A study released today shows results that one of its authors told Education Week should raise the question among state education leaders: "Is our state's school discipline system getting the desired results?"
More than half of Texas students had been suspended or expelled between 7th and 12th grades, according the report. Of those students 15 percent had seen either disciplinary action 11 times or more, and almost half of those students had been involved in the juvenile justice system.
"Too often school administrators are taking the easy way out -- instead of having to spend more time and resources with the youth, they just refer them to somebody else," State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told The Texas Tribune. "They refer them to alternative schools, they suspend them or they refer them to juvenile probation."
The study, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in collaboration with the Public Policy Institute of Texas A&M University, followed almost 1 million Texas public secondary school students for over six years.
Researchers also found that punishments were unevenly distributed across races and those needing educational assistance, as well as across schools with similar demographics.
The study focuses on a single state, but the study's authors say that they hope educators will take the results as a motivator to examine school discipline policies to optimize student performance and minimize student involvement in the juvenile justice system.
"We should ask whether teachers and principals, rather than police officers and judges, are best suited to discipline kids who commit minor infractions," Texas Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said in a statement Tuesday.
Students who received more disciplinary actions against them were less likely to perform well in school, according to the study. Just 40 percent of students who were suspended or expelled 11 times or more graduated from high school, and 31 percent of students who had been punished at least once repeated their grade once or more.
Most of the disciplinary action taken against students were at the discretion of individual schools -- just 3 percent were taken under state-mandated expulsions and suspensions.
Rep. Jerry Madden, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, called the report "a real eye-opener." He said the state needs to examine whether policies need to be changed and attitudes altered to reflect a "kinder and gentler" approach to maintaining safe schools.
"We have to look at: Why are so many kids involved?" said Madden, a Republican. "I'm convinced that the things we did as kids years ago and seen as being a teenager are things now they're getting disciplined for."