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Getting Tough? The Effects of Discretionary Principal Discipline on Student Outcomes

NCJ Number
Education Finance and Policy Volume: 17 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2022 Pages: 255-284
Date Published
April 2022
30 pages

This paper reports on an examination of the impacts of disciplinary decisions involving student removal on student attendance, test scores, and juvenile justice outcomes.


Nationwide, school principals are given wide discretion to use disciplinary tools like suspension and expulsion to create a safe learning environment. There is legitimate concern that this power can have negative consequences, particularly for the students who are excluded. This study uses linked disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records from 2008 to 2016 in North Carolina to examine the impact of principal-driven disciplinary decisions on middle school student outcomes. The authors find that when principals are more likely to remove students, this leads to reductions in reported rates of minor student misconduct. However, this deterrence comes at a high cost: these harsher principals generate more juvenile justice complaints and reduce high school graduation rates for all students in their schools. Students who commit minor disciplinary infractions in a school with a harsh principal suffer additional declines in attendance and test scores. Finally, principals exhibiting racial bias in their disciplinary decisions also widen educational gaps between white and black students. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: April 1, 2022