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Title page for ETD etd-06172015-100047

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Curran, Frank Christopher
URN etd-06172015-100047
Title Zero Tolerance School Discipline: Implications for Schools, Leaders, and Students
Degree PhD
Department Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Mimi Engel Committee Chair
Amy Claessens Committee Member
Dale Ballou Committee Member
Jason Grissom Committee Member
  • discipline
  • racial equity
  • discipline gap
  • suspension
  • expulsion
  • mandatory expulsion
  • policy
Date of Defense 2015-05-27
Availability unrestricted
Zero tolerance school discipline policies have garnered increasing attention from the public and policymakers as a source of racial disparities in school discipline. While the literature suggests that exclusionary discipline is harmful for students who experience it and documents racial discipline gaps, the body of evidence on zero tolerance policies is limited to only a few studies and focuses on a limited set of outcome measures. Furthermore, the use of the term “zero tolerance” varies across contexts. The purpose of this dissertation is to provide some of the first empirical evidence on zero tolerance policies by disambiguating the term and estimating the impact of such policies on a broad range of student outcomes. In the first essay, I explore the operationalization of zero tolerance and mandatory expulsion policies across the legal, district policy, and popular media domains. I find that explicit zero tolerance policies are rare. Furthermore, I find variation across domains in the use of zero tolerance and mandatory expulsion policies. In the second essay, I utilize longitudinal data from the Civil Rights Data Collection and the Schools and Staffing Survey to estimate the impact of state mandated expulsion laws on suspension rates, dropout rates, and principal perceptions of problem behaviors and control over discipline. I find that state mandated expulsion laws predict increases in suspension rates and account for approximately 10% of the racial discipline gap between Black and White students. I also find that, in the view of principals, such laws do not predict decreases in student misbehavior. In my third study, I utilize student level data from the National Education Longitudinal Study to explore the relationship between principal reported responses to misconduct and student outcomes. I find a lack of significant relationships across various specifications. The results of this dissertation suggest that zero tolerance discipline policies may contribute to negative outcomes for students and may contribute to the racial discipline gap. To date, this work represents the first attempt to explore the relationship between zero tolerance policies and a variety of outcomes utilizing nationally representative data. Implications for policy and future research are discussed.
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