Collateral Damage: The Impact of Department of Education Policies on Wisconsin Schools

Will Flanders and Natalie Goodnow (PDF):

In response to allegations of bias in suspension rates in schools along racial lines, the Obama Administration increased federal involvement in discipline policy across the count

Through a ‘Dear Colleague’ memo, federal incentives and legal threats, the Department of Education and Department of Justice worked in concert to push forward a system of positive behavioral support that was designed to reduced suspension rates, particularly among minority students

While these policies may seem reasonable on their face, little research has examined the impact of these policies on the classroom. This study represents the first attempt to do so at the state level. We gathered data on the implementation of the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) system from more than 2,000 schools throughout Wisconsin from 2009-2016.

We combined this with data on the number of suspensions and academic outcomes of most schools in the state over the same time frame. Along with a host of control variables, this represents the most comprehensive attempt to date to isolate the impact of PBIS on classroom climate.

Among our key findings:

1. Suspension rates have fallen in schools with large numbers of African American Students that implement PBIS.

To the extent that the goal of PBIS was to reduce suspensions for this demographic group, the system appears to be successful.

2. Suspension rates have increased in schools with small numbers of African American Students that implement PBIS.

In schools with fewer than 15% African American students, the implementation of PBIS is counterintuitively associated with an increase in the number of suspensions.

3. Mathematics and Reading Proficiency are lower in schools that implement PBIS. The implementation of PBIS is associated with a decline in proficiency of approximately 1% on state exams, controlling for a number of other factors that are known to impact proficiency.

4. Negative proficiency effects of PBIS are stronger in suburban and rural schools. With a significant exception discussed below, proficiency at urban schools does not suffer significantly when PBIS is implemented. However, performance in rural and suburban schools was found to decline.