Do Strict School Discipline Policies Cause Later Criminal Activity?

Check out my new piece on The Daily Signal about a new study published in Education Next claiming to prove that the school to prison pipeline is caused by strict discipline policies. Here’s a taste:

Proponents of federal orders to reduce or eliminate suspensions are waving this study around as confirmation that federal intervention is necessary to stop the flow of suspended minority students into prisons later in their lives.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, people should more closely scrutinize what this study actually examines and how it claims that its results are causal.

Importantly, this research does not look at how changing school discipline policies affects students. Instead, it looks at how students are affected by being in a school with more suspensions versus one with fewer.

Schools with identical school discipline policies could vary substantially in the rate of suspensions based on how the school is run and whether there’s a concentration of students inclined toward behavior problems in it.

That is, a poorly run school may be unable to maintain classroom order without having to suspend a lot of students, while a well-run school could have the same discipline policies, but relatively few suspensions.

The researchers mischaracterize their work as answering whether there is “a causal link between experiencing strict school discipline as a student and being arrested or incarcerated as an adult.”

That’s inaccurate because schools of equal “strictness” could produce very different rates of suspensions, depending on how well-run they are and how many students with behavior problems they have.

Another way to describe what they’re examining is whether there’s a causal link between going to a poorly managed school with a lot of behavioral problems and later-in-life incarceration.

If the answer were yes, it would not mean we would want to have the feds crack down on suspensions. It could mean that we need to improve school management quality and strengthen families and communities so that students are less likely to come to school with behavioral difficulties.

3 Responses to Do Strict School Discipline Policies Cause Later Criminal Activity?

  1. pdexiii says:

    In 4th grade the nun would stand inside the boys bathroom door and smack upside the head those she saw/thought were goofing off.
    In middle school if you didn’t do your homework at recess you had to stand on the parking lot lines with your feet crossed reading a book.
    Did we all end up incarcerated? No. Was that ‘strict’? By some standards that was abusive and cruel.

    Suspensions are an easy metric to gather, whereas classroom procedures/management are extremely difficult to measure yet significantly more important determinant to school environment and safety. Our school suspends (out-of-school) a small percentage of our students. We’ve expelled students, and when they got a taste of other schools they’ve asked to come back, and we let them. The behavioral challenges have increased since Common Core (2014). I use that curriculum demarcation because I believe since then students come to us (middle school) with weaker and weaker content knowledge/skills, which leads to worse behavioral issues. I suspect this study never considered that, but they likely aren’t in a classroom that much to even see it.

    • Greg Forster says:

      I’m just sitting here wondering how the Gates MET researchers would have coded their responses for “nun in boys’ bathroom smacking troublemakers upside the head.”

  2. pdexiii says:

    And I’m sure most, if not all of them weren’t even born when it happened, much less experienced it.

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