Clear expectations cut school suspensions

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When students receive clear, consistent expectations of behavior, school suspensions drop by as much as 10 percent, a new study shows.

To put that in context, more than 2.75 million K-12 students were suspended during the 2013 to 2014 school year. A 10 percent reduction means 275,000 more students were in class learning.

A 2012 study by the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University found that when a high school freshman receives a single suspension, their chances of dropping out of school can increase by a third. Further, only 49 percent of students with three or more suspensions graduate high school. That’s nearly a flip of a coin on whether a student receives a diploma or not.

“A positive climate is one where educators and administrators create clear expectations for students, practice consistent discipline, and display supportive behavior,” says Francis Huang, associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri.

“This study suggests that a positive school climate can be helpful for all students, regardless of their background.”

“This creates a positive school environment for students because they know what is expected of them, they feel respected and supported, and they expect that they will be treated equally and fairly.”

In addition to presenting clear rules to students and enforcing them consistently throughout the school, a positive school climate features an environment marked by supportive student-teacher relationships, Huang says.

For the study, which appears in Children and Youth Services Review, Huang and coauthor Dewey Cornell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, analyzed school climate survey responses from more than 75,000 students from 310 middle schools in Virginia to see the relationship between student behaviors, the likelihood of suspensions, and overall school climate.

Behaviors like fighting and bullying were the most powerful predictors of receiving a suspension. A positive school climate is associated with a reduction in a student’s likelihood of receiving a suspension, no matter their race, economic status, or behavior in school.

“Research shows that overwhelmingly, the students who are most at risk of receiving a suspension are either male, non-white, of low socioeconomic status, have a disability, or a combination of these characteristics,” Huang says. “This study suggests that a positive school climate can be helpful for all students, regardless of their background.”

The National Institute of Justice funded the work. The opinions, findings, and recommendations expressed in the study are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding institution.

Source: University of Missouri