Why does being suspended or expelled increase the likelihood that a student will drop out of school? Understanding the impacts of school retention, school suspension, and school expulsion are crucial to developing success plans for youth in the education system. Although this phenomenon has been well-established and researched, schools continue to utilize school suspension and school expulsion as forms of punishment. These forms of punishment have negative impacts on students’ wellbeing in both the short and long term, within and outside of the classroom.
Despite a large and growing body of evidence that traditionally accepted forms of school punishment of suspension and expulsion are causing students more harm than good, public schools in the United States have seen an increase in their rates of suspensions and expulsions. While these rates are rising, they are not rising equally amongst all students. Racial disparities are rampant, where Black students are four times as likely as white students to be suspended, a rate that remains nearly constant from preschool through 12th grade.
A majority of the issues for which students are suspended for today are non-violent offenses, such as classroom disruption and chronic absence. Nearly half of all recent suspensions nationwide result from “willful defiance” or insubordination in the classroom, a rate that has doubled over the past two decades. In these instances especially it is crucial to consider the role that representation within the classroom plays, whereby white instructors discipline students of color at greater rates and with higher stakes than their white peers.
While roughly 6% of all K-12 public school students in the U.S. receive one or more out-of-school suspensions, the percentage spikes to 18% for Black boys and 10% for Black girls compared to 5% for white boys and 2% for white girls. Further, while as a whole American Indian or Alaska Native, LatinX, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial boys make up about 15% of K-12 student populations, they account for nearly 20% of those receiving one or more out-of-school suspension.
The impacts of school suspensions and expulsions on continuing education are profound. A 2012 study done by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University found that effects of school suspensions were cumulative, with each additional suspension increasing dropout rates by 10%. The same study found that having even one suspension increased a scholar’s odds of leaving school before graduation from 16 to 32 percent.
Rather than graduating high school and being able to go on and pursue further career development or higher education, many students are faced with the harsh realities of a school to prison pipeline system. Though many schools have an on-campus police presence, student entrapment in the carceral system occurs as a byproduct of a loss of community, a lowered sense of self-worth and ability, and scarcity of essential resources.
Current punishments perpetuate external and internal cycles of shame, stigma, and social-outcasting. The loss of class time, loss of trust and connection with peers and teachers, as well as negative labeling of students who’ve been suspended as “bad” takes an individual and interpersonal toll on young scholars’ social development.
- Loss of class time
- Loss of trust and connection
- Negative labeling
Exclusionary punishment practices such as suspension and expulsion severely hinder students’ connection to their community, both within and outside of the school’s walls. While most instances of suspension and expulsion are for non-violent offenses, it has been shown that involvement in punitive school punishments promotes anti-social behaviors, even increasing the odds that a student may later carry a weapon to school, steal from or hurt a peer.
Although these exclusionary punishment practices may have originally come from a place of best intentions, their harmful impacts cannot be denied. Rather than making school a safer place for all young scholars, these policies and practices have promoted individual struggle and furthered social inequities.
At the World Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, we believe firmly in a restorative justice process approach to discipline, rather than punitive punishment. By reframing the structure of conflict resolution, this approach aims to promote effective communication, mutual respect and understanding. It targets the deeper causes of disagreements, asks where harm is being done, and how it can be addressed.
In switching the lens from punishment to discipline, we see an expanded opportunity for growth. In changing these norms, we are committing to a path of social justice and education reform.