Education advocates, especially those focused on getting rid of disparities in public education for African American students, recognize the detrimental effects of suspension and expulsion. They know that losing class time hurts student performance, and can lead to "push-out" (see Anna Wolfe's story, pages 7-9).
They even know that "punitive and reactive disciplinary measures heighten the incidence and severity of the behaviors they are designed to reduce," as the National School Board Association's policy guide puts it.
They also recognize the very real school-to-prison pipeline, which prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to bring suit against the City of Meridian in 2012 for its schools' tendency to send students to juvenile detention for minor offenses.
If administrators—like Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Cedrick Gray, who revamped the district's discipline policy when he arrived in 2012—know that "suspension doesn't solve the problem," as Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Leeson Taylor told the Jackson Free Press, why does excessive punishment still occur?
Jed Oppenheim, a youth advocate in Jackson, said the difference comes through training and implementation.
The corporal-punishment conversation that swept the nation after NFL running back Adrian Peterson was accused of child abuse compelled people to further examine different methods of behavior modification for children.
The same analysis should be done as it relates to school discipline to ensure that the methods used are not hurting the students, or increasing the odds of them getting into more trouble while out on the streets, which makes communities less safe.
As an alternative to removing kids from schools, children's advocates encourage schools to train teachers and administrators on different techniques of discipline that use conflict resolution and move away from banishing students from the classroom.
The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project's latest report, "Are We Closing the Discipline Gap?," gives three recommendations to policymakers: analyze the data about discipline methods; give schools resources to provide training and professional development; and create a method of accountability.
During its research on the "great spanking debate," the Jackson Free Press found overwhelming evidence to suggest that while spanking—a reactive, punitive form of discipline—can correct behavior in the short term, it does not have lasting, beneficial effects to a child's development. It can have the opposite effect, in fact.
The same is true with school suspension. Smart discipline empowers children to fix their mistakes, whereas physical punishment or removing them from school teaches them they are bad.
Students who are misbehaving need to be disciplined, not punished—and teachers and administrators should be trained on how to tell the difference.