AASA and School Discipline

“As superintendents and principals work to improve school climate and enhance the learning environment for students, addressing school discipline policies and practices are critical levers for meaningful change,” - AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech.

Case Studies: Discipline Reform for Equity: 

These case studies highlight school districts that are leading the charge to improve discipline policy and practice, reduce racial disproportionality, and improve school climate.

 Survey Report: School Discipline in the Eyes of School Superintendents
In April 2014, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Children’s Defense Fund partnered to survey 500 school superintendents to determine the state of district-wide school discipline policies and practices. It examined how and why districts use out-of-school suspension, the revision and parameters of districts’ discipline policies, outside partners districts seek in improving school discipline and efforts underway to create positive school climates to reduce discipline disparities. Download full survey report here [pdf].  Read a summary of key findings here


  New Resources

Code of Conduct Guide

School Discipline Grant Opportunities

Communicating Discipline Policy and Practice Changes

Restorative Justice Overview

School Discipline Resource Guide  

PBIS Overview

In-School Suspension Best Practices

PBIS Resource Guide

Restorative Justice Resource Guide

 International Business Times: School to Prison Pipeline Story

Bryan Joffe, Project Director of Education and Youth Development, was quoted in an October 2015 article in the International Business Times, titled "US Educators Racist? School-To-Prison Pipeline Targeted By Arne Duncan Often A Diversity, Training Problem."  Click here to read the article.  

Dan Domenech’s EdWeek blogpost with Marian Wright-Edelman

“Hurting Those Who Need Help the Most highlights the importance of the new Department of Education/Department of Justice guidance on school suspensions and expulsions and highlights the work on school discipline reform that AASA and CDF are partnering with school districts on with support from The Atlantic Philanthropies.


Ten school districts across the country from California to South Carolina have been selected to participate in a public-private initiative to explore effective discipline alternatives to suspension and expulsion. The districts have agreed either to examine and pursue reform of their existing discipline codes or to embrace research and monitoring to expand the reforms they have already launched. The initiative is designed to support school superintendents who have demonstrated a commitment to improving their discipline policies and practices in order to keep children in classrooms and schools.

The initiative, launched last April, is a partnership between the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association. The 10 participating school districts funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies are:

  • East Baton Rouge Parish Schools (La.)
  • Harrisburg School District (Pa.)
  • Houston Independent School District (Texas)
  • Marlboro County School District (S.C.)
  • Oakland Unified School District (Calif.)
  • Pojoaque Valley Schools (N.M.)
  • Racine Unified School District (Wis.)
  • South Harrison Community Schools (Ind.)
  • Woodland Hills School District (Pa.)
  • U-46 School District (Ill.)

“We know that far too many children are pushed out of school because of policies and practices that apply harsh discipline for nonviolent misconduct,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of CDF. “We also know that far too often, those most affected are children of color and children with disabilities. So I’m honored to work with educators who are committed to keeping children in welcoming schools that support learning for all students.”

Today’s announcement follows the release of new guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to assist schools and districts in reducing their use of suspension and expulsion and ensuring that discipline is applied fairly to all students.

“We are excited to partner with the Children’s Defense Fund to work directly with these districts so even greater strides can be made in improving their school discipline practices,” said Daniel A. Domenech, AASA’s executive director. “School climate and discipline are huge factors in a student’s academic success. As we escalate our work to educate the total child—physical and mental health, along with the development of fundamental, lifelong learning skills—we must make sure that students are supported in school to improve their learning outcomes.”

The CDF–AASA partnership began with a convening of 30 school district leaders in October 2013 at CDF Haley Farm where superintendents explored alternative practices and system-wide solutions to take back to their districts. This spring, CDF and AASA will conduct a national survey of the needs, strengths and challenges facing school leaders in keeping students in class and developing positive school climates.

Children's Defense Fund and AASA Announce PartnershipClick here to learn more 

AASA works with the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center on the national School Discipline Consensus Project  and is committed to ensuring that students are in school, learning, and thriving. Reforming school discipline policies will positively affect retention, graduation, and academic success and will help alter the school-student dynamic from one that privileges and prioritizes some to one that supports and assists all students.

Effective school discipline and positive school climate are critical factors in ensuring equity and excellence for students. The goal of educators and community members should be, wherever possible, to prevent children from interacting with juvenile justice and law enforcement, not to supplement school security and discipline procedures with these agencies. The U.S. Department of Education projected that there were more than 3.3 million out-of-school suspensions and 128,570 expulsions in 2006. In March 2012, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled the Civil Rights Data Collection project with data from 7,000 school districts and more than 72,000 schools for the 2009-2010 school year that illustrated serious disparities in the impact of school discipline policies on children of color and children with disabilities.

  • African American students are over 3 ½ times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
  • African-American boys and girls have higher suspension rates than any of their peers. One in five African-American boys and more than one in ten African-American girls received an out-of-school suspension.

Survey of Superintendents on School Discipline

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, administered the survey with the CSG Justice Center and resulted in more than 450 school administrators sharing their thoughts about how to improve their districts’ approach to school discipline. Among the findings were the following:

  • Survey respondents rated behavior management plans, mentoring, and in-school suspensions as the most effective alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion in improving student behavior and school climate.
  • Survey respondents reported that Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), consistency management, and cooperative discipline are the most effective prevention strategies for improving school climate and reducing the need for disciplinary action.
  • The two challenges to successfully implementing alternatives to out-of-school suspensions/expulsions and comprehensive prevention strategies that were repeatedly cited were staff time demands and limited resources.
  • Fifty-six percent of survey respondents indicated that their district recently revised their student code of conduct. The most common change made was instituting a graduated system of responses to misbehavior.
  • Almost all (96 percent) of the survey respondents who indicated that their district has a school-based officer in at least one of their middle or high schools reported that these officers had a positive effect on the school environment.

To view a summary of the findings and the questionnaire, visit http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/publications/survey-of-school-system-leaders/. The issues related to school climate, disciplinary policies, officers in schools, and alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion are among the many topics that will also be addressed in the upcoming school discipline consensus project report.

Working with Superintendents On-the-Ground

AASA and the Children’s Defense Fund have received funding from Atlantic Philanthropies to engage superintendents on the issue of school discipline policy and practice.

The leadership and engagement of the superintendent is critical for any school-related policy, program or practice to be successful and sustained. Superintendent leadership is especially critical in improving school discipline policies, enhancing school climate, and eliminating racial disparities in school discipline practice. Although states can work to strengthen data collection and reporting of suspensions and expulsions, school discipline policies are largely determined at the district level, with great variation among districts and even among different classrooms within the same school. In such a highly decentralized environment, superintendents are in a key position to advance reforms. By engaging superintendents as thought partners and knowledge generators, CDF and AASA will work to drive change within a critical mass of districts to encourage others to promote reforms.

AASA and CDF will host 40 Superintendents in October 2013 at Haley Farm in Clinton, TN to discuss school discipline policy and practice and to select five districts for deeper intervention.

Staff Contacts:

Bryan Joffe, 401-633-4074

Sasha Pudelski, 703-875-0732