I have had the pleasure of reviewing a draft of the new report “Sent Home and Put Off-Track: The Antecedents, Disproportionalities, and Consequences of Being Suspended in the Ninth Grade,” written by Robert Balfanz, Vaughan Byrnes, and Joanna Fox from the Everyone Graduates Center, School of Education, Johns Hopkins University (as you know I like to include links to the report itself, in this case I won’t be able to. I will update this post with the link when the report is published). This paper was discussed at the Closing the Discipline Gap Conference at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in early January.
The report is a longitudinal study of students in Florida. The authors are seeking to parse out the effect of suspension in 9th grade. They actually analyze the interrelated factors regarding suspension, attendance rates, and course failure. The study is able to control for many factors such as race, special education status, and socio-economic status (among other characteristics). The study began in the 2000-01 school year and followed these students through the 2003-04 expected graduation year and continues to track post-secondary success through 2007-08. The study seeks to better understand the impact of early suspension on students’ educational success both concerning on time graduation and post-secondary persistence.
Many of the conclusions from this report reinforce previous research around disproportionality: Black, Hispanic, special education, and students with a low SES are much more likely to be suspended. He also concludes that even when controlling for SES Black students are still over represented. Conclusion disproportionality in discipline is more complicated than just SES.
I recommend a thorough read of the report but I want to highlight a salient policy point made by Balfanz (picking just one was difficult): suspensions, chronic absenteeism, and course failure are significant indicators that predict graduation and post-secondary success. These indicators are closely related. When a student is suspended they will obviously miss days of school, increasing their total absences. Some schools have a clear policy that if a student is suspended they will fail all courses that term. This also directly increases their negative indicators. These negative indicators are the direct opposite of the work around school engagement. If students are engaged their likelihood of graduating and attending post-secondary education increases dramatically. Policies that create more barriers to school success are counterproductive to school engagement and “discipline.” Successful “discipline” will provide opportunities to learn and better engage the students in the school. Hopefully the work we do around Restorative Justice addresses those issues of discipline.