Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Accountability, Schools and Student Discipline: Accountability and Its Influence on High-School Suspension Rates

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

E. Christine Baker-Smith, New York University
Accountability for schools has increased both into a variety of realms and with regard to the stringency of standards over the last decade. Evidence on academic outcomes suggests that accountability has indeed encouraged schools to shift resources improving academic outcomes (Carnoy & Loeb, 2002; Reback, Rockoff, & Schwartz, 2011). Specifically, several rigorous studies examining accountability in the form of school Report Card grades find these grades to be a motivating factor in academic improvement at the school-level (Rockoff & Turner, 2008; Rouse, Hannaway, Goldhaber, & Figlio, 2007). However, the mechanisms by which this improvement takes place are unclear. While analysis of how schools use non-academic practices such as discipline in their responses to accountability pressure are minimal, some studies suggest that schools may be responding by adjusting their non-academic practices (Booher-Jennings, 2005). This paper suggests that accountability bring changes in disciplinary practices as a result of the increasing pressures of accountability on schools. While substantial scholarship has examined the relationship between student characteristics and student discipline, little scholarship has explored variation in discipline rates by school characteristics beyond the students they serve. There is substantial evidence that school discipline is associated with negative outcomes (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007; Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010; Morrison et al., 2001; Skiba et al., 2003). Yet, other work finds that some schools with greater use of discipline also have higher achieving students (Arum, Beattie, Pitt, Thompson, & Way, 2003). The mixed evidence on the relationship between school discipline and student outcomes is derived partially due to the fact that the methods used to establish this evidence suffer from substantial flaws. This study addresses some of these methodological concerns in the study of school discipline and contributes to the literature on accountability by exploring a potential mechanism through which schools respond to accountability pressure. I use a school-level, quasi-experimental regression discontinuity design to examine the influence of receiving a failing accountability grade on a school’s use of discipline. The study focuses on high-schools, examining suspension rates and the disparity of discipline by student subgroup, using rich, administrative data from a large urban school district between 2009 and 2013.  Preliminary results suggest that schools who just miss the cutoff of “failing” by receiving a D on their progress report show greater levels of suspensions as compared to their counterparts who received an F. Based on organizational behavior theories, it is hypothesized that these schools are adjusting a variety of practices, such as discipline, to increase their control and performance on academic measures reflected in these progress reports.