Stricter middle schools raise the risk of adult arrests, especially for Black and Hispanic students

Principals are major driver of differences in suspensions between schools

Cambridge, Massachusetts, UNITED STATES


Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 27, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Young adolescents who attend schools with high suspension rates are substantially more likely to be arrested and jailed as adults, report Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Stephen B. Billings, and David J. Deming in a new article for Education Next. These long-term, negative impacts in adulthood apply across a school’s population, not just to students who are suspended during their school years.

As the Biden administration seeks public comment on student race and school climate, the authors find that the negative impacts from strict disciplinary environments are largest for minori­ties and males.

“Our findings show that early censure of school misbehavior causes increases in adult crime—that there is, in fact, a school-to-prison pipeline,” Bacher-Hicks, et al., write. “Any effort to maintain safe and orderly school climates must take into account the clear and negative consequences of exclusionary discipline practices for young students, and especially young students of color, which last well into adulthood.”

Among the key findings:

  • School strictness matters most for Black and Hispanic males. Being assigned to a school that makes heavy use of suspensions increases the number of days students are suspended and their probability of being incarcerated as adults. These effects are largest for Black and Hispanic students, and especially for Black and Hispanic males.
  • School effects on suspensions are driven by leadership decisions. When a principal who has been strict in prior years switches to a new school, suspensions in the new school increase.

The authors took advantage of a natural experiment created by the 2002 redrawing of school boundaries in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. For example, half of all students from McClintock Middle School, with a suspension rate of 19 percent, were reassigned to South Charlotte Middle School, with a suspension rate of 7 percent. They calculate school strictness using the number of days students are suspended both in and out of school relative to other schools serving demographically similar students.

Read the article.

About the Authors: Andrew Bacher-Hicks is assistant professor of education at Boston University. Stephen B. Billings is associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. David J. Deming is profes­sor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.

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Stricter middle schools raise the risk of adult arrests, especially for Black and Hispanic students, according to new research. School strictness matters most for Black and Hispanic males.

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