Groundbreaking Texas Report Finds Harsh Discipline Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Last Updated: July 29, 2011

This article appeared in the July 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Across the country community groups and others concerned about young people have begun to push back against the growing trend for schools to use severe and punitive discipline in response to non-violent student misbehavior. Addressing school discipline, especially harsh punishments that push students out of school, has been identified as a major concern of many rural community residents. This occasional series highlights some of the most basic issues in the national conversation about school discipline.

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A six-year study conducted by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments in partnership with the Public Policy Research Institute of Texas A&M University has found that nearly 60% of Texas middle and high school students have been suspended or expelled at least once. A shocking 15% of those students were suspended or expelled 11 times or more between 7th and 12th grades. The report confirms that exclusionary discipline often leads to worse outcomes for students: half of the students with 11 or more suspensions or expulsions were also involved in the juvenile justice system and only 40% of those students graduated from high school.

The study is the first of its kind in its scope and detail. It tracked over one-million Texas students beginning in the 7th grade. The researchers examined discipline records at the individual school level and were able to study academic and social outcomes for students after disciplinary incidents occurred. Texas has one of the most detailed electronic databases of student records in the country.

The study also tracked disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline. Almost three-fourths of students receiving special education services were suspended or expelled at least once. African-American and Hispanic males were disciplined at much higher rates than other groups of students. Overall, 46.9% of white students; 64.8% of Hispanic students, and 75.1% of African-American students were suspended or expelled at least once.

Notably, only 3% of the disciplinary actions were mandatory punishments under Texas law (typically for drug or weapon possession); the rest were meted out at administrators’ discretion.

State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) is quoted in the Texas Tribune saying: “Too often school administrators are taking the easy way out — instead of having to spend more time and resources with the youth, they just refer them to somebody else." Whitmire said that schools “refer [students] to alternative schools, they suspend them or they refer them to juvenile probation."

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson highlighted the link between school discipline and the juvenile justice system in his January State of the State address. He and Senator Whitmire, who is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, have said they intend to convene a panel to study the findings of this report and come up with solutions.

The authors of “Breaking Schools” Rules” have said they hope the report hope on the nation’s second largest student population will provide a model for examining discipline trends and policies in other states. A majority of Texas students are students are of color.

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Find the full report, “Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement,” here:

Read coverage of the report:

Read more from the July 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

Related Categories: In Local News, Rural Policy Matters

Related Tags: Disabilities, Discipline