Report Says Zero Tolerance Discipline Ineffective

New research indicates the crackdown on misbehavior in schools has not increased school safety a quarter century after the rise of zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

A report on the effect of zero-tolerance policies released by Vera Institute of Justice, a national nonprofit group, argues that they have little effect on how students behave in the classroom.

“No studies show that an increase in out-of-school suspension and expulsion reduces disruption in the classroom and some evidence suggests the opposite effect,” the report states.

Typically, zero-tolerance discipline policies carry harsh penalties for violations involving drugs, alcohol, smoking, weapons and classroom incidents. Citing the potential for students with behavioral problems to have less supervision as a result of suspensions for inappropriate behavior, the National Association of School Psychologists has claimed the policies are ineffective and harmful to students. Research indicating that school suspensions double the chances a student will repeat a grade is cited by the Vela report.

“Being retained a grade, especially while in middle or high school, is one of the strongest predictors of dropping out,” the report states.

Zero-tolerance policies disproportionately focus on minority students as indicated by the report.

“Nationally, black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students. Among middle school students, black youth are suspended nearly four times more often than white youth, and Latino youth are roughly twice as likely to be suspended or expelled than white youth,” researchers found.

As Brian Smith of MLive reports, according to the report, while just over 3 million students graduated from high school in 2013, nationally, an estimated 2 million secondary school students were suspended.

“Taken together, the research findings and other data on zero tolerance suggest that these policies, which have been in force for 25 years, have no real benefit and significant adverse effects,” the report argues, saying school administrators should instead focus on discipline issues on a case-by-case basis.

“Certain facts are clear: zero tolerance does not make schools more orderly or safe—in fact the opposite may be true. And policies that push students out of school can have life-long negative effects, perhaps severely limiting a young person’s future potential,” the report argues.

Focusing on weapons possession on school property, Michigan law sets some guidelines on when students can be suspended or expelled. Students who are expelled can petition for reinstatement, and if reinstatement is denied, must enroll in an alternative educational program.

Complexities, a high cost and general ineffectivencess are all characteristics of zero-tolerance policies. Some of the problems surrounding zero-tolerance policies include: racial disproportionality where blacks are treated harshly than their counter-parts; length of expulsion increment to two-year, three-year, or even permanent expulsion; repeated use of suspension and expulsion elevating dropout rates, despite school violence generally being stable or declining, the policies increase the rate of suspensions and expulsions throughout the country; a greater negative impact on educational outcomes for students with disabilities and finally, Inconsistent application of the policies, which often are not reserved exclusively for serious behaviors but applied indiscriminately to much lower levels of rule infraction.