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Research

Unfair School Discipline

Discipline Practices in Texas Push Students Away from School – Web Story


Students of color, particularly Black students, and males are disciplined disproportionately in Texas public schools.

In 2016, IDRA  conducted an analysis as a supplement to IDRA’s annual attrition study that year comparing the trend lines for attrition rates to those of discipline data for the state of Texas. The study found that zero-tolerance policies likely contributed to high attrition rates of Black students and Latino students in Texas public schools.

The historical high attrition rate for each race-ethnicity group parallels the period when zero-tolerance policies gained momentum in Texas. Lower attrition rates for each group coincide with Texas’ legislative attempts to relax zero-tolerance approaches under specific circumstances.

In early 2020, IDRA updated its 2016 analysis to examine discipline issues in Texas. Key findings show:

  • Each year from 2005-06 to 2018-19 in Texas, Black students received in-school suspensions nearly two times the rate they comprised in the total population.
  • While numbers of disciplinary actions have been declining in recent years, in 2018-19 there were 538,259 exclusionary discipline actions across Texas, which is down from 807,845 in 2014-15.
  • Students in special education comprised 10% of the student population but made up 27% of the students referred to a DAEP in 2018-19.
  • Economically disadvantaged students comprise 62% of the student population but made up 81%of out-of-school suspensions and over 75%of in-school suspensions and DAEP actions in 2018-19.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed a measure to prohibit out-of-school suspensions of young students in pre-kindergarten through second grade except in extremely limited circumstances (like bringing a gun or drugs to school). Looking at the 2017-18 school year, Texans Care for Children reported the number of out-of-school suspensions in these grades declined by 79% (2019). The state continues to allow schools to issue in-school suspension to the youngest students.

The state of Texas collects data on several types of disciplinary actions: in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, referral to disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP), referral to juvenile justice alternative education programs (JJAEP) and expulsion. Following are highlights of IDRA’s findings.

In-School Suspension 

Each year from 2007-08 to 2018-19, Black students received in-school suspensions nearly two times the rate they comprised in the total population.

  • In 2018-19, Black students represented 13% of public school enrollment in Texas, but 26% of students receiving in-school suspensions.
  • In comparison, White students represented 27% of enrollment but 22% of students receiving in-school suspensions. On average, 41% of Black students are suspended in-school compared to 16% of White students.
  • Latino students represented 53% of enrollment and 49% of students receiving in-school suspensions. On average, 19% of Latino students received in-school suspensions compared to 16% of White students.
  • Males represented 51% of the 2018-19 total enrollment, but 71% of the students receiving in-school suspensions. On average, 28% of males received in-school suspensions compared to 12% of females.

Out-of-School Suspension

As with in-school suspensions, Black students received out-of-school suspensions significantly more than the rate they comprised in the total population from 2007-08 through 2018-19 school years.

  • In 2018-19 Black students represented 13% of public school enrollment in Texas, but 32% of students receiving out-of-school suspensions.
  • White students represented 27% of enrollment but 14% of students receiving out-of-school suspensions. On average, 20% of Black students are suspended in-school compared to 4% of White students.
  • Latino students represented 53% of enrollment and 50% of students receiving out-of-school suspensions. On average, 20% of Latino students received out of school suspensions.
  • Males represented 51% of the 2018-19 total enrollment but 70% of the students receiving out-of-school suspensions. On average, 11% of males compared to 5% of females were suspended.

Annual discipline summaries also provide information on students removed from the classrooms in several other categories including disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP), juvenile justice alternative education program (JJAEP) and expulsions. DAEPs were established for criminal offenses – drug-related activities, gun violations and assault – all violations that had been punishable by referral to the Texas JJAEP system.

Because not all areas of the state had access to JJAEP facilities, DAEPs were presented as a means for creating options that would remove serious offenders from regular school settings, including many small school districts and those rural communities where no JJAEP facilities existed.

Instead, students as young as six years old were removed from their kindergarten classes and sent to DAEPs for “discipline” problems. And students often can’t catch up academically because many of their teachers are not qualified to teach them, and those who are qualified are unable to coordinate with the students’ “sending” schools.

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs

IDRA studied the results of the DAEP policies in 1999 and 2009. Both studies found that four of five students sent to DAEPs were sent for non-serious offenses (Cortez & Robledo Montecel, 1999; Cortez, 2009). IDRA Deputy Director of Advocacy, Ana Ramón, reported in February 2019, that data from the Texas Education Agency show that more than half (52%) of DAEP referrals are for discretionary reasons. And across all discipline types, 87% of the disciplinary actions taken against students were for violations of the schools’ student codes of conduct.

