Analyzing Zero Tolerance School Discipline Policies and Identifying Strategic Opportunities for Intervention

August 7, 2011
Jennifer Vorse Wilka (MPP 2011, Harvard Kennedy School)

Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman's Child Watch column cited research by Jennifer Vorse Wilka, a 2010 Rappaport Policy Fellow, in her recent Child Watch column criticizing zero tolerance policies for students. In the column, which appeared on Huffington Post and several other web sites, Edelman reported that in her Policy Analysis Exercise (the Kennedy School’s equivalent of a master’s thesis), Wilka found that nearly half of the 60,000 expulsions and suspensions in Massachusetts public schools were for "’unassigned offenses’ – nonviolent, noncriminal offenses, which can include behavioral issues such as swearing, talking back to a teacher, and truancy." Moreover, of the "approximately 30,000 ‘unassigned offenses,’ two-thirds received out of school suspension, resulting in 57,000 lost days of school."

This working paper was named one of the best PAEs written by an HKS student in the 2010 - 2011 academic year.

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