Panel Paper: The Impact of out-of-School Suspensions on Student Outcomes

Friday, November 3, 2017
Water Tower (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Johanna Lacoe, Mathematica Policy Research and Matthew P. Steinberg, University of Pennsylvania

Recent school discipline reform efforts have brought to light a tension among educators and policymakers about the costs and benefits of out-of-school suspensions as a response to student misbehavior. Though evidence suggests that suspensions are correlated with lower academic achievement among suspended students, less is known about how exposure to suspensions affects students who are not themselves suspended. We expand upon the body of research on the academic consequences of suspensions by providing rigorous empirical evidence of the impact of suspensions on suspended students and their peers. Using panel data for students in the elementary (3-5), middle (6-8) and high school grades (9-12) in the School District of Philadelphia in the 2011-12 through 2013-14 school years, we implement panel data and instrumental variable strategies to examine the consequences of suspensions for any infraction, and for low-level, conduct infractions. For suspended students in the elementary and middle grades, we find suspensions decrease test scores and the probability that students pass standardized exams. The effect of conduct suspensions on student achievement are as large as the effects of suspensions for any infraction. While suspensions increase absences among suspended students in the elementary grades, there is little behavioral response to suspensions on the monthly attendance of suspended students in the middle grades. Among high school students, we find evidence of a decrease in days absent from school following a suspension. The achievement and attendance estimates are robust to IV models leveraging a district-wide policy change which changed the statutory penalties for conduct infractions, providing rigorous evidence of the magnitude of the impact of suspensions on student outcomes. Despite concerns about the negative effects of suspensions on peers, suspensions are much more salient for students who personally experience suspension than for their grade-level peers. Our analysis of the effect of suspensions on peers suggests that greater exposure to suspensions for serious infractions has small, negative effects on the peer achievement of elementary students (but not middle grade students). We find no evidence that exposure to suspensions for less serious, conduct infractions adversely affects peer achievement or attendance.