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Data Tools

Michigan School Discipline Rates Among Homeless Students

*This research used data structured and maintained by the MERI-Michigan Education Data Center (MEDC). MEDC data are modified for analysis purposes using rules governed by MEDC and are not identical to those data collected and maintained by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and/or Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI). Results, information and opinions solely represent the analysis, information and opinions of the authors and are not endorsed by, or reflect the views or positions of, grantors, MDE and CEPI or any employee thereof.

In order to facilitate a conversation around the role of school culture and local school district policies, this map explores the use of suspension and expulsion by school district. The map is color coded based on the discipline rates of students who have experienced homelessness. This choice was made because previous research shows students who have experienced homelessness to be at the greatest risk for exclusion from school due to suspension and expulsion. As you hover over each school district you will find the discipline rate for:

  1. students who have ever experienced homelessness,
  2. students who are economically disadvantaged who have never experienced homelessness, and
  3. all students (the district-wide average).

If you would like to explore the data further for your local school district or intermediate school district, the data table the map is based on can be downloaded here.

See full map

Key Findings

  • 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.

Background

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

Policy Recommendations

A child’s experience of homelessness should be added as an eighth factor that all schools must consider prior to the removal of any student from school.

Presently, schools are required to consider seven factors prior to any school removal, but the experience of homelessness is not one of those factors. Data show that both currently and formerly homeless students in Michigan face a significantly higher risk than their always-housed peers of being suspended or expelled. These disciplinary actions also have a greater potential to have far-reaching negative impacts on the lives of students who have experienced homelessness. Removals with no ongoing services or alternative placement can jeopardize parental employment and job searches, as well impact food access, mental health, and academic supports. Adding homelessness as an eighth factor of consideration would also serve to provide a structure through which McKinney-Vento homelessness liaisons could be involved prior to any removal from school. Liaisons may already know the family and, if not, they can assess barriers and needs, as well as connect students to internal school resources and cross-agency supports. The liaison may be able to assist in exploring alternatives to removal that address the trauma underlying a student’s behavior.

End the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions as well as cumulative suspensions or removals exceeding 10 days in elementary school (PK-fifth grade), except in extreme cases that fall under the state mandate.

Research on child development and trauma suggests that in the vast majority of cases, harsh disciplinary practices for young children lead to more harm than good, often perpetuating the negative behavior and setting the stage for future disciplinary issues. Ending the use of suspensions and expulsions for young children would encourage schools to identify developmentally appropriate alternatives that help students to more effectively process and manage strong emotions.

Raise awareness in schools about supports available from Michigan’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Technical Assistance Center (MiMTSS TA Center)

In order to address behavioral issues without the use of suspensions or expulsions, teachers and schools may need additional training and resources. MiMTSS TA Center can provide schools with technical assistance including training on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which integrates with social-emotional and mental health supports to reduce student suspension and expulsion and improve academic and behavioral outcomes for students.

Ensure schools and districts do not have attendance, homework, and credit-earning polices that create barriers to full school engagement for students experiencing homelessness.

Challenges caused by homelessness may prevent students from being able to submit assignments when they are due or to meet policies that exist around attendance. Policies that result in suspensions may add to the disproportionate discipline rates identified in this report. Schools and districts should review and modify policies that create additional barriers to full school engagement for students experiencing homelessness. District policies around credit earning options could leverage the flexibility inherent in the Michigan Merit Curriculum legislation, including the use of personal curriculum, to help teachers, schools, and districts meet homeless students’ needs. Improvements in these areas would not only help homeless students succeed but would also prevent classroom tensions and stress that may lead to behavioral issues.

Leverage American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding to train specific individuals for emergencies or high-conflict interactions to provide de-escalation in schools.

Given the complexity of homelessness-induced trauma, it is critical to have trained individuals onsite to help remedy dire situations. Chicago has introduced Social-Emotional Learning Specialists, who assist school staff in behavior management and social-emotional development, regularly check suspension data in schools, and follow up if data are concerning. This would support and expand upon the state’s existing work on social emotional learning.

Expand programs and funding that increase mindfulness and mental health supports and infrastructure in schools, and ensure students who have experienced homelessness are able to participate in program activities.

Ensuring students who have experienced homelessness have access to mindfulness and other mental health supports is of particular importance because homelessness is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety, both of which have been associated with an increased risk of disciplinary action.

Incorporate training on school discipline, trauma, and homelessness into the credentialing process for homeless liaisons and continuing education credentials for school administrators.

Presently, a lack of awareness about homelessness and its mental health impacts is a barrier to ensuring students who have experienced homeless are connected to appropriate supports. Providing training to both frontline liaisons and school administrators would promote the development of a positive school culture and climate that embraces mental health and social-emotional learning as a key part of education.