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Public Policy and Administration


Karen L. Shafer


A free and appropriate public education is promised to every child in the United States. However, zero tolerance school discipline policies have broken that promise, pushing students out of the classroom and into the school-to-prison pipeline. Despite the growing body of research demonstrating negative social and economic impacts of exclusionary discipline, public school administrators have been slow to adopt innovative policies that provide rehabilitative alternatives. The purpose of this study was to compare, using the consequences of innovations application of Rogers's diffusion of innovations theory, the impact of various school district approaches to school discipline on suspension rates while controlling for race and socioeconomic status. This study used a quantitative, nonexperimental, nonequivalent groups, posttest-only research design using secondary analysis of data reported by 218 school districts in a New England state for the 2016-17 school year. Analysis of covariance indicated that there is a significant relationship between approaches to school discipline and suspension rates when controlling for racial and socioeconomic composition (p < .05). Race and economic disadvantage significantly influenced suspension rates (p < .001), and districts implementing alternatives differed significantly in their racial and socioeconomic compositions (p < .001). Policy implications include the promotion of alternative approaches to school discipline. Implications for social change include evidence to support the work of those addressing the needs underlying student behavior rather than crime and punishment models to produce safe and supportive schools and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.