Time to Discipline? Estimating the Risks and Impact of Public-School Discipline
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CitationHoffman, Stephen L. 2016. Time to Discipline? Estimating the Risks and Impact of Public-School Discipline. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractIn the three essays in this thesis, I explore the effect of school discipline policies on the suspension of public-school students, in an urban setting.
In the first essay, using aggregate data, I investigate the effect of zero-tolerance disciplinary polices on secondary-school students. Capitalizing on a natural experiment, I used a “differences-in-differences” analytic approach to explore any benefit of a hypothesized deterrent effect and to estimate the impact of the abrupt expansion of zero-tolerance policies in one large urban school district. I found that Black students were suspended from school more often following the policy change, while suspensions of White students remained unchanged. In addition, expulsions from school, following the policy change, more than doubled for Black students, compared to only a small increase for White students.
In the second essay, and the same urban setting, I employed continuous-time survival analysis in a student-level event-history dataset to estimate the risk of middle-school students’ first suspension of the school year. I found that this risk differed by three factors: (a) when the suspension occurred, (b) student grade-level, and (c) student race. At the beginning of the school year, this risk of first suspension for eighth-grade students was double the risk for sixth-grade students, although this difference diminished over time. Additionally, the risk for Black students was more than ten times the risk for White students.
In the third essay, I extended my work further, using repeated-spells survival analysis to describe the timing of suspensions over the duration of the students’ entire middle-school careers. I found that—once a student had been suspended from middle school for the first time—the median time until a second suspension was less than one school year, and the median time until a third suspension was about one semester. These risks also differed substantially by gender, race, and poverty level. The risk of a first suspension for boys was substantially higher than for girls. This risk was also higher for poor students than for non-poor students. However, the risks of both a first suspension and subsequent suspensions were substantially higher for Black students, compared to White students, even after controlling for differences in poverty among the groups.
Taken together, these analyses underscore disparities in school disciplinary practices, based on important student demographic characteristics, while providing an updated and more methodologically sound way of describing these effects.
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