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Posted 06.07.05

Large, High-Poverty Schools Most Likely to Expel, Suspend Students, MU Study Finds

Fighting, Insubordination--Not Weapon Use--Main Reasons for Severe

COLUMBIA, MO -- Disciplinary actions, such as expulsions and out-of-school suspensions, are common practices in schools across the United States. Little is known, though, about what types of schools are more likely to use these actions to deal with students' problem behaviors and what prompts these actions to be taken. A new national study by a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher found that large, high-poverty middle and high schools are most likely to take disciplinary action. Also, the main reasons for such actions were fighting and insubordination rather than weapon-related problems.

"Policymakers and administrators need to take these findings seriously and consider how to develop fair policies and practices to prevent students' problem behaviors and to create safe school environments," said Motoko Akiba, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy analysis.

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Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Akiba examined data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety, which was collected by the National Center for Educational Statistics during the 2000-01 school year. Her study specifically looked at 2,270 schools across the country and examined the prevalence of severe disciplinary actions, the reasons for the action, and whether the rates of the action differed by school size, poverty level, percentage of minority students or school level.

Akiba found that, on average, schools took severe disciplinary actions 14 times a year. The major reasons for these actions were physical attacks or fights (29 percent) and insubordination (22 percent), followed by threats and intimidation (11 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of these actions were taken due to students' use of firearms and only about 4 percent were due to students' use of other weapons.

The results also showed that large, more ethnically diverse, secondary and middle, and urban schools took severe disciplinary actions more frequently as a result of problem behaviors. Elementary and combined (K-12) schools, and suburban and rural schools took action on fewer occasions. When the schools with the same level of school disorder were compared, large, high-poverty middle and high schools had the highest rates of expulsion and out-of-school suspension.

Akiba said that since Congress passed the Gun-Free School Act in 2000, which required schools to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against guns on campus or face a loss of federal funding, severe disciplinary actions have become more prevalent in U.S. schools. According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003, 3,657 students were expelled for bringing a firearm to school during the 2000-01 school year.

The study will be submitted for publication in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

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