Students in DAEP facilities lose numerous regular instruction days and face an increased likelihood of in-grade retention, school disengagement and contact with the justice system.

For the 2018-19 school year, IDRA found the following.

  • Black students represented 13% of public school enrollment in Texas, but 23% of students assigned to DAEPs.
  • White students represented 27% of total enrollment, but 20% of students assigned to DAEPs. On average, 3% of Black students are assigned to DAEPs compared to 1% of White students.
  • Latino students represented 53% of enrollment and 53% of students assigned to DAEPs. On average, 2% of Latino students are assigned to DAEPs.
  • Males represented 51% of the 2018-19 total enrollment, but 70% of the students assigned to DAEPs. On average, 2% of males compared to 1% of females were assigned to DAEPs.

Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs

Annual discipline summaries also provide information on students removed from the classrooms to be placed in juvenile justice alternative education programs (JJAEP).

  • In 2018-19 Black students represented 13% of public school enrollment in Texas, but 20% of students assigned to JJAEPs.
  • White students represented 27% of total enrollment, but 19% of students assigned to JJAEPs.
  • Latino students represented 53% of enrollment and 58% of students assigned to JJAEPs.
  • Males represented 51% of total enrollment, but 79% of the students assigned to JJAEPs.

Expulsions

Annual discipline summaries also provide information on exclusionary discipline practices including expulsions.

    • In 2018-19, Black students represented 13% of public school enrollment in Texas, but 20% of students removed from school through expulsions.
    • White students represented 27% of total enrollment, but 18% of students expelled from school.
    • Latino students represented 53% of enrollment and 58% of students assigned to JJAEPs.
    • Males represented 51% of total enrollment, but 73% of the students removed from school due to expulsions.

It should be noted that expulsions and suspensions are in violation of civil rights laws if they are found to be administered in such a way that targets minority students.

It doesn’t have to be this way

There is no research to support that exclusionary discipline makes schools any safer. While ostensibly created to respond to issues where students are at risk of harm, most disciplinary actions in recent years involved minor offenses that do not affect safety.

What is indeed clear is the mounting amount of data on the disproportionality of discipline actions in schools. For example, as the Office for Civil Rights’ research shows, Black students are 3.8 times as likely to be subject to out-of-school suspension as White students. And they are 2.3 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement or subject to a school-related arrest than white students (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Exclusionary discipline is one of six school policies that lead to higher dropout rates (see below). School systems and policymakers in Texas and the nation must ensure that the necessary reforms and actions be taken to provide equal education opportunity for every child in Texas regardless of race, color and gender.

Moving an entire school away from ineffective punitive discipline practices requires many shifts in culture, policy and practice. School and district teams must review data, examine and respond to inequities revealed by data, engage all adults, and support strong and authentic relationships between students and adults. See our article, “How Schools Can End Harmful Discipline Practices,” by Morgan Craven, J.D., Nilka Avilés, Ed.D., & Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., and data tables and resources below for educators, communities and policymakers.


IDRA’s Quality School Action Framework™ guides communities and schools in identifying weak areas and strengthening public schools’ capacities to graduate and prepare all students for success. IDRA’s book, Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ shows how communities and schools can work together to be successful with all of their students.


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See IDRA’s eBook: Resources on Student Discipline Policy and Practice 

There are a number of things educators and policymakers in Texas can do to make sustainable changes that will reduce bias and help all students stay in school to learn. IDRA’s eBook, Resources on Student Discipline Policy and Practice, points to several tools and best practices for educators. (Third edition, 2020)


See IDRA’s Infographic: 6 School Policies that Lead to Higher Dropout Rates

Exclusionary discipline is one of six school policies that lead to higher dropout rates as outlined in IDRA’s latest infographic. Download printable infographic on the 6 School Policies that Lead to Higher Dropout Rates.


The Intercultural Development Research Association is an independent, non-profit organization. Our mission is to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college. IDRA strengthens and transforms public education by providing dynamic training; useful research, evaluation, and frameworks for action; timely policy analyses; and innovative materials and programs. Contact IDRA at: www.idra.org • https://www.facebook.com/IDRAed/ • contact@idra.org • 210-444-1710.

Portions of this report and related resources were developed by the IDRA EAC-South, which is one of the four federally-funded equity assistance centers that help school districts build capacity to confront educational problems occasioned by race, national origin, sex and gender, and religion. Preceded by the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity, the IDRA EAC-South provides technical assistance and training to build capacity of local educators in multiple areas including reducing disproportionate school discipline for school districts cited by the Office for Civil Rights. Contact the IDRA EAC-South  at:  http://www.idra.org/eac-south/ •  eacsouth@idra.org.

February 26, 2020, IDRA

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