Well, gee, no kidding!
May 17, 2001 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Well, gee, no kidding! The Indiana Education Policy Center released a study yesterday which stated the obvious: strict zero-tolerance policies do not necessarily create safer schools for children and teachers. Expelling students under zero-tol rules doesn't change student behaviour, unfairly targets minority students and can lead to an escalation of dropout rates.
posted by Dreama (14 comments total)
more zero tolerance over at Randy Cassingham's This is True site:


posted by fuzzygeek at 12:48 PM on May 17, 2001

The IU based policy thinktank was pretty firm that these policies tend not to work in the majority of cases. Unfortunately, no alternatives were presented that were as easily-implemented and soundbyte-ready. Consequently, I fear that most education policymakers (and those who make political decisions for them) will just ignore the study just as they've ignored all of the parents, teachers and students who have pointed out the major flaws in an unflexible "one solution fits all infractions" standard.
posted by Dreama at 12:50 PM on May 17, 2001

This article and practically anything that talks about zero-tolerance policies, mandated sentencing, and rules-based regulation always leads me to think of the message of this book. My belief is that when we have a rules-based government (all branches included), we remove the power of thinking and opt for easy, regulatory solutions rather than performance-based solutions. Zero-tolerance policies have an utter disregard for intent, individuals, and situation because they are unthinking and inflexible.
posted by Avogadro at 1:00 PM on May 17, 2001

I've come to prefer the term "zero-judgement".
posted by harmful at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2001

Kind of similar to the fact that there is no evidence that the death penalty prevents murders--a harsh punishment isn't going to deter bad student behaviors, because the student is not considering the consequences of his/her action when the action is taking place. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's an increase in bad student behaviors after someone is expelled from a zero-tolerance policy, just as executions are generally followed by an increase in other murders.
posted by gramcracker at 10:33 PM on May 17, 2001

Of course, there isn't any evidence that the death penalty doesn't prevent murders either, which is of course the problem with that line of reasoning. How do you measure murders that didn't happen because the potential perp was deterred? When I was in school, the rules for misbehavior (of the routine variety; we didn't have the automatic weapons variety back then) were detention followed by suspension followed by expulsion. The hooligans who were my friends who had not even had detention yet knew no fear. The ones who had already had a suspension would often opt out of the more radical pranks. I know it's anecdotal, but I've seen it firshand. It just makes logical sense.
posted by JParker at 11:54 PM on May 17, 2001

Every time zero tolerance is mentioned, I remember that news article from last year about a little girl who saved the life of her bus seatmate by sharing her asthma inhaler while she was having a pretty serious attack; her school suspended her (the girl with the inhaler) for sharing drugs, or something like that.
posted by lia at 12:50 AM on May 18, 2001

How do zero-tolerance policies unfairly target minority students?
posted by MarkC at 2:57 AM on May 18, 2001

jparker: we're not saying "don't enforce the rules." zero tolerance is just that: you're caught once, you're kicked out of school. that's the state of michigan's law about weapons, btw.

markc: heard of racial profiling? think school administrators are any better than law enforcement? (i'd be inclined to think worse). plus, inner-city schools would be more likely to have measures against drugs, weapons, etc.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:27 AM on May 18, 2001

You're right that there's no official causal link, JParker, and we can't say for sure. But there have been a number of studies that compare murder rates of states that have the death penalty to those that don't, comparing murder rates before and after states adopt the death penalty, and comparing before and after in other countries, and murder rates don't change with any statistical significance.

And I agree with you--after being suspended, most of the kids will probably opt-out to keep from being expelled. The problem with zero-tolerance laws is they don't take the situation into account. Say you broke up a fight by pushing one of the students away. If your school district is strict enough, you could be expelled for being in a fight, or being physically violent to another student, etc.

Found a link at Indiana with a quick blurb about minorities and zero-tolerance, and an article that brings up some interesting racism points.
"Nearly 1 million students were expelled...one-third of them black...education officials concede that one reason for the racial blip in suspensions is that poor and minority parents are less likely than white, middle-class parents to challenge school officials' decisions to suspend or expel their children."
posted by gramcracker at 6:45 AM on May 18, 2001

Black students expelled due to zero-tolerance policies = 33% overall
Blacks as a portion of the American population = 14% +/-

The second tells me that the first reflects one of two things -- stronger zero-tolerance policies and enforcement in largely minority schools or racial profiling/prejudice in application when dealing with potential zero-tol infractions.

If it's the first, I'll allow leeway, but the second is onerous and only serves as yet another reason to end the zero-tol concept right now.
posted by Dreama at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2001

Dagny, you're saying 'racial profiling' is a problem specific to zero-tolerance policies?
posted by MarkC at 8:43 AM on May 18, 2001

Dreama, but what was the percentage of black students expelled before the introduction of zero-tolerance policies? Your figures don't prove anything.

I would also be interested in seeing the percentage of crimes committed by blacks in the same area and the average income of the student's families.
posted by MarkC at 8:59 AM on May 18, 2001

Dreama's figures show that more African Americans are expelled due to zero-tolerance policies than the average percentage of African Americans. If there were no other factors, the numbers should be the same, ie: ~14% of students expelled due to zero-tolerance policies should be black.

You're right, MarkC, if there were the same number expelled before the introduction of zero-tol policies, then it's not the zero-tol policies. But it's still some other problem with the school system.

I'm not trying to speak for dagny here, but racial profiling isn't specific only to zero-tolerance policies; it occurs in many of society's institutions. Racial profiling is one of the problems of zero-tol policies. Like the article said, lower-income, minority parents aren't as likely to fight an expulsion decision. This implies that when parents do fight an expulsion, sometimes the school administration gives in.
posted by gramcracker at 10:24 AM on May 18, 2001

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