Better School Discipline Data in NC

Justice System Reform

There’s finally good news coming out of and bi-partisan cooperation in the North Carolina General Assembly. Earlier this month, Representatives Graig Meyer, Rick Glazier, Sam Watford, and Donny Lambeth filed House Bill (HB) 819, an act designed to dramatically improve the state’s school discipline data.

Currently, North Carolina law requires the State Board of Education to report, by March 15 of each year, to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee of the General Assembly, on the numbers of students who have been subjected to corporal punishment, suspension, expulsion, reassignment for disciplinary purposes, or provided alternative education services. The data must be reported in a disaggregated manner, reflecting the race, gender, grade level, ethnicity, and disability status of each affected student. Further, the data must be readily available to the public. Each year, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) collects and analyzes the data, and then publishes a report on its website that summarizes the data.

While DPI’s reports have complied with the minimum statutory requirements, their utility is extremely limited, largely because they omit crucial data. (Youth Justice North Carolina’s April 2014 issue brief provides an overview of the problems with the current report.)

If HB 819 becomes law, it will expand data collection and publication to include, for the first time, data about:

  • Students who are English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged students, and students below grade level;
  • Bus suspensions;
  • Arrests and referrals to law enforcement agencies, the juvenile justice system, and the adult criminal justice system;
  • Rule violations;
  • Lengths of assignments to alternative education;
  • Disciplinary appeal processes;
  • Positive behavioral interventions, including behavior intervention plans, restorative justice, mediation, drug treatment, counseling, restitution, and community service;
  • School districts (the current report only provides the number short- and long-term suspensions and expulsions for each district); and
  • Individual, non-charter schools.

Importantly, HB 819 would also require DPI to make the data publicly available in an electronic spreadsheet, as it does for many other types of data, allowing for easier analysis.

Comprehensive, accurate data has the potential to improve policies and practices. Specifically, better school discipline data will help educators, policymakers, lawmakers, and others to: (1) identify schools and districts that have low rates of misconduct and punitive disciplinary measures, and therefore, potentially have policies and practices worth replicating; and (2) identify schools and districts that have high rates of punitive disciplinary measures, and therefore, need support and remediation. Ultimately, better data should lead to improved school safety and climate, in addition to allowing for more targeted investment of limited resources and identification of possible discrimination against certain groups of students.

HB 819 comes as other states and the U.S. Department of Education work to improve their school discipline data. North Carolina needs to keep pace with these positive trends. North Carolina needs HB 819.

Jason Langberg is on the advisory board of Youth Justice North Carolina.