Across the Commonwealth, educators seek to establish positive learning environments where all young people can be successful. Encouraging positive behavior is critical to creating the classrooms that our kids need to reach their full potential. Excluding students from the classroom through suspensions and expulsions interrupts their learning time and often creates negative cycles that can harm students and the learning climate.
MassBudget's new report, "Learning Uninterrupted: Supporting Positive Culture and Behavior in Schools," examines new approaches to school discipline that have been effective in fostering a positive school climate and reducing student suspensions while contributing to academic achievement. One approach emphasizes preventative measures promoting positive school culture, reinforcing expectations with incentives and logical consequences, and providing additional support for the kids most in need. Another approach, "Restorative Justice" brings together young people who have broken rules with other affected parties to discuss the impact of the bad behavior, determine corrective action, and empower those harmed.
As Massachusetts schools move beyond strict "zero tolerance" discipline policies, the report examines how school districts could implement these types of effective reforms and what the costs might be.
The stakes are high for reducing school suspensions and expulsions. Recent research has found a 12 percentage point decline in the probability of graduating high school for suspended students after controlling for other background factors. Students excluded from class time often become more disengaged and alienated. Research links dropping out of school to lower lifetime earnings and increased social costs.
In Massachusetts, the passage of Chapter 222 aims to reduce the prevalence of exclusionary discipline by directing schools to limit suspensions to severe issues, increase due process, and to work with the families and provide services for kids facing discipline. These reforms have helped to reduce exclusionary discipline by 17.7 percent over two years. MassBudget's new study identifies ways that our schools could build on this progress by adopting innovative policies that have a strong record of success in other states: proactive strategies to create a positive school climate so that the behaviors that lead to exclusionary discipline are less likely to occur and Restorative Justice programs that rebuild positive relationships when incidents occur.
Studies show schools are more likely to suspend black and Latino students, as well as students with disabilities, even for similar kinds of behavior. Massachusetts' Chapter 222 requires schools to monitor and report data on these disparities.
To see data on student suspensions for each school district for minor and major offenses going back to 2012, click here.
To read the full report, "Learning Uninterrupted: Supporting Positive Culture and Behavior in Schools," click here.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget) produces policy research, analysis, and data-driven recommendations focused on improving the lives of low- and middle-income children and adults, strengthening our state's economy, and enhancing the quality of life in Massachusetts.