Improving School Discipline in School Systems

Suspensions dropped 20 percent nationally between 2011 and 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and in many states the reductions were even more dramatic. Despite this progress, states have struggled to reduce disparities in the use of school discipline for youth of color, and educators and parents have pushed back against school discipline reforms, arguing that efforts to limit suspensions have led to more disruptions in the classroom.

In 2017, the CSG Justice Center released Realizing the Full Vision of School Discipline Reform: A Framework for Statewide Change. Funded by the Open Society Foundations, this report documents how five states have reduced their reliance on harmful school discipline practices and provides recommendations to support policymakers and education leaders to take the critical steps needed to move toward a more comprehensive vision of school discipline reform—one that ensures efforts to limit disciplinary removals also foster supportive learning environments that keep all students engaged in school and improve student outcomes.

Previously, to help states and local school districts reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, the CSG Justice Center launched a national consensus-building project that convened experts in fields such as school safety, behavioral health, education, juvenile justice, social services, law enforcement, and child welfare. Youth, parents, and community partners also played a critical and active role in the project. The resulting School Discipline Consensus Report provides policy and practice recommendations and implementation guidance to minimize the dependence on suspensions and expulsions to manage student behavior, improve students’ academic outcomes, reduce their involvement in the juvenile justice system, and promote safe and productive learning environments.

In 2011, the CSG Justice Center, in partnership with the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, released Breaking Schools’ Rules, an unprecedented statewide study of nearly 1 million Texas public secondary school students. Funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations, the study found that the majority of students were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh to twelfth grade. When students are removed from the classroom as a disciplinary measure, the odds increase dramatically that the student will repeat a grade, drop out, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. These negative consequences disproportionately affect children of color as well as students with special needs.

In response to the Breaking Schools’ Rules findings and other school discipline data, policymakers and practitioners have recognized the growing need to identify strategies for effectively managing students’ behavior and modifying schools’ policies to support student engagement and learning, and reduce juvenile justice contact.

Key Findings from the Breaking Schools' Rules Report

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Of the nearly 1 million public secondary school students studied, about 15 percent were suspended or expelled 11 times or more; nearly half of these students with 11 or more disciplinary actions were also involved in the juvenile justice system.

  • Repeated suspensions and expulsions predicted poor academic outcomes. Only 40 percent of students disciplined 11 times or more graduated from high school during the study period, and 31 percent of students disciplined one or more times repeated their grade at least once.
  • Only three percent of the disciplinary actions were for conduct in which state law mandated suspensions and expulsions; the rest were made at the discretion of school officials primarily in response to violations of local schools’ conduct codes.
  • African-American students and those with particular educational disabilities were disproportionately disciplined for discretionary actions.