4 suspension myths that could hurt students in the long run


High school students who are suspended from school are much less likely to earn academic credit the following year, and their peers do not gain academic benefit from their absence.

These findings come from a new study by US research institutes that examined more than a decade of disciplinary and academic data from New York public schools., the largest district in the country, with over a million students.

“You cannot replicate the classroom experience for someone going back to class by taking them to another location,” said David Osher, AIR researcher and co-author of the study, “because the nature of good learning approaches in schools these days is such that students interact with each other. This is one of the reasons we find out that kids who are suspended, when they come back to school, keep doing badly, because they have missed the dynamic of what is going on in the classroom.

These findings build on a growing body of evidence that the use of a so-called exclusionary discipline – removing students from classes for misconduct via suspensions and expulsions – can backfire on educators who hope to improve performance. student learning and get at-risk children back on track.

Researchers led by Christina LiCalsi, senior researcher at AIR, and Osher analyzed data from middle school and high school students in the Big Apple from 2009 to 2018, including disciplinary actions, academic performance, climate and school safety and final graduation rates. They compared the results of similar students who experienced suspensions inside and outside of school. They also looked at the results of students who suffered suspensions of varying duration, from one to three days at school and from one to 20 days outside of school.

Their findings, along with those of other recent studies, shed light on common myths and misconceptions about how the discipline of exclusion affects students.

Myth: Suspensions improve student behavior

College students in the AIR study became more likely to behave badly in the future when they were suspended out of school rather than school, and when they were suspended for longer periods .

“In the out-of-school suspension, you take the kids out of school socialization and… you potentially put them in a different environment at home alone or even on the streets with their friends,” Osher said.

Myth: Suspensions help put at-risk students back on track

AIR and a separate recent study from the Civil Rights Project find that time spent outside of class for suspension caused damage to students’ academic progress in the same way as any other absence from class.
For students with multiple and long suspensions, Osher noted, “they could end up with chronic truancy, just because of the suspensions, even if they don’t miss any other day of school.”

AIR researchers found that high school students who were suspended from their studies were 3 percentage points less likely to earn academic credits in math and English / language arts the following year, per compared to similar students who were disciplined in school. The longer the suspension, the worse its effect on the students’ long-term academic prospects. Students who were suspended 21 days or more during the study period were 20% less likely to graduate from high school in four years.

Myth: Excluding a troublemaker from the classroom improves learning for the rest of the students

“That’s the argument you hear, isn’t it: that it might be bad for the student in question [to be suspended], but what about all the other students in the class? It’s removing the bad apple from the bunch… But that’s not what we found, ”LiCalsi said.

The study found that the number and severity of student suspensions had no effect on the behavior or academic performance of their peers in high school. In college, longer and longer student suspensions were actually associated with more absenteeism and lower scores on standardized math and reading tests for their peers.

“When students feel that discipline is inconsistent or unfair, it gives them a more negative view of the school environment as a whole,” LiCalsi said. “This is the case, I think, for college students, especially. In high school you’re more likely to see students disengage or drop out … but in college they don’t have the option to drop out, so it turns out differently. This negatively affects their feelings of connection and belonging, fairness and justice within their school, which could negatively impact their behavior.

Myth: The seriousness of a student’s behavior results in suspensions

In 2017-18, the most recent year of federal data, more than 2.6 million students nationwide have received at least one suspension in school, and 2.5 million more have served at least one suspension out of school.
Suspensions continue to disproportionately affect students of color and people with disabilities or traumatized people, even when they engage in the same inappropriate behaviors as their peers.

The AIR study, like others, finds that the discipline of exclusion harms the academic and behavioral outcomes of students of all races, including those with and without disabilities. But students of color, especially black students, were significantly more likely to have more and longer suspensions than white students.

In addition, a history of trauma can greatly increase the likelihood that a student will be suspended. A separate decade-long disciplinary study found that students who had had multiple negative experiences as children – severe trauma, including neglect and child abuse or parent death, incarceration, mental illness or drug addiction – were almost four times more likely to be suspended or deported. as students from similar backgrounds who had no history of trauma.

Administrators entering the third school year of the pandemic may face many more behavioral issues related to children facing trauma, but the discipline of exclusion can also create difficult legal and academic problems. A recent analysis of discipline in Louisiana school districts found that decisions by several schools to suspend students from the virtual school on the basis of behavior during videoconferences or objects seen at the pupils’ homes during lessons have triggered legal action.

New Orleans civil rights attorney Victor Jones argued that as blended and distance learning continues to be used this year, school district leaders need to develop separate disciplinary policies for virtual classrooms, both to protect student privacy and to limit missing class time. during a period when teaching time is already limited.


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