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The character of suspensions and expulsions: CSGJC report on school discipline in Texas

August 19, 2011

NPR reports on a study from the Council of State Governments Justice Center conducted in Texas that found that non-white students are suspended or expelled from school more often that white students, and that nearly 60% of students were expelled at least once from grades 6 through 12.  Michael Thompson of the Center points out that district, not necessarily statutory, “zero-tolerance” practices account for 97% of the assessed action, meaning that the disciplinary actions were made on a discretionary basis by an administrator or other school official.  In addition, almost three-fourths of students in special education were suspended or expelled at least once, and students with an “emotional disturbance” as categorized by the district were significantly more likely than the average to be suspended or expelled.

Lest one thinks that the suspension issue is limited to Texas, Thompson tells Neil Conan of NPR that, “… we see that nationally, when we look at suspension and expulsion rates in Texas, they look to be considerably lower” than other states.  Texas, however, has a robust data collection and school record maintenance system which made the state a prime candidate for a longitudinal study of this magnitude.  Therein is a lesson for and a call to schools and systems – comprehensive data tracking for disciplinary actions is vital for crafting and implementing policies, particularly when considering the impact of policy on disparate populations.

Also notable was the variance in rates of disciplinary actions in regard to the same types of behavior from school to school.  Policy should clearly state unacceptable behaviors and the potential consequences, and there should be a regular review of policy and data to ensure that disciplinary actions are fair, equitable, and being applied in a predictable manner. The report also calls for further discussion and consensus among stakeholders regarding effective approaches to managing student behavior.  One way to achieve this at the local level is to establish a committee or otherwise delegate the responsibility to review the actual implementation of disciplinary policy to determine breakdowns in procedure, variance in actions, and to highlight patterns and trends in these inconsistencies.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wes Clarkson permalink
    October 4, 2011 8:36 am

    One explanatory note about the Texas statistics is in order. Legally, Texas law does not allow expulsion in the same way as it is commonly understood. Every district is required to provide a disciplinary alternative school for all K-12 levels, a criminal justice alternative program for adjudicated youth and educational programs in the local youth incarceration centers and psychiatric treatment centers. So, expulsion really means the removal of a student from his/her home campus to another educational setting. These decisions are made by the school administration, local law enforcement authorities or by a child’s physician.

  2. October 4, 2011 8:49 pm

    Wes – thank you for the clarification. One barrier to meaningfully addressing most problems in education are the varying definitions of things like “explusion”. In Kansas, as in many states I believe, students with disabilities that receive special education services may be “expelled”, and will be counted as such in the data, but actually still receive educational services in an alternative setting, while “non-exceptional” students may be expelled and receive no services from the LEP – they may be homeschooled, enroll in another district, enroll in private school, or simply be unschooled for a period of time. Looking at the expulsion rates alone doesn’t tell the whole picture in most cases.

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