School Discipline Reform and Advocacy

September 2016

Advancement Project

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Moriah Group


Across the country, school systems are shutting the doors of academic opportunity on students and funneling them into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The combination of overly harsh school policies and an increased role of law enforcement in schools have created a “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which punitive measures such as suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests are increasingly used to address student behavior. As a result, large numbers of youth are pushed out of school and into prisons and jails. In many communities, this transforms schools from places of learning to dangerous gateways into juvenile and criminal court. Because the students pushed out through harsh discipline are disproportionately students of color, this is more than an education crisis; it is a racial justice crisis.

For Black boys and young men of color, the impact of exclusionary school discipline is far reaching—disengaging them from academic and developmental opportunities and increasing the likelihood that they will be incarcerated later in life. Current research emphasizes the need for systemic reforms to discipline and school policing practices
that disproportionately harm Black males. By 18 years of age, 30% of Black males and 26% of Latino males have been arrested.¹ Moreover, a growing body of research suggests that implicit biases impact the disparate treatment of Black children, particularly Black boys. A 2014 study by Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, found that when compared to white youth, Black boys as young as 10 years-old are viewed as less innocent and are more likely to be perceived as guilty and face police violence.² The implication of these implicit bias findings for schools is chilling, fueling the need for discipline reforms in school districts across the nation.

Source: RWJF and Moriah Group