Are all students punished equally?

Enforcing effective means of managing and punishing inappropriate and unacceptable student behavior is a subject of debate when it comes public schools. Some argue that suspensions and expulsions are necessary to make it clear to students that inappropriate and unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated, while others argue that such means of punishment are not only ineffective, but also detrimental to learning experiences. Despite the debate, such methods of punishment are implemented in most schools throughout the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were 49 million students enrolled in the public-school system in the 2011-2012 academic school year. Of those 49 million, 3.5 million students were suspended in-school, 3.45 million students were suspended out-of-school, and 130,000 students were expelled. While these practices are commonly used, the U.S. Department of Education reported that “various data sources show clearly that students with disabilities and students of color are disproportionately impacted by such practices.”

Who has the data to prove this?

A major provider of such data is the Civil Rights Data Collection, which reports that “black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students, while students with disabilities are twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension as their non-disabled peers.”

When do these punishment practices typically start?

Such inequalities in punishment are present in as early as preschool. According to data published by the Civil Rights Data Collection for 2013-2014 Preschool Discipline Estimations by Discipline Type, of the 2,931 students who received one out-of-school suspension, 1,355 were Black or African American compared to the 822 that were White. Of the 4,401 students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions, 2,140 were Black or African American compared to the 1,193 that were White. Of the 1,470 students who received more than one out-of-school suspension, 785 were Black or African American compared to the 371 that were White. Of the 127 students expelled, 46 were Black or African American compared to the 49 that were White. In each scenario of out-of-school suspensions for the preschool disciple data, Black or African American students were disproportionately punished compared to their white peers. The only instance in which White students outnumbered Black or African American students with regards to being punished was for the expulsion, but it wasn’t disproportionate.

How does the data compare after preschool?

The variety of discipline data increases greatly after preschool, but the trends remain the same. Black or African American students generally continue to outnumber White students when it comes to discipline. To take a look at this data, please click here.

How effective are these types of punishments?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, with regards to suspensions in particular, they not only prove to be ineffective, but also have negative consequences. They report that “evidence does not show that discipline practices that remove students from instruction—such as suspensions and expulsions—help to improve either student behavior or school climate.” In addition, “suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout, failures to graduate on time, decreased academic engagement, and future disciplinary exclusion.” With that said, if Black or African American students are more likely to be suspended or expelled, then they would be experiencing these negative consequences more than their White peers.

Are there alternatives to these disciplinary practices?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are “evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks” that serve as effective alternatives, and “interventions…have been associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and reductions in suspensions and school dropouts.”

According to an article published by Edutopia, restorative justice, a practice that “empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups,” has increased in popularity throughout the country and it suggests promising results. “The programs have helped strengthen campus communities, prevent bullying, and reduce student conflicts. And the benefits are clear: early-adopting districts have seen drastic reductions in suspension and expulsion rates, and students say they are happier and feel safer.”

Edutopia also identified examples of successful restorative-justice programs, one being Oakland Unified School District, which began the program back in 2007. The district reported “promising reductions in suspensions, in addition to increased attendance.” To read more about Oakland Unified School District’s success with the program, check out this article: Opening Up, Students Transform a Vicious Circle.

One thought on “Are all students punished equally?

  1. I find your post very interesting because I have been on both sides of the argument for and against reparative circles. My English class participated in a lot of reparative circles about a lot of issues that was happening in our school during senior year. They were very useful. We had the ability to see other people perspectives and talk clearly about issues and problems we were having especially during a scandal that happened that year. I do see the value in those instances and I do think that they could be used to fix bigger issues and should be used in lower grades to teach kids how to work out their problems and communicate effectively. I think the younger the better because that will, hopefully, end bullying once they get into middle and high school. Even though I see the value I also see the drawbacks. Kids need discipline. I was bullied for a really long time in second grade because my teachers and administrators kept telling me to fight my own battles and try to talk to this girl and work our issues out ourselves. The only problem was this girl refused to talk to me and terrified me. She would sit across from me at lunch and spit chewed up food into my lunch so that I couldn’t eat it. This terror literally followed me to high school. I hadn’t seen this girl for six years and the minute she walked into the room in high school I immediately felt like that little second grader again. Another instance of trying to make kids figure stuff out on their own happened to my friend. She went to a religious elementary and middle school. Their discipline was making the perpetrator walk around and pray on what they had done. The bullying got so bad my friend ended up pulling out of the school because nothing was being done and the bullying just kept getting worse. So, I understand where you are coming from and I see the value in what you are saying I just worry that it won’t be enough in some situations and it could be very detrimental to those not being protected.
    Katie Maher

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