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Examining Teacher Use of Punishments and Student Outcomes

Since early 1990s, zero-tolerance discipline policies have led schools to rely more heavily on suspensions to manage behavior. While past research has documented the ill effects of these policies on dropout rates and school climate, a new study breaks down patterns among individual teachers and the impact on their students.

The study—by University of Albany researchers Stephen B. Holt, Heasun Choi and Lucy C. Sorensen and The Ohio State University’s Katie Vinopal—relies on administrative data for North Carolina public school students and teachers in grades 3 to 5 from 2008 to 2013.

The researchers found that the teachers who were more likely to recommend suspensions had higher rates of student absenteeism and lower levels of student engagement and achievement. This was true even for the students who did not receive punishment. The negative effects were particularly acute for Black students when teachers displayed racial bias in whom they referred for suspensions.

This study underscores the need to train teachers to understand implicit bias and to develop empathetic responses to student misbehavior, rather than turning to suspensions.

-Gunjan Maheshwari