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Russell Skiba
School of Education

Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Zero tolerance failures cited by IUB educator at Harvard conference

Further evidence that zero tolerance doesn't work in preventing student disruption was presented at a national conference at Harvard University recently by Russell Skiba, a researcher at the Indiana Education Policy Center and an Indiana University Bloomington expert on school safety.

Skiba, an IUB School of Education faculty member in counseling and educational psychology, was a presenter at the Harvard Civil Rights Project School to Prison Pipeline Conference on May 15-16.

In an analysis of national data, Skiba and his center colleagues found that states with higher rates of out-of-school suspension also had higher rates of juvenile incarceration and lower rates of academic achievement in reading, writing, and mathematics. Skiba concluded that "reliance on suspension does not yield the benefits proponents often claim. It is hard to make a case that zero tolerance sends a clear message to students when its use is associated with increased incarceration. It is tough to argue that suspension and expulsion improve the learning climate for other students when the use of suspension and expulsion is related to lower test scores."

The report can be found online at the Harvard Civil Rights Project at

The IUB professor and researcher, who directs the national Safe and Responsive Schools Project, has presented extensive research in recent years supporting the premise that zero tolerance has not proven effective in improving school safety or student behavior.

The current study of 37 states also found high rates of disproportionality for African Americans in the use of out-of-school suspension, school expulsion, and juvenile incarceration. African American disproportionality was greatest in the Midwest states. States that suspended a higher proportion of African American students also showed evidence of disproportionality in juvenile incarceration.

To reduce such negative effects, the report recommends training school administrators in "effective disciplinary alternatives that can guarantee a safe and effective school without removing students, particularly students of color, from the opportunity to learn." Skiba said, "It seems likely that zero tolerance is on a collision course with educational accountability. As evidence of the deleterious effects of school removal continues to accumulate, policy makers many eventually be forced to decide whether they are more committed to the appealing but ultimately hollow rhetoric of punishment and exclusion, or to strategies that can guarantee America's children safe and effective schools."

For more details, contact Skiba at 812-855-5549 or