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The Effects of the New Orleans School Reforms on Exclusionary Discipline Practices

A new study by Mónica Hernández examines the effects of the post-Katrina school reforms on the expulsion and out-of-school suspension rates of New Orleans' publicly funded schools.

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The Effects of the New Orleans School Reforms on Exclusionary Discipline Practices

by Mónica Hernández

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Over the last decade, there has been much debate about whether and how schools should use dis­ci­pline prac­tices that remove or exclude stu­dents from class. These exclu­sion­ary prac­tices, most notably expul­sions and out-of-school sus­pen­sions, are cor­re­lat­ed with numer­ous neg­a­tive stu­dent out­comes includ­ing increased like­li­hood for con­tact with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, espe­cial­ly among low-income stu­dents and stu­dents of col­or. There are also con­cerns that the use of exclu­sion­ary dis­ci­pline may be more preva­lent under mar­ket-based school reforms. Some char­ter schools adopt strict approach­es to dis­ci­pline, and mar­ket account­abil­i­ty may encour­age schools to use expul­sions or sus­pen­sions to push out cer­tain stu­dents. This study exam­ines the effects of the post-Kat­ri­na school reforms on the expul­sion and out-of-school sus­pen­sion rates of New Orleans’ pub­licly fund­ed schools. It com­pares the rates of these exclu­sion­ary dis­ci­pline prac­tices in New Orleans to those of oth­er Louisiana school dis­tricts that had sim­i­lar expul­sion and sus­pen­sion rates before the reforms. The author draws three main con­clu­sions: In the first few years, the reforms increased the expul­sion rate for New Orleans’ pub­licly fund­ed schools by 1.52.7 per­cent­age points (140 – 250%). The author finds sim­i­lar evi­dence of an increase in the out-of-school sus­pen­sion rate for seri­ous offens­es. These effects were dri­ven pri­mar­i­ly by increas­es in report­ed sus­pen­sions and expul­sions in schools that were direct­ly run by the Recov­ery School Dis­trict. * One year after the peak in 2009, New Orleans’ mea­sur­able expul­sion rate sharply decreased and even­tu­al­ly returned to pre-Kat­ri­na lev­els. The results sug­gest that this sig­nif­i­cant decline like­ly result­ed from pub­lic pres­sure and legal chal­lenges relat­ed to a law­suit filed by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter. After the drop, the expul­sion rate remained near pre-Kat­ri­na lev­els through 2015. Offi­cials estab­lished a cen­tral­ized expul­sion sys­tem in 2013, and this may have con­tributed to the sta­bi­liza­tion of the expul­sion rate. These results are broad­ly con­sis­tent with media reports that high­light­ed seem­ing­ly harsh pun­ish­ments in the ear­ly years, a con­cern that has dis­si­pat­ed over time. How­ev­er, con­ver­sa­tions with local edu­ca­tors sug­gest that schools report­ed sus­pen­sions and expul­sions incon­sis­tent­ly, which would affect the data and find­ings. Regard­less of how dis­ci­pline shows up in the data, there can be lit­tle doubt that dis­ci­pline prac­tices play a crit­i­cal role in shap­ing the school­ing envi­ron­ment and stu­dents’ oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn and that more accu­rate data are need­ed to under­stand this impor­tant topic.

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