Director's Corner: Identifying Alternatives to Exclusionary School Disciplinary Practices

October 18, 2016

"...it is imperative that we have effective ways of dealing with students’ behavior problems that do not disproportionately impact students of color."

NIJ is committed to investing in developing knowledge to improve the safety of schools. Schools across the U.S. are rightfully concerned about creating and maintaining a safe and stable environment that is conducive to student learning. Educators and policymakers have expressed concern that the expansion of exclusionary school disciplinary practices has been related to increased likelihood of student involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice system. This pathway has been labeled the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The negative effects of these practices fall disproportionately on students of color.

NIJ is investing in building knowledge about equitable and effective school disciplinary practices through the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) — a research-focused federal effort to improve safety for schools and students across the nation. In 2016, NIJ funded 25 CSSI projects worth over $67 million. Since the inception of CSSI in 2014, NIJ has launched 22 projects valued at over $52 million that specifically focus on understanding school suspensions and expulsions and evaluating innovative school discipline approaches. These include research projects targeting strategies to reduce behavior problems within schools, understanding the predictors of suspensions and expulsions, reforming existing school strategies for handling behavior problems, and evaluating alternative strategies for handling misconduct.

The goal of this research is not to remove consequences for student misbehavior. We know that students need boundaries, and it is necessary to have discipline policies within schools in order to provide a safe learning environment for everyone. However, it is imperative that we have effective ways of dealing with students’ behavior problems that do not disproportionately impact students of color.

These CSSI projects seek to use research to better understand predictors of and alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and to provide guidance to schools for better ways of handling student misbehavior. Some take a more global perspective, like a study by Virginia Tech to examine how successful schools are able to avoid practices that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Others are specifically aimed at preventing exclusionary discipline or evaluating alternative strategies of handling student misbehavior, often using approaches such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Justice.

"Effective" Program

School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports received an "Effective" rating from CrimeSolutions.gov.

Read the SWPBIS program profile.

Through PBIS, schools implement proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behavior in order to create a more positive school climate and reduce exclusionary discipline. Restorative Justice programs are designed to hold students accountable for their misbehavior without removing them from school, and includes strategies like victim/offender mediation and family conferencing where the goal is to build mutual understanding, increase empathy, and develop appropriate solutions. In 2016, NIJ awarded a grant to the Fund for the City of New York for “A Randomized Control Trial of Participatory Peace Circles in New York City Schools” to examine the effectiveness of Restorative Justice practices in reducing exclusionary discipline. Additionally, NIJ is supporting research projects that evaluate the effectiveness of programs that combine PBIS and Restorative Justice practices such as the 2016 George Mason University project “Rainier Beach Campus Safety Continuum.”

NIJ is committed to investing in developing knowledge to improve the safety of our schools and the success of our students. For more information, please visit NIJ’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative webpage.

Date Created: October 18, 2016