NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Zero Tolerance Not Effective

January 6, 2004

Nearly 15 years after schools seized on the idea of zero-tolerance polices to deal with student misconduct, the concept of automatic and unyielding penalties is the rule in local districts across the country, says USA Today.

More than 80 percent of schools employ some form of zero tolerance for trivial and serious infractions, but growing evidence shows that policies born of a need to reduce violence and drugs in schools are being implemented clumsily and don't achieve their stated goals:

  • More than 3 million public school students, or one in 15, were suspended in the 2000-2001 school year; ironically, states with higher rates of suspensions also have higher school-dropout and juvenile-crime rates.
  • African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students; in 2000-2001, 1 in 8 black and 1 in 17 Hispanic students were suspended in comparison to 1 in 20 white students.

Unfortunately, research on the effectiveness of zero tolerance is hard to find. Russell Skiba notes in a 2000 study, "Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence," that schools with zero tolerance policies are no more orderly or secure than schools that evaluate behavior problems case by case.

Source: Editorial, "Zero Tolerance Takes Student Discipline to Harsh Extremes," USA Today, January 2, 2004; see also Russell Skiba, "Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence: An Analysis of School Disciplinary Practice," Indiana Education Policy Center, August 2000.

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