Tag Archives: criminal justice

Three Things to Know about Courts, Schools, and Discipline

About 2.8 million k-12 students are suspended from school in a given year. And about 150,000 are expelled. Both suspension and expulsions are forms of “exclusionary school discipline,” the catch-all term for school discipline policies that remove students from their classrooms or schools.

On this subject, The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges just published a new report: The Intersection of Juvenile Courts and Exclusionary School Discipline. It’s a helpful primer on the history of suspension and expulsion policies coupled with advice for those in schools and in the judiciary working to build partnerships to better support students who misbehave in school.

There are three big takeaways from this report:

  1. Most exclusionary discipline policies can be traced back to 1994’s Gun-Free School Zones Act. That law requires all schools receiving federal funds to develop policies for referring incidents of weapons on campus to law enforcement. Experts cited in this report believe this law has not reduced school violence and has, in fact, made communities less safe.
  2. Exclusionary school discipline costs states millions of dollars a year. Spending even just  30% of that on supportive diversion programs — like community-based intervention or mentoring — cuts costs and keeps kids on track towards productive community participation. (The report provides examples of several successful models.)
  3. In many communities, juvenile court judges have used their credibility and influence to take on leadership roles in supporting schools to minimize the contact that young people — especially students of color and students with disabilities — have with law enforcement and the justice system. Other judges can do this by convening cross-agency teams, promoting alternative approaches, and encouraging policy change.  

While none of these points are major revelations, it’s helpful to see them lined up together in order to better illustrate the complex inter-agency dynamics that continue to hold these harmful policies in place.

Speaking of School Turnaround Stratgies: Do They Work?

In a recent post on my personal blog, I mentioned school turnarounds as a possible parallel to reforms of criminal justice and law enforcement. I wondered if it is possible to overhaul entire systems or institutions or whether new ones need to built in their stead. (My colleague Andy Smarick has strong opinions on this subject.)

Just in time, a blog post from TNTP (a national teacher effectiveness nonprofit and former Bellwether client), highlighted the question of the effectiveness of turnaround strategies. Rasheed Meadows writes:

The fact is that school turnarounds have a rocky history and a mixed track record, but there’s little evidence that milder interventions result in more meaningful changes for schools and kids. And we know for sure that inaction is not an option.

Read the rest of his post here, which includes Meadows’ personal experience leading–and reforming–a low-performing school in Massachusetts.

The question remains: how can reformers of any system–whether educational or carceral–determine whether to scrap an existing model and start from scratch or work to improve what exists?