There was a time not too long ago when well-intended reformers thought that public schools could be made better by extending due process rights to youth. If kids just had greater legal protections when facing minor day-to-day school discipline, the argument went, schools would be fairer places and student achievement would improve.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, schools today often lack the capacity to support youth development, and advocacy organizations continue to issue regular reports on the persistence of racial disparities in the application of school discipline. How did we get here, and what is to be done to restore the capacity of educators to improve public school performance? […]
Well-intended efforts to improve youth outcomes through legal intervention into traditional matters involving educators, students, and their parents has produced a system of school discipline that is incapable of fostering the positive authority relationships necessary for youth to come to internalize and accept conventional societal norms, values, and attitudes. Worse still, public school students who had greater rights ended up not perceiving school discipline as fairer, but just the opposite. The more rights students thought they had, the more injustice they perceived in their everyday school lives. Students in Catholic schools, for example, who had many fewer legal protections than public school students, have in recent decades been significantly more likely to report that school discipline was fairer. And it turns out that students’ perceptions of fairness — not the level of strictness — is what makes school discipline most effective at aiding youth development.