003 school year because of redistricting, the original suspension rates stayed largely the same at each school. NBER. 
  • Students who are suspended or expelled are more at risk for school avoidance, academic failure, repeating a grade, behavior problems, substance use, dropping out, and court involvement. SJP; Lacoe & Steinberg; LiCalsi et al.; NBER; NEPC; USCCR. 
  • Schools with higher suspension and expulsion rates have lower academic outcomes on state-wide test scores regardless of student demographics. USCCR. 
  • A single suspension for a discretionary offense almost triples the likelihood that a student will enter the juvenile justice system in the following year. SJP; USCCR. 
  • Parents often miss work and lose jobs because their child is suspended. Some parents must leave the child unsupervised to go to work. Because of this, the Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and many in law enforcement have voiced concerns about the consequences of having high numbers of unsupervised suspended students. Suspended and expelled students are more likely to commit crimes, become involved in physical fights, and carry a weapon. NEPC.

Summaries of Cited Research

Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) – PBIS “is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone – especially students with disabilities – to create the kinds of schools where all students are successful. PBIS isn’t a curriculum you purchase or something you learn during a one-day professional development training. It is a commitment to address student behavior through systems change. When it’s implemented well, students achieve improved social and academic outcomes, schools experience reduced exclusionary discipline practices, and school personnel feel more effective.”

Christina LiCalsi, David Osher, & Paul Bailey (LiCalsi et al): An Empirical Examination of the Effects of Suspension and Suspension Severity on Behavioral and Academic Outcomes – This study found that exclusionary discipline does serve as a deterrent for future misbehavior. Exclusionary discipline does not result in fewer behavioral incidents, and that for younger students more severe exclusionary discipline may increase negative behavior. Additionally, exclusionary discipline has a negative effect on educational outcomes for students. These negative effects include increasing absences and suspensions in subsequent years, decreasing the likelihood of earning math and ELA credits in high school, and decreasing graduation rates. Further, more exclusionary discipline responses had no effect on peers’ academic outcomes or attendance, or students’ and teachers’ perceptions of school climate.

Duke Center for Child and Family Policy and Duke Law School: Instead of Suspension: Alternative Strategies for Effective School Discipline – This report explores alternatives to suspension and describes examples of where those alternatives have been implemented.

Francis Huang & Dewey Cornell (Huang & Cornell): Teacher Support for Zero Tolerance Is Associated with Higher Suspension Rates and Lower Feelings of Safety – This study found that teacher support for zero tolerance policies is associated with higher rates of out-of-school suspensions. Additionally, in schools with greater support for zero tolerance policies, students and teachers have lower feelings of school safety at school.

Johanna Lacoe & Matthew Steingberg (Lacoe & Steinberg): Do Suspensions Affect Student Outcomes?  This study examines the consequences of suspensions for suspended students and their peers. They find that suspensions decrease math and reading achievement for suspended students. This is true for students suspended for more serious infractions and students suspended for less serious, classroom disorder infractions. The study also concludes that peers do not benefit from the removal of students through out-of-school suspensions and that exposure to classroom disorder infractions is not related to peer achievement.

National Association of School Psychologists (NASP): Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM) Best Practice Considerations for K-12 Schools – This paper covers best practices and how to implement the Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM) model with fidelity to identify, access, and manage potentially violent situations. It outlines why punitive measures, like suspensions and expulsions, can increase the risk of school violence and states that these types of consequences should only be implemented after careful consideration by the threat assessment team and should always be paired with supportive interventions.

National Association of School Psychologists (NASP): Fair and Effective Discipline for All Students: Best Practice Strategies for Educators – Punishment-based discipline, like suspensions and expulsions, do not improve school safety, learning, or behavior. However, positive, evidence-based discipline strategies improve safety and outcomes for all students.

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER): The School to Prison Pipeline: Long-Run Impacts of School Suspensions on Adult Crime – This paper looks at the net impact of school discipline on student achievement, educational attainment, and adult criminal activity. The student finds that schools with higher suspension rates have substantial negative long-run impacts for all students, including higher arrest and adult incarceration rates and decreased educational attainment. These negative impacts are worse for minorities and males.

National Education Policy Center (NEPC): Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice  – This policy brief reviews evidence showing that that there are large race, gender, and disability disparities in the use of suspensions and expulsions, and because of this, these students miss crucial instructional time and are at greater risk of disengagement and diminished educational opportunities. The brief finds that there is no evidence to support frequent suspension or expulsion in response to non-violent student misbehavior and that frequent use of exclusionary discipline is associated with negative educational and life outcomes. The brief concludes that better alternatives are available.

National Women’s Law Center (NWLC): How to Create Better, Safer Learning Environments for Girls of Color – This report concluded that school exclusion has a host of negative long-term consequences and does not improve student safety. Additionally, schools where alternative discipline practices are in place have better student achievement results overall.

School Justice Partnership NC (SJP): A Step-By-Step Guide to Implementing a School Justice Partnership – This toolkit offers a step-by-step guide to implementing School Justice Partnerships in North Carolina. It includes data on school violence and safety concerns, information on the negative impacts of exclusionary discipline, and alternative practices.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR): Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities – This report investigated school discipline practices and policies that impact students of color with disabilities. The Commission majority approved several key findings including that students of color do not commit more disciplinable offenses than white students, even though Black students, Latino students, and Native American students receive significantly more suspensions and expulsions and receive harsher and longer punishments than white students for like offenses. The Commission also found that students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended compared to students without disabilities, and Black and Native American students with disabilities are more likely than white students with disabilities to be expelled without educational services. Excessive suspensions negatively impact classroom engagement and increases the likelihood that suspended students will repeat a grade, drop out, or become involved with the juvenile justice system. Additionally, zero-tolerance policies and exclusionary discipline do not effectively create safe learning environments for students, teachers, or staff.

 

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