- When teachers and administrators work to create a more positive school climate — which includes presenting and enforcing clear rules and creating positive teacher-student relationships — student suspensions can drop by as much as 10%, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Virginia.
- Appearing in Science Daily, the findings are based on an analysis of student climate survey responses from more than 75,000 students from 310 Virginia middle schools. According to the research, students who fight or bully other students were most likely to be suspended, but a positive school climate was linked with reducing the chances students would be suspended, regardless of their race, economic status or behavior in school.
- "Research shows that overwhelmingly, the students who are most at risk of receiving a suspension are either male, non-white, of low socioeconomic status, have a disability or a combination of these characteristics," Francis Huang, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri, said in an article on the finding. "This study suggests that a positive school climate can be helpful for all students, regardless of their background."
The findings come as the Federal Commission on School Safety, under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, recommended Tuesday that the administration eliminate Obama-era guidance that sought to limit discipline disparities based on race. The guidance urged schools to implement alternatives to out-of-school suspension, such as restorative practices.
Federal data show that even as out-of-school suspensions have declined overall, black and Hispanic students are still three times more likely to be suspended than white students. Students of color also attend schools with a greater police presence, which civil rights groups — which argued in favor of maintaining the guidance during the commission’s listening sessions — say criminalizes behavior that in the past was handled at the school level. Some school leaders, however, have said the guidance limited their ability to make discipline-related decisions that they felt were right for their schools.
Whether the guidance is rescinded, schools are still likely to continue looking for programs and strategies to reduce disparities in discipline and increase students’ positive feelings toward school. The widely used Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework, for example, focuses on setting clear expectations for students and has been found to reduce bullying and improve students’ social-emotional skills.
A recent report from the American Institutes for Research also compiles several resources on improving school climate and lists recommendations for school administrators. Some schools use mentoring and student advisory programs to strengthen relationships between educators and students. At Social Justice Humanitas Academy in the Los Angeles area, for example, teachers each have a group of students they mentor, who may or may not be in their classes.
“In our school, we have a structure of mentors—everybody mentors somebody and every mentor has a mentor, so the whole school has somebody watching each other’s back,” Principal Jose Luis Navarro said in an article for Center X at the University of California, Los Angeles. “That mechanism creates a sense of being my brother’s keeper. Kids don’t know what to call it, and so they call it ‘family.’”