Almost three weeks ago, the Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of Texas assembled a panel of policymakers to hear the findings of a recent report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Breaking Schools’ Rules is a highly anticipated report, with media coverage on the front page of the New York Times and nationwide coverage on NPR. Right On Crime attended the event to hear the details from the report.

The report is highly technical and data-intensive, and it does not make any specific policy recommendations so as to maintain political neutrality. The study was prompted by the realization that out of school suspension has been rising steadily for the past decade. The report tracked 900,000 Texas seventh graders (all public school students) over three graduating classes, and it followed them until three years past their anticipated graduation.

The Justice Center chose Texas for its study due to the large public education system, the majority-minority status (less than 50% of students are Caucasian), and the availability of extremely in-depth data that was compiled by the Texas Education Agency. (A representative from CSG indicated that only four other states had collected data as extensively as Texas had – but all of those states were much smaller and less representative.) The study tracked four primary types of punishments (in order from least to most severe): In School Suspension (ISS), Out of School Suspension (OSS), Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEP), and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP). Tickets from law enforcement were not considered in the study.

Most impressively, CSG ran numerous controlled studies with the data. For instance, in order to evaluate racial bias in the severity of punishments administered, it compared groups with similar socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, as well as offenses committed.

The study differentiated between discretionary and mandatory disciplinary actions. Mandatory actions are those that administrators are compelled by law to carry out, while discretionary actions are those that grant administrators the freedom to assign punishment as they best see fit. 97% of disciplinary actions are discretionary, which opens a great opportunity for intervention to fix the problems.

The findings contain a number of groundbreaking data points, which could help redirect juvenile justice policy for years to come. For example, a shocking 54% of students were suspended at some point in their middle and high school years, and 15% of those children were suspended eleven times or more. Of children who received disciplinary action, 50% were given ISS, 31% went to OSS, 16% went to DAEPs, and the rest went to JJAEPs.

Children who were disciplined more than eleven times were 56% more likely to repeat a grade, and 59% more likely to drop out.

Among children with emotional disabilities, 90% received a suspension at some point, and 50% were disciplined eleven times or more. Meanwhile, children with documented learning disabilities were significantly less likely to be disciplined.

The numbers suggest that there are many appropriate points for intervention from policymakers, teachers, and families. Texas now has an opportunity to take the national lead in juvenile reform just like it has in adult corrections reform.

– Henry Joel SimmonsResearch Fellow, Center for Effective Justice