Cover Image for Advancing School Discipline Reform. Click image to download report.New data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) estimates that over 3 million students are suspended or expelled every year, with minorities and special needs students often facing harsher discipline than their peers for the same offenses. Such exclusionary discipline practices aim to create orderly, safe classrooms, but there is little evidence they actually work.

In “Advancing School Discipline Reform,” American Institutes for Research analysts Greta Colombi and David Osher explore the latest research on punitive school discipline and zero-tolerance policies, their effects on student achievement and engagement, and a range of more effective disciplinary strategies that should supplant them.

“Punitive discipline has increasingly been used as a quick fix to what often is a chronic, long-term problem,” Colombi and Osher write, an approach that has created more problems. They explain that zero-tolerance policies often do not improve school climate: Suspended students are more likely to struggle academically, drop out of school, commit violent crimes, and enter the juvenile justice system.

State policymakers can advance school discipline reform and improve school climate, say Colombi and Osher. State boards of education can work with state agencies to develop policies and support practices that strengthen the data collection, analysis, and stakeholder collaboration needed for such reform.