Drop-Outs Decrease with Discipline Action


(Photo by Dane Goodwin)

(Photo by Dane Goodwin)
(Photo by Dane Goodwin)

One out of every five high school students in Utah fails to graduate.
This data, collected through research by the Public Policy Clinic at the U’s College of Law, showed drop out rates are increasing. A large portion of these student drop-outs being sent to prison.
Emily Chiang, a professor at the College of Law, addressed a group of students and educators Wednesday about the current nationwide problem known as the “school to prison pipeline.”
Chiang said she and a group of students decided it was time to look into the problem. Through research, Chiang and her students saw a correlation between the rate at which students are disciplined in their younger years, dropping out of school and entering prison later in life.
As discipline rates in high schools decrease, research shows graduation rates increase. Schools with harsher discipline policies tend to experience a higher drop out rate.
Chiang said some schools don’t realize the damage of imposing suspension and expulsion for behaviors that could be handled differently. This problem is not at the fault of teachers, who must enforce policies set by the school.
She said that, by expelling students, schools are solving the immediate problem, but the issue can spiral from that point. Expelled students often get involved in a series of dangerous behaviors. Chiang said schools need to teach students how to be responsible instead of expelling them, and students and faculty at the U can help make a difference.
“The U plays a special role in shaping public policy in Utah,” she said. “What we say and do here at the U matters in the bigger picture. As students and faculty from many different disciplines and backgrounds, we can work together and use the skills we have been provided with to facilitate change.”
Recently, the Public Policy Clinic created Know Your Rights pamphlets and distributed them to high school students across the state. Chiang said it is important for students to know their rights from a young age, and educating them properly is key.
Kathy Abarca, a racial justice advocate associate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said it is important for students at the U to realize their role in the fight to help other students.
“The numbers are astounding,” Abarca said. “It is sad to realize that over 23,000 students are suspended in an academic year. The saddest part is what happens afterwards. What happens to them and their opportunities? What happens to the way they view adults?”
Abarca said the goal of the Public Policy Clinic is to shed light on this growing issue. She said once the problem is acknowledged and understood, real change can begin to happen.
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