- A minority of school districts drive high exclusionary discipline rates in the state. Just 50 school districts in Michigan accounted for one-third of all students who were suspended or expelled. Of Michigan’s 537 non-charter public school districts, the 50 districts with the highest discipline rates accounted for 33% of all student suspensions and expulsions in SY 2017-18, despite those school districts only serving 13% of students in the state.
- Exclusionary discipline policies disproportionately impact students who are struggling with trauma and in need of additional support. Students who had ever experienced homelessness were suspended or expelled at rates that were two times the statewide average (17% vs. 8%).
- In 48 school districts, more than one-quarter of students who had ever experienced homelessness were suspended or expelled. The 10 districts with the highest exclusionary discipline rates for students who had experienced homelessness were: Benton Harbor Area Schools (41.1%), Atlanta Community Schools (40.7%), Flint City School District (40.5%), Kelloggsville Public Schools (38.8%), Beecher Community School District (38.7%), Alba Public Schools (38.1%), Hamtramck Public Schools (37.9%), Eastpointe Community Schools (37.2%), Westwood Community Schools (36.2%), and Kalamazoo Public School District (34.9%).
- High exclusionary discipline rates among students who have experienced trauma do not have to be the case. In 23 Michigan school districts, students who had ever experienced homelessness were suspended or expelled at rates lower than the statewide average for all students (8%). The 10 school districts with the lowest rates of exclusionary discipline for students who had ever experienced homelessness were: Ovid-Elsie Area Schools (6.5%), Eaton Rapids Public Schools (6.1%), Hamilton Community Schools (5.8%), Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (5.7%), Jenison Public Schools (5.3%), Southfield Public School District (5.3%), Berrien Springs Public Schools (5.1%), Greenville Public Schools (4.8%), Kenowa Hills Public Schools (4.5%), and Clintondale Community Schools (2.4%).
- Exclusionary discipline practices are not being monitored or reported by all school districts in the state. In 60 school districts, no suspensions or expulsions were reported in the statewide data. While some of these schools are accurately reporting zero suspensions and expulsions, it is likely that a significant proportion did use these disciplinary practices but are not reporting those incidents in the statewide data. Accurate reporting of discipline practices is a critical part of enabling continuous improvement in our state’s education system so we can best meet the needs of students.
Michigan thrives when its children thrive. While policymakers, educators, and families all know this to be true, widespread use of suspension by the state’s public schools is leaving lasting scars on students. Compared to other states, Michigan schools have some of the highest suspension rates in the country. Two school districts rank among the top 10 nationally for suspensions among elementary school children and the state’s out-of-school suspension rate in school year 2015-16 was two percentage points higher than the national average (7% vs. 5%, respectively).
Extensive research has linked both suspensions and expulsions to negative educational and life outcomes for children, including lower rates of proficiency on state math and English Language Arts examinations and increase in the risk of dropping out of school. Even 12 years later, suspended youth are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree and are more likely to have been arrested or on probation than their peers who were not suspended. By comparison, research shows that positive school culture and the implementation of restorative justice and trauma-informed approaches reduce both in-school discipline referrals and out-of-school suspensions. In a study of 18 school districts across multiple geographies, districts that implemented restorative practice experienced an 8% decrease in middle school out-of-school suspensions, as well as a 43% drop in the number of Black youth referred to the juvenile justice system for school offenses. Similarly research has highlighted the importance of school culture in efforts to reduce disciplinary actions.
Related policy brief: Recognizing Trauma: Why school discipline reform needs to consider student homelessness