Children & Youth School Discipline Reform

Keeping Students in School So They Succeed

United States | 2010 - 2014

Some 3.5 million U.S. school children are unfairly suspended every year due to unfair and excessively punitive school discipline policies. This increases their chances of dropping out and ending up on the pathway to prison. The harshest of disciplinary actions—including arrests and expulsions—most often target students of color. To address the negative impact of these practices, Atlantic invested $47 million to support nationwide reform efforts to keep vulnerable children in school and on track to graduation and college.

As a result of the work Atlantic has supported:

  • Awareness that school discipline practices need to change has spread throughout cities, states and the federal government.
  • There is greater understanding among the public and educators that suspensions can harm students’ long-term outcomes and the nation’s overall high school graduation rate.
  • Increased federal support for school discipline policy reform is helping schools implement alternatives to harsh zero tolerance policies.
  • State and local school districts are changing policies to improve school climate and school discipline.
Watch: Harsh school policies and practices and an increased role of law enforcement in schools have combined to create a school-to-prison pipeline, in which out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests are increasingly used to deal with student misbehavior, especially for minor incidents.

What We Learned From This Work

  1. Connecting key stakeholders and grantees can accelerate movement for the cause, especially when foundations add their voice to the mix to champion new ideas and policy alternatives.

  2. Outside pressure from grassroots advocacy organizations can be most effective when foundations develop strategies to help those on the inside of the system understand the problem and formulate action.

  3. As long as there is agreement on the goal, it's okay for partners to pursue diverse strategies that draw on each organization's strengths. This is an especially successful approach for solving complex problems that no single public- or private-sector player and accomplish on its own.

Zeroing Out the Problem

Here are ways schools and communities worked to rollback unfairly punitive “zero tolerance” policies:

Better Results

Oakland and Baltimore are among the school districts successfully demonstrating how a combination of full-service community schools and school-based health centers can reduce harmful suspensions.

Students Speak Out

Young people have been protesting the destructive impact of zero tolerance policies by taking part in activities organized by groups such as Padres & Jóvenes Unidos in Denver, Youth United for Change in Philadelphia, VOYCE in Chicago and the Urban Youth Collaborative in New York City.

New Approaches Modeled

Some school districts have successfully implemented restorative practices that focus on mediation and agreement rather than punishment. This approach aims to keep students in school and to create a safe environments.

Summaries of Case Studies, Evaluations & Reports

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