Zero-Tolerance Discipline and College Admissions

Often, when we talk about the impact of harsh school discipline policies, we talk about the short-run. We highlight how suspensions are disproportionately handed out to students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students, often for minor, nonviolent misbehaviors, and this alienates students from the classroom and makes it more likely that they drop out of school. 

A recent editorial in the New York Times reminds us that the consequences of this "zero-tolerance"  discipline can extend beyond the K-12 system and hurt students' chances of being accepted into college. 

From the editorial:

"The problem is underscored in an alarming new study by the Center for Community Alternatives, a nonprofit group that focuses on alternatives to incarceration. The study traces the problem to questions on the Common Application, which is used by some 500 colleges and universities. The applicant is asked about his or her disciplinary history, and the high school is asked whether the applicant committed disciplinary violations from ninth grade on that led to probation, suspension, removal, dismissal or expulsion.

Colleges that use the disciplinary information in admissions often make matters worse by doing so haphazardly. According to the study, only about a quarter of the 408 colleges that responded to the survey have formal written policies on how the data should be interpreted — and only about a third have trained their admissions staff in how to interpret disciplinary violations. These shortcomings mean that at least some students can be unnecessarily rejected for innocuous violations. And those who are admitted despite violations can be barred from living on campus, placed on probation and so on.

Disciplinary data is junk information that can hurt students while doing nothing to meaningfully distinguish them from other applicants."

Read the full editorial here, and download the report here.

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