Harsh School Discipline Leading Students to Disconnect, Study Finds

Harsh School Discipline Leading Students to Disconnect, Study Finds

Exclusionary discipline policies and practices such as suspensions and expulsions are forcing students — especially those of color or with disabilities — to disconnect from school, a report from the Center for Promise, a research institute affiliated with America's Promise Alliance, finds.

Based on group interviews with school administrators as well as middle and high school students in Minnesota who had experienced exclusionary discipline, the report, Disciplined and Disconnected: How Students Experience Exclusionary Discipline in Minnesota and the Promise of Non-Exclusionary Alternatives (36 pages, PDF), found that the interventions often did not address the root causes of students' behavior, disrupted their learning, and made them feel unvalued, unwelcome, and negatively labeled. According to the report, African-American students in Minnesota accounted for 11 percent of public school enrollment but 39 percent of disciplinary actions during the recently concluded school year, while those in special education accounted for 14 percent of enrollment and 42 percent of the disciplinary actions taken.

"[B]eing suspended takes them out of class, making it harder for them to succeed academically, as they are not given the opportunity to further their academic progress while suspended," the report notes. "For these young people, exclusionary discipline impedes opportunities to learn, threatening their connection to their school and educational experience."

Researched and written as part of a three-year collaboration between America's Promise Alliance and Pearson, the report highlights the three most promising non-exclusionary discipline approaches for addressing student misconduct and supporting student success and well-being — restorative justice practices, school-wide positive behavioral intervention systems, and social-emotional learning. Administrators working to implement non-exclusionary discipline also emphasized the need for school-wide professional learning that engages experts in non-exclusionary practices, engaging students as leaders in implementing new practices, and building capacity by learning from and sharing promising practices.

"Despite its long-held popularity in American schools, exclusionary discipline is consistently shown to undermine academic success for students," said Elizabeth Pufall Jones, lead author of the report. "If states and schools wish to explore a non-exclusionary discipline approach, such as restorative justice, a shift in mindset is required. We hope the findings can be used as a basis for reflection and training to move away from this old way of thinking and embrace practices and policies that put students first."