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Voices Speaking

May 10, 2016

School Discipline in Connecticut: Questioning Suspended Education

Though we know removing students from the classroom is harmful, exclusionary discipline continues to be used in schools across Connecticut. Research has shown that students who are suspended, expelled, or arrested are more likely to experience academic failure, drop out of school, and become involved in the juvenile justice system, feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. To help state leaders disrupt this pipeline, we analyze exclusionary discipline data to identify the factors affecting a student’s likelihood of entry to the system, and recommend interventions to disrupt their entry.

In past publications, we have raised concerns about the overuse and misuse of exclusionary discipline in public schools across the state:

  • Arresting Development: Student Arrests in Connecticut” (2013). We analyzed school-based arrest data from 2007 to 2011 and showed that although the overall number of arrests had declined across the state, a significant portion of those arrests were avoidable—that is, students were arrested for non-criminal behaviors that could likely have been addressed in the classroom. While arrest rates were higher for students of color, students in poorer school districts, and students with disabilities, we observed significant variation in arrest rates across schools and districts with similar student populations, which suggested school policies and practices may impact rates of arrests.
  • Keeping Kids in Class: School Discipline in Connecticut, 2008-2013” (2015). In our analysis of suspension, expulsion, and school-based arrest data from 2008 to 2013 we showed that as rates of exclusionary discipline use declined, schools continued to suspend, expel, and arrest students of color, students from poorer districts, and students with disabilities at rates disproportionate to their representation in the population of students enrolled in CT public schools. Additionally, in 2013, nearly 1 in 10 school-based arrests were for non-criminal violations of school policy (like profanity, insubordination, or dress code transgressions).

In our new series, School Discipline in Connecticut: Questioning Suspended Education, we take a deeper dive into school discipline data, closely examining which students bear the brunt of this overuse of discipline and identifying opportunities for intervention. Our past research shows that low-income students, students of color, and students with special education needs are disproportionately impacted by the overuse and misuse of exclusionary discipline. In this series, we study additional factors that may influence school discipline rates, including school type, degree of racial segregation, and intersecting student identities.

The first brief in this series, “Struggling with School Transitions,” highlights the potential relationship between school transitions and school discipline. Comparing rates of exclusionary discipline by grade level to enrollment data suggests that school transitions (e.g., from elementary to middle school or middle to high school) may be a point of stress for Connecticut’s students. School discipline rates spike in the sixth and ninth grades, grades in which the majority of the state’s students are starting at new schools. If student suspensions rise sharply in the sixth and ninth grades, and suspensions are associated with further exclusionary discipline, then the behavioral challenges of changing schools may inadvertently function to establish harmful patterns of removing students from the classroom, contributing to further problems down the line.

In upcoming briefs we will highlight factors including gender, race, disability status, English language proficiency, and racial segregation in schools and how these factors affect the type, severity and duration of discipline used. This series seeks to better identify the factors that influence the overuse and misuse of exclusionary discipline in schools. By developing targeted interventions to address these factors, the state can more effectively disrupt existing entry points in the school-to-prison pipeline, and improve school climate for all of its students.

Issue Areas:
Education, Juvenile Justice

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