University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

School Discipline in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on May 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm

BART

 

While many of us laugh at Bart’s chalkboard trials, discipline in schools has been raising concerns nationally.  Today’s Policy Brief examines trends in school discipline in Arkansas. In response to concerns about disparities in discipline outcomes and the impact school discipline has on student achievement, Arkansas passed Act 1329 in 2013. State policymakers recognized that lost instructional time contributes to poor student performance and that disciplinary measures that keep students engaged in the education process support student learning and academic achievement. The goal of the law is to evaluate and to track the progress of school districts in reducing disciplinary rates and disciplinary disparities. The law provides for annual district-level reporting of school disciplinary data.

The Office for Education Policy assists with the analyses required under ACT 1329, and posts the research on our website. The consistent collection of data permits evaluation of disciplinary practices and aids in the identification of state, district, and student-level disparities in Arkansas schools.

A disciplinary incident has two parts– the infraction and the consequence. We examine both sides of the incident statewide, by student characteristics and by school characteristics.

A quick summary of key points:

  • Reported disciplinary incidents have increased since Act 1329 was enacted.
  • 82% of reported infractions were minor and non-violent (insubordination and disorderly conduct).
  • In-school suspension rates have risen, and out-of-school suspension rates have increased slightly since 2004-05.
  • Corporal punishment is occurring less frequently, although is still used by over 80% of districts in 2015-16.
  • Students who are Black are more likely to be cited for disciplinary infractions.
  • Schools that enroll the highest percentage of Black students are the most likely to exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior.
  • Differences in disciplinary severity reflect differences in practices between schools, not within a school.

Unlike academic performance data, where higher scores are better, interpretation of discipline rates is unclear. Is more discipline reporting the sign of a school where student behavior is out of control, or of a school where behavior expectations for students are high and enforced consistently? If we aim for lowering discipline rates, how to we avoid the unintended consequence that only the reporting of disciplinary incidents will decrease? Although we may not yet know the answers to these questions, meaningful conversations can only begin when the data are available and transparent. By raising awareness of potential discrepancies, school leaders may seek solutions to address such issues.

The main point is that these data are available and should be discussed.

One thing we do know is that there are real disparities in school discipline for certain types of students and schools. Students who are Black are more likely to be cited for infractions, and schools that enroll the highest percentage of Black students are the most likely to exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior. Research into Arkansas discipline data, however, has determined that these differences in the frequency and severity of consequences are due to differences between school practices. This means that within a school, students receive similar consequences for infractions regardless of race, but that there are significant differences in practices between schools.

We find that Black students are more likely to attend schools that exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior. Black students attend schools that adhere to stricter disciplinary policies, so they are disproportionately missing school. Being excluded from school leads to lost instructional time and has been associated with disengagement in school and negative life outcomes. Policymakers and school leaders may want to focus on these schools to identify possibilities for ensuring students are not being excessively excluded from the learning environment.

Policymakers and educators alike should be concerned with the long-term consequences of denying children access to the educational process. Arkansas took a necessary first step by adopting AR 1329 which aims to reduce disciplinary rates and disparities. To that end, decreasing suspensions overall will require a transformation in disciplinary practices, and particularly in schools that administer more severe consequences for minor non-violent infractions.

School-level discipline data, current discipline reports and future research can be found on OEP’s website at officeforeducationpolicy.org

 

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