Does Suspending Students Work?

New research shows that sending kids home from school as punishment may do more harm than good

  • Share
  • Read Later
Hal Bergman Photography / Getty Images

Every now and again we hear stories about a kid getting suspended from school for some absurdly minor infraction. In October, four teenage boys in Pekin, Illinois, were suspended for two days for eating energy mints in the cafeteria. Last year, there was a rash of suspensions of students for hugging, and examples of cases involving dress codes such as haircuts or t-shirts are too many to list. Although the misdeeds are very small, the incidents raise a bigger issue: does suspending a kid from school work? In other words, does it actually ameliorate behavioral and academic problems?

Increasingly, the answer seems to be no. In fact, suspensions may do more harm than good. As Pamela Fenning and her colleagues noted in the April 2012 Journal of School Violence, most school districts continue to use out-of-school suspensions even for minor disciplinary issues even though they tend to actually exacerbate problem behaviors and also may lead to academic problems. Further, out-of-school suspensions are not fairly applied with minority youth being assigned punitive suspensions at greater rates than non-minority youth according to a 2012 report by the US Department of Education.

(MORE: Why Parenting Is More Important Than Schools)

Reasons why out-of-school suspensions don’t work are fairly obvious. Giving students what amounts to a free day or two off doesn’t actually feel like punishment for most kids, especially those who may already be hostile towards school to begin with. But if the student then misses school work, his or her grades will decline, further increasing the student’s detachment from the academic environment. Out-of-school suspensions leave kids at home unsupervised and able to cause more problems. And they also do nothing to teach appropriate alternative behavior nor address underlying issues that may be causing the bad behavior.

In fairness, schools often struggle to find alternatives for kids whose discipline problems are truly serious and who may disrupt the learning environment for other students. I’ve worked clinically with enough kids to understand that, although they are a tiny minority, some can be so disruptive that the interventions teachers have at hand will have little impact. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have any empirically-validated alternatives. Some schools have implemented either in-school suspension or Saturday suspension (effectively a Saturday detention) so that students are not rewarded by being excused from school and won’t miss out on schoolwork.

(MORE: Should Teachers Be Allowed To Sell Their Lesson Plans?)

As always, school districts may struggle to find the financial resources to provide services for students at highest risk. In the absence of those resources, it’s understandably tempting to want to eject some students to preserve the educational opportunities for others. However, that simply kicks the societal cost down the road. Academic failure is a significant predictor of later occupational and legal problems as an adult. Figuring out how to appropriately discipline students at highest risk for academic failure should be a part of discussion about educational reform. Otherwise we risk leaving behind the most vulnerable of our citizens.

11 comments
thecreepypastamusiclord
thecreepypastamusiclord

Why do people even bother suspending kids if the kids will/might do it again just to get people mad and start a comotion?! why even bother?!

edinbo
edinbo

Dress code isues are not unimportant. Rules are rules and if the rules are broken, consequences follow. Whoever wrote this piece needs to be an administrator for a day.

Whatyousay?
Whatyousay?

"If a student misses school work, his or her grades may decline" just sounds rediculous to me. Why not word it this way; If a student misses school work their grades may decline.  Please stop saying "his or her", we've long had other words to represent those values. You might even consider using "themselves" instead of herself or himself as well because it just sounds more educated to many of us and takes up a lot less space on the page. Thanks. :)

SarahOmojola
SarahOmojola

Here in California, school leaders are having promising results with research-based alternatives such as positive behavior intervention and support and restorative justice. These fresh approaches don’t give students a pass on behavior. Instead, they engage students in the consequences of their actions and focus educators on the true causes, which can include mental health issues, family turmoil, and other issues that cannot be solved with suspension or expulsion. Educators who have implemented these new programs have seen increased graduation rates, reduced in-class disruptions, and have kept students who struggle with their behavior in school and learning. These leaders have won the support of local police chiefs and judges, who see the impact of failed school discipline policies on the streets and in jails. In 2007, the700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District adopted positive behavior intervention and support as district-wide alternative discipline policy. Where this policy has been implemented, schools have seen their cultures turnaround and suspension rates plummet. Ironically, get-tough policies over the past 20 years haven’t made schools safer and have contributed to our nation’s education crisis, especially at low-performing schools. In California, which passed five state laws aimed at reducing out of school suspensions, the pendulum is swinging back. Visit www.fixschooldiscipline.org to learn more.

destrilogy
destrilogy

Why does this article have a chevron logo on it? 

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

Like giving drugs to hyper kids, school suspensions have very little to do with providing a valuable lesson or treatment for the offender, but are primarily visited on them to reestablish order and decrease their immediate effect on those around them.

We always try to say it in such a way that it is to reflect our concern and care for the "offenders", but the reality is that it is a simple solution for our immediate difficulties with them, be it parents, teachers, principal, or classmates.

Prison used to have some perception of reform, but now all it is is a place that we send social offenders which is guaranteed to make them completely asocial and without any regard at all for their fellow human beings.

We are good at justifying these things as being in their best interests as well as our own, but the reality is in the long run they are in no ones best interests, not theirs and certainly not our's.

Simple and immediate punitive solutions imposed by those in authority seldom have the desired effect.

ablg234
ablg234

@edinbo I have nothing but resentment for teachers who punished me in school over uniforms and appearance rules. The rules are ridiculous and need to change so that we can all get on with actual school work. I was an A grade kid by the way and have succeeded in the Corporate world where we wear jeans and guys grow their hair.

edinbo
edinbo

Because "their " is plural!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Your grammar skills need to be honed.

Cameron
Cameron

Ok, if you are going to correct someone's grammar, correct your own first.  To write, "If a student misses school work their grades..."  The word student is singular and requires a writer to use either his/her to follow up, not their as that is plural.

Thank you!