The Effect of Discipline Reform Plans on Exclusionary Discipline Outcomes in Minnesota

Research Rundown Issue: September '21
Publisher: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance at IES
Date Published: September '21


In 2017, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights notified 43 districts and charter schools that they were in violation of the Human Rights Act due to their high rates of suspending and expelling students of color—particularly Black and Indigenous students—and students with disabilities. To avoid legal action, 41 of the districts and charter schools agreed to create discipline reform plans that aimed to address these disparities. Researchers examined data over time to determine whether the creation of these reform plans led to better disciplinary outcomes. In the year after the plans were implemented (2018-19), they found a decrease in the percentage of students who experienced any disciplinary action—a measure which actually increased in comparison districts.

That said, the finding comes with significant limitations, with only one year of post-implementation data, a lack of consistent, high-quality exclusionary discipline data, and the inability to compare data across truly comparable districts. The researchers indicated that, for future research to be successful, data collection processes needed to be updated and improved. Specifically, they called for a uniform system of reporting disciplinary actions across districts and for a stronger process for tracking implementation in districts cited for disparities. The researchers also noted that districts should be adopting a moderate number of evidence-based reforms that have been shown to work, rather than taking too many reforms that won’t lead to systemic change.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Minnesota has a long and well-documented history of disproportionately suspending and expelling students of color and students with disabilities. If the state is going to make the necessary changes so that these disparities can be rectified, then it’s critical that they adopt the recommendations laid out in the report so that we can have the necessary data to identify what practices are working.

This is particularly important because research has found a link between achievement gaps and exclusionary discipline. Local advocates have been calling for action on the issue of school discipline for years—working to ensure all students of color and students with disabilities are not necessarily pushed out of the classroom. During the 2021 legislative session, legislators agreed to a one-time $1.75 million allocation for grants to districts and charter schools to train their staff on nonexclusionary discipline practices. This funding is important because there is growing evidence showing that restorative practices—inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community—are one approach to reducing exclusionary practices. Legislators were also close to passing a bill that would have banned suspensions for K-3 students. This research indicates that the work to reform discipline should remain a top priority for both schools and policymakers.

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