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Kicked-Out Then Dropped-Out

New National Report on School Discipline Shows that Harsh Discipline Policies are Being Applied Unfairly to Minority Students, Dragging Down Academic Achievement

Report Points to Effective Alternatives to Kicking Students Out

Jamie Horwitz
(202) 549-4921

WASHINGTON-- Does a policy of kicking “bad kids” out of school so “good kids” can learn really work? Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice, a new report authored by Dan Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, documents how disproportionately large numbers of minority students across the nation are being removed from schools for relatively minor infractions. According to the study, the overuse and abuse of zero tolerance polices and other forms of student discipline are having a detrimental effect on student achievement. Furthermore, while so-called “problem children” are being removed and suffer academically, no evidence suggests that other students benefit from the removal of their classmates. 

“The application of discipline is unfair and unequal in this country,” said Losen. “Kicking out students for minor offenses has no academic justification.  Yet, students and especially minority students are removed for small infractions every day, causing them to suffer academically.”

The Losen report does more than identify a problem; it points to more effective discipline alternatives and provides examples of states such as Maryland and Connecticut that have legislative approaches aimed at keeping kids in school. Maryland, for example, passed in 2004 a law requiring that if suspensions reach 10 percent of an elementary school’s enrollment, the elementary school must engage in a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) program.

Connecticut legislation provides the strongest example of state law pushing back on zero- tolerance approaches. Connecticut law requires that schools employ in-school suspension for nearly every school code infraction when the violator does not continue to pose a threat to himself or others.

In an accompanying document, Good Discipline: Legislation for Education Reform, Losen provides model statutory language to bring federal, state and district policies in line with the research.

The twin reports were released in Washington today at a Newsmaker news event sponsored by the National Press Club. Among those speaking at the news conference was Wanda Parker, a working mother of three from Greenville, Mississippi. Her son, James Parker, was suspended from school for possession of what the school believed to be a cell phone, but was in fact, an I-pod. He was placed in an alternative school setting for 45 days for "insubordination."

Children being pushed out of school has become such a major issue that one group, Dignity in Schools, working with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, is currently engaged in a “national week of action” on school suspension issues.

Addressing the need for alternative approaches to school suspensions was Clayton County, Georgia Juvenile Court JudgeSteven Teske, who also spoke at the Press Club event. Many juvenile court judges and others in the legal community have weighed in on the need to overhaul school discipline codes with an emphasis on keeping students in school. The American Bar Association in a recent resolution urged “federal and state legislatures to pass laws ... that: help advance the right to remain in school, promote a safe and supportive school environment for all children, and enable them to complete school; and limit exclusion from and disruption of students’ regular educational programs as a response to disciplinary problems.”

Professor Kevin Welner, Director of the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center, which commissioned and published the Losen study, in his remarks at today’s news conference stated, “Although our society is more diverse than ever before, schools today are more segregated than they were 30 years ago.  It’s important to understand the link between diversity, discipline and academic achievement. The evidence presented by Losen shows that minority students are treated more harshly when it comes to discipline, and as a result of this harsh treatment they suffer academically.” Added Welner, “being kicked-out leads to becoming a dropout.”

Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justiceexplains why it is time to acknowledge what the research makes clear: kicking so-called “bad kids” out of school does not improve student safety or achievement, and it undermines the goal of providing equal educational opportunity for all students. Alternatives such as the PBIS model better serve the goals of schools and of our larger society.

Drawing on a variety of data sources, Losen finds persistent evidence of racial disparities in school discipline, with African American students and students with disabilities often receiving harsher punishment for minor offenses than white students. As just one example an in-depth study of discipline practices in Texas released this past summer by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Texas A&M University found that 31 percent of students in that state were suspended off campus or expelled at least once during their years in middle and high school.

The Texas study, entitled Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement, also linked these disciplinary actions to lower rates of graduation and higher rates of later criminal activity and found that minority students were more likely than whites to face the more severe punishments. The companion brief to the Losen report, Good Discipline: Legislation for Education Reform, examines federal and state laws governing discipline policies. Losen recommends better data collection by the federal government that can be used to further study how discipline policies are implemented across lines of race, gender, and student ability. Improved collection of such information is critical to having fair discipline policies nationally and reducing the number of dropouts. Losen also recommends a number of ways that laws could be amended to achieve better outcomes and facilitate more useful research on the impact of school discipline policies.

“Discipline is a core indicator of whether schools are effective,” said Losen. “We need good data, collected in a uniform way. It’s just plain wrong in an age of data-driven reform to have a scattershot approach to such an important indicator of success or failure. The bottom line is that schools are not proud of the large number of kids being kicked out, so there are no incentives to report these numbers to the public.”

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder produced the two reports, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. In addition, the Ford Foundation provided funding for the policy report, Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice.

Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justiceand Good Discipline: Legislation for Education Reform, are both available on the National Education Policy Center website at:

Read early press coverage here.