A new report from New York City Comptroller John Liu compares the city's pervasive use of zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools to the city's controversial and discriminatory stop-and-frisk practices. While the report is particular to NYC schools, its analysis of the school pushout crisis and what needs to change can be readily applied to any district in the country, which makes it a terrific resources for advocates and organizers.
As the report notes, harsh discipline policies begin to seriously impact student achievement in middle school when there is a steep rise in the number of students being suspended, often for minor misbehaviors that are entirely normal for adolescents. But by removing students from the classroom, harsh discipline policies alienate students and increase the likelihood they will drop out of school and become involved in the juvenile justice system.
Students of color are suspended at much higher rates than their White peers. Black students make up 33% of NYC's student population, yet they received 52% of the suspensions over the course of 2010-2011 school year. In an interview with Gotham Schools, Comptroller Liu commented that "the report demonstrates the sad reality that the stop-and-frisk atmosphere, which presumes that men of color are guilty until proven innocent, begins as early as age 11."
Instead of barring students from the classroom, the report says schools should be using discipline practices like restorative justice that promote a positive and engaging school community. For students who may be struggling with out-of-school stresses like violence in their neighborhood or problems at home, these positive discipline strategies can support students by teaching them appropriate ways to deal with and express their frustration.