The Hidden Cost of California’s Harsh School Discipline: And the Localized Economic Benefits From Suspending Fewer High School Students

The Hidden Cost of California’s Harsh School Discipline: And the Localized Economic Benefits From Suspending Fewer High School Students
March 14, 2017 Stuart Foundation

One cause of failure to graduate is being suspended from school. Perhaps this is why Republican legislators in Texas, such as state senate education committee chair Senator Shapiro, supported extensive research on school discipline by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The Justice Center, which tracked every Texas middle school student for more than six years, found that being suspended from school was a strong predictor of involvement with the juvenile justice system in the same year, and of failing to graduate high school. The researchers showed that most Texas middle school students are suspended at least once between grades 7 and 12. This fine-grained analysis isolated the impact of suspension, finding that it predicted lower high school graduation rates, even when controlling for prior student behavior, poverty, achievement, and 80 other variables. Most important, the Texas study concluded that factors schools controlled largely explained much of the wide range of suspension rate differences between Texas’ schools. In a follow-up study, the researchers estimated that Texans could avoid billions of dollars in lost tax revenue, and in social welfare costs, as well as costs associated with repeating a grade, by suspending fewer students.

This California study, which is based on a dataset similar to that used for the Texas study, focuses on the economic impact of school suspensions at the district level. Every 10th grade student in California was tracked for three years to determine the degree to which suspensions predicted lower graduation rates at the state and district level. This estimated impact on graduation was then used to calculate the economic costs of suspension for the state, and for every district.

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