Does relaxing strict school discipline improve student achievement, or lead to classroom disorder? We study a 2012 reform in New York City public middle schools that eliminated suspensions for non-violent, disorderly behavior, replacing them with less disruptive interventions. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we exploit the sharp timing of the reform and natural variation in its impact to measure the effect of reducing suspensions on student achievement. Math scores of students in more-affected schools rose by 0.05 standard deviations relative to other schools over the three years after the policy change. Reading scores rose by 0.03 standard deviations. Only a small portion of these aggregate benefits can be explained by the direct impact of eliminating suspensions on students who would have been suspended under the old policy. Instead, test score gains are associated with improvements in school culture, as measured by the quality of student-teacher relationships and perceptions of safety at school. We find no evidence of trade-offs between students, with students benefiting even if they were unlikely to be suspended themselves.
education, school suspension, school discipline, school safety, human capital
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