Background: Alternative school settings for students who are identified as “disruptive or dangerous” are playing an increasingly prominent role in the world of public education, yet significant gaps in our understanding of their efficacy remain.
Objective: This longitudinal investigation within a large school district serving 100,000 students examines multiple factors to determine how the risk of placement in the disciplinary alternative schools is systematically related to predictors and the risk of juvenile subsequent juvenile detention between 3rd and 12th grade.
Methods: Four groups of discrete-time hazard models were run separately to determine the most significant predictors in each variable category (i.e., student demographics, behavior-related variables, non-cognitive variables, and academic-related variables); the most significant predictor from each of the four groups was used in the final full model. A second data set was constructed for the analysis of subsequent juvenile detention that included only the subset of cohort students who experienced an alternative placement event using logistic regression.
Results: Cumulatively, nearly 1 in 10 children entering 3rd grade experienced placement in a disciplinary alternative school by 12th grade. The racial gaps were pronounced as 13% of all African-American students in the cohort experienced placement compared to 4% of the White students. Race, school mobility, grade retention, special education status, attendance, and out of school suspension were systematically related to the risk of placement in alternative school. The risk of placement was greatest in 7th grade. African-American students were disproportionately represented among those suspended, placed in alternative school, and detained as juveniles.
Conclusions: There is a strong relationships between out of school suspensions, disciplinary alternative school placement, and subsequent juvenile detention that are most salient for African-American children, particularly those receiving free/reduced lunch.
Key Take Away Points
- These relationships between suspension, disciplinary alternative school placement, subsequent juvenile detention, and the salience of race raise considerable doubts about the efficacy of a system that relies on disciplinary alternative schools as strategies reduce delinquency and provide support for children deemed “disruptive” or “dangerous.” African-American students were disproportionately represented among those suspended, placed in alternative school, and detained as juveniles.
- The findings in this study illustrates the need for a shift in focus from the deficit thinking about individual children deemed “disruptive” to how school systems contribute across time to the school-to-prison pipeline and what school systems can do to prevent children from entering the pipeline.
- The results strongly suggest that early warning systems connected to supportive early intervention strategies would produce better and more equitable outcomes than exclusionary discipline practices and policies.
Dr. Judi E. Vanderhaar is an evaluation specialist at the Jefferson County Public Schools in the Division of Data Management, Planning, and Program Evaluation.
Dr. Marco A. Muñoz is an evaluation specialist at the Jefferson County Public Schools in the Division of Data Management, Planning, and Program Evaluation.
Dr. Joseph Petrosko is a now retired professor from the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
Vanderhaar, Judi; Munoz, Marco; and Petrosko, Joseph
"Reconsidering the Alternatives: The Relationship Between Suspension, Disciplinary Alternative School Placement, Subsequent Juvenile Detention, and the Salience of Race,"
Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk: Vol. 5
, Article 14.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/childrenatrisk/vol5/iss2/14