How relevant is parent engagement in school events to the “quiet revolution” in school discipline?

“In the past five years, 27 states have revised their laws with the intention of reducing suspensions and expulsions. And, more than 50 of America’s largest school districts have also reformed their discipline policies – changes which collectively affect more than 6.35 million students.” NPR (2017) called it a “quiet revolution in school discipline.” Some studies argue that school climate in the cities, in general, has gotten worse because of the loose discipline policies, while many urge schools to take further steps to reduce the suspension and expulsion of Black and Hispanic students.

The goal of public education has always been to maintain a safe learning environment and increase learning opportunities for every student. A large body of literature focuses on high rates of suspensions in schools in relation to lower school-wide academic achievement. Yet, we are short of information about strategies that promote both equal learning and safe schools. We analyzed data from a national representative sample of principals (2011-12 SASS), which provided evidence that parental participation in school events is important to improve school climate.

High rate of parental participation in school events; low occurrence of expulsion and suspension

As shown in Figure1, high participation rate of parents in school events is correlated with low occurrence of expulsions and suspensions, and vice versa. We compared two types of schools in the following school events during the 2010-11 school year, i.e., schools where 0-25 percent of students’ parents participated (low-participation schools) versus schools where 76-100 percent of students’ parents participated in the same type of school activity (high-participation schools).

  • open house or back-to-school night – in low-participation schools, the number of students expelled is five times higher and the number of suspensions is four times higher than in high-participation schools;
  • all regularly scheduled schoolwide parent-teacher conferences – in low-participation schools, the number of students expelled is four times higher than in high-participation schools;
  • special subject-area events (e.g., science fair, concerts) – in low-participation schools, the number of students expelled is three times higher and the number of suspensions is four times higher than in high-participation schools.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Number of students expelled and number of suspensions during the school year 2010-11 by the rate of parents’ participation in different school events (Note: *Statistically significant; ! interpret with caution)

A previous study found a negative correlation between level of parental involvement and occurrence of out-of-school suspensions. Yet, because of selection bias, it is hard to draw the conclusion that higher level of parental involvement can lead to less use of suspension and expulsion. Our data analysis attempted to overcome the limitations of previous studies and focused more on investigating the relationship between the two variables at the school level.

A series of Poisson regressions were conducted on the dependent variable (i.e., occurrence of suspension/expulsion) and indicators or independent variables (i.e., percentage of parent’s participation in each school event), holding some school factors constant (i.e. school size, school type, student-teacher ratio, school locale, and percentage of minority students). The results supported the comparisons reported above. In addition, we found that the following school factors have statistically significant correlations with the numbers of expulsions and suspensions (holding other variables constant in the models):

  • proportion of minority students in a school – The higher the percentage of minority students in a school, the higher the occurrence of suspensions and expulsions is likely to be.
  • school size – The larger the school, the higher the occurrence of suspensions and expulsions is likely to be.
  • student-teacher ratio in a school – The higher the student-teacher ratio, the higher the occurrence of suspensions is likely to be.
  • urban schools – Urban schools are more likely to have more suspensions and expelled students than rural schools.
  • grades – Middle, high and combined schools are more likely to have more suspensions and expelled students than elementary schools.

In summary, the principal survey data show that in schools where most parents (three out of four students) participated in school events, suspensions and expulsions occurred less than in schools where fewer parents engaged in school activities.