The Economic Cost of Disruptive Students


It would seem to be a common sense idea that putting disruptive students in classrooms would negatively impact the learning experience of the other students. But common sense rarely prevails against ideology, especially one as powerful and pervasive as the social justice movement to stamp out racial disparities in the rate of suspensions and other punishments in Virginia schools.

Based on common sense, I have argued that new justice-driven disciplinary policies, which define disruptive students as “victims” and keep them in class, creates a new group of victims — their classmates. Now comes rigorous academic research that quantifies the impact.

In a study published in the American Economic Review, “The Long-Run Effects of Disruptive Peers,” Scott E. Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, and Elira Kura exploited a longitudinal database of Alachua County, Fla., schools to track what happened to students exposed to disruptive students. The main conclusions:

  • Exposure to a single disruptive peer through five years of elementary school has lasting effects. By age 24 to 28, classmates’ earnings are 3 percent lower than they would be otherwise.
  • One year’s exposure to a disruptive student in a class of 25 reduces the discounted value of classmates’ earnings by $80,000.
  • Increased exposure to disruptive peers by children from lower relative-income families compared to higher-income households explains about 5 percent of the rich-poor earnings gap in adulthood.

“While there are negative affects across the income distribution, the largest effects are on those individuals who earn less than $40,000 annually,” states the study. “The larger impact is to move individuals from the middle of the income distribution to the lower part of the income distribution.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The authors do not comment upon the social-justice disciplinary paradigm being foisted on Virginia schools and schools nationally. Nor do they advance recommendations on how to deal with disruptive students. But the study makes it crystal clear that students pay a price — diminished education, lower test scores, and reduced income — when classmates create distractions and cut into teaching time.

In many instances, the disruptive students are victims — typically of domestic violence. There is an ample academic literature showing the children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to display aggressive behavior,  bullying, depression, animal cruelty, academic performance, and violence in adulthood. So, it’s not as if these kids don’t warrant some special consideration. But school disciplinary policies must acknowledge that keeping disruptive students in mainstream classes comes at a significant cost to their peers. Indeed, the failure to remove disruptive students from classrooms is a significant engine of social and economic inequality.

There may be a cost to providing special educational arrangements for disruptive students, but there is a significant cost for not providing those arrangements.

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8 responses to “The Economic Cost of Disruptive Students

  1. This is one of the really core problems in some schools not only degrading the classroom educational experience but the whole school system as qualified teachers flee from the punishment.
    Are you or any of your Commenters aware of a potentially effective solution?

  2. That “study” is a joke. Go read it and you’ll see … this truly is junk “science”.

    in terms of “solutions” to disruptive students.

    the premise that disruptive kids just run amok destroying the ability of others to learn is simply not the case.

    First off – most schools systems have what they call “Alternative Education” and it’s for students that don’t behave and cause problems for others so it’s disinformation being promoted when folks talk about this as if there is no
    such thing as alternative education.

    I’ve posted the links to these programs several times… by the way and they are ignored and never mentioned in follow-on blog posts – that basically just replay over and over, the claim about “disruptive” students.

    Here they are for Henrico once again: https://henricoschools.us/program-centers/

    We just don’t turn kids loose to roam on the streets… which seems to be where these narratives end up.

    Perhaps we SHOULD have totally separate “alternative” reform/boot-camp schools on a regional basis… it would cost money no question but I’d support it as I would any/all responses to address the problem.

    • We could call them reform schools! Everything old is new again….

      But no, we do not give up on “disruptive” students, which I’m assuming is a broader category than actual criminal behavior, for which we do have the juvenile justice system (with all its flaws.) Yes, truly disruptive children need to be removed from the regular classroom, but not just turned out. Nope, nope, nope, Jim’s wrong on this one and I too doubt that study has much validity. He’s read it, he says there is a paywall, and if I can’t read it he shouldn’t be peddling it.

      • Why is this so hard?

        When I went to Georgetown Prep (8 t0 11 grades), they put the fast learners in one class, the slower learners in another class, and the screw offs in a small third class where they could be beat into shape until they were fit to learn with the slower learners, or the fast learners if they could.

        Nobody complained about that system, including the parents who paid a small fortune each year to send their kids there, and most every kid in that school ended up with a solid education, and some far better educations than solid, fast learner kids like Bret Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. So here is a simple question? If such a system as Georgetown Preps is good enough for Neil and Bret why ain’t it good enough to public school kids. It is. In fact, there was an urban version of Prep called Gonzaga high school, and still is. Wonder how those kids are doing?

        Why can’t we do the same at public schools. And don’t disadvantaged kids have a right to a good education too, no matter what. Why should the bad apples be able to destroy the good apple’s right to learn?

        And why not especially when a significant portion of some kids today think that learning and getting good grades in a bad thing and do all they can to stop other kids in class and outside class who want to learn from learning, or stop those other kids from getting any education at all, except what those kids pick up and learn on America’s mean streets.

        • The District is trying with the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Deanwood. I believe it will graduate its first class in 2020. I don’t know how well they are succeeding but they are at least trying to challenge young black males.

      • I found the “study” at another location: http://faculty.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/scarrell/DV_Long-run.pdf

        simple things like the sample size, control group, and then this:

        ” To distinguish the effect of peers from con-founding factors, we exploit the population variation in the proportion of children from families linked to domestic violence, who have been shown to disrupt contemporaneous behavior and learning. Results show that exposure to a disruptive peer in classes of 25during elementary school reduces earnings at age 24 to 28 by 3 percent. We estimate that differential exposure to children linked to domestic violence explains 5 percent of the rich-poor earnings gap in our data, and that each year of exposure to a disruptive peer reduces the present discounted value of classmates’ future earnings by $80,000.”

        there is stuff like the above all through this “study”.

  3. The idea presented here is that there is a binary choice between allowing disruptive kids in class or not with the implication that as long as they are “in school” they are harming other kids.

    Why do we keep seeing this narrative which is clearly misleading and simply not the case as many schools have alternative programs and classes for disruptive students.

    Most schools these days have law enforcement on site who actually take into custody students that cross the line.

    Finally, “disruptive” is more than the stereotypes, it includes bullying on social media which is rampant even among the “good” kids.

    it’s a mess the school have to deal with then we have folks on the outside with social and political agendas tossing bricks and bombs.

  4. Thanks for the reference to the study Larry, but I really don’t want to read it. How in the world can you draw anything more than a correlation, not a direct causal effect, from a disruptive kid in someone’s class in elementary school to their earnings 20 years later?
    And as a former Board Chair in my CT town, there are lots of things you can to do help a disruptive kid. They all cost money and we did them without eviction from school, although some whose psychies were way off kilter were sent to special schools at our expense.

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