Improving Learning Environments: School Discipline and Student Achievement in Comparative Perspective

Improving Learning Environments: School Discipline and Student Achievement in Comparative Perspective

by Richard Arum

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This book provides the first systematic comparative cross-national study of school disciplinary climates.See more details below


This book provides the first systematic comparative cross-national study of school disciplinary climates.

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"Improving Learning Environments is a superb examination of the relationship between school discipline and educational achievement, carried out cooperatively by distinguished scholars who investigate countries on which they are leading authorities. It's a must read for scholars and school reformers alike."—Stephen L. Morgan, Cornell University

"This state-of-the-art work addresses the important question of the extent to which school disciplinary environments shape educational outcomes. This new volume will provide policy makers with a much needed empirical basis for the development of effective policies."—Meir Yaish, University of Haifa

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Stanford University Press
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Studies in Social Inequality Series
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6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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School Discipline and Student Achievement in Comparative Perspective


Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7803-9

Chapter One

Academic Performance and Expectations of Canadian Students

Robert Andersen and David Zarifa

This chapter explores the effect of school disciplinary climate on student performance in Canada. It makes two main contributions. First, this is the first Canadian study to systematically explore the general topic of school disciplinary climate, whether it affects academic performance and expectations, and how much it accounts for provincial differences in school performance and expectations. In terms of provincial differences, we focus on Ontario and Quebec because of data availability. General cultural differences—and related differences in immigration patterns and educational systems—between these two provinces make Canada an interesting context in which to explore the effects of school disciplinary climate. Second, by following a framework similar to the other chapters, it helps situate correlates of school disciplinary climate in cross-national perspective.

In contrast to the United States, research on the relationship between school discipline and academic performance in Canada is virtually nonexistent. Nonetheless, some U.S. studies may be particularly relevant to the Canadian situation. For example, research suggests that school performance in the United States is positively related to the level of strictness in the school disciplinary climate (Arum 2003; Barton, Coley, and Wenglinsky 1998; Myers et al. 1987; DiPrete, Muller, and Shaeffer 1981; Coleman et al. 1966). There is also research indicating differential effects of school disciplinary climates according to minority status. Research by Valerie Lee and Anthony Bryk (1989; see also Chapter 9) demonstrates that white and minority student achievement gaps in the United States are smaller in schools with effective and systematic disciplinary climates and policies. Other research suggests that the minority gap in achievement may be narrowed in Catholic schools, where students are more likely to exhibit deferential behavior and thus school climates are characterized by fewer disruptions, which is more conducive to learning (Coleman and Hoffer 1987; Coleman et al. 1982).

Although previous research has not specifically addressed the issue, it is possible that similar mechanisms are at work in Canada. For example, school disciplinary climate may explain differences in school performance between Ontario and Quebec students. It is also possible that disciplinary climate is useful in explaining school performance and achievement gaps between immigrants and nonimmigrants within the two provinces, especially since recent Canadian immigrants tend to be ethnic minorities (Chui, Tran, and Maheux 2007). The possibility of differential effects is further highlighted by the fact that the gap between immigrant and nonimmigrant school performance is generally smaller in Canada than it is in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, except in Quebec, where the difference resembles the OECD average (see Bussiere, Knighton, and Pennock 2007, 40).

In the following section we describe the school disciplinary climate in Canada using the common framework set out for individual country analyses by the larger project. We then proceed to our analysis of the role of school disciplinary climate in school performance in Canada. Consistent with the other chapters in this volume, our analysis draws on Canadian data collected as part of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2003.


Following the overall comparative design for country-specific chapters in this volume, we explore four dimensions of the school disciplinary context. We start by discussing the heterogeneity of the Canadian population, with a particular emphasis on the role of immigration. We then outline the structure of the Canadian educational system and how educational institutions differ according to province, focusing primarily on Ontario and Quebec. We then consider the legal context of school discipline in Canada. In this regard, we give special attention to the roles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court of Canada. Finally, we detail recent developments in Canadian policies regarding the administration of school discipline.

Population Heterogeneity: The Role of Immigration

Canada is an immigrant society. According to the 2006 Canadian census, 19.8 percent (more than six million) Canadians were born outside Canada. To put this number in perspective, immigrants constitute 12.5 percent of the population of the United States, and only Australia (with 22.2 percent immigrants) exceeds Canada's proportion of immigrants among Western nations (Chui, Tran, and Maheux 2007, 8). Immigrants are not equally distributed throughout Canada, however. Important to this study is the size difference between Quebec's and Ontario's immigrant populations. As of 2006 Ontario was home to 54.9 percent of Canada's immigrant population, which closely resembles its share of recent immigrants (52.3 percent). Quebec, on the other hand, had only 13.8 percent of Canada's immigrant population and slightly less than 18 percent of Canada's recent immigrants (Chui, Tran, and Maheux 2007). With respect to their own populations, Ontario contains approximately 28.2 percent immigrants, and Quebec contains only 11.5 percent immigrants (Statistics Canada 2008a).

In the last few decades, Canadian immigrants have become increasingly more likely to be visible minorities. In 1971 immigrants were generally European in origin (61.6 percent) and only a small minority came from Asia (12.1 percent). By 2006 Europeans dropped to the second-largest group, representing only 16.1 percent of recent immigrants, and emigrants from Asia (including the Middle East) represented approximately 58.3 percent of Canada's recent immigrants (Chui, Tran, and Maheux 2007). Just as the size of the immigrant populations differ by province, so do their ethnic compositions. In Ontario about 65 percent of immigrants arriving in Canada between 2001 and 2006 were from Asia or the Middle East, compared to only 28.8 percent in Quebec (Statistics Canada 2008b).

The increased diversity associated with recent immigration patterns has been accompanied by growing concern over the integration of immigrant youth into the Canadian educational system. Although second-generation immigrants typically do well in terms of school performance (Cortes 2006) and educational attainment (see Boyd 2002), first-generation immigrants continue to score lower in science, math, and reading tests (Gluszynski and Dhawan-Biswal 2008). Research by Patrick Bussiere, Tamara Knighton, and Dianne Pennock (2007) indicates that immigrant students tend to score lower on science tests than nonimmigrant students, but especially so in Quebec, where nonimmigrant students scored more than 10 percent higher on average than first-generation immigrants. In Ontario the difference between these two groups was less than 5 percent.

One possible explanation for the larger performance gap between Quebec's immigrant and nonimmigrant students pertains to how well immigrants are integrated into the Quebec school system. Some critics argue that Quebec's intensive language program, accueil, focuses heavily on learning French and isolates students from the mainstream academic route, thus putting them a couple of years behind in the core subjects (e.g., science and history; Allen 2006). On the other hand, others claim that Quebec's French-language schools integrate the children of newly arrived immigrants and teach students the importance of respecting pluralism (see McAndrew 2003).

Aside from the language barrier to comprehension, immigrant integration into the larger Canadian society may also play a role in academic performance. Research on this topic is limited, but some argue that racial minorities and students from families whose parents lack the social capital to deal with school teachers or administrators—especially immigrants and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds—are most at risk for involvement in youth violence (see McMurtry and Curling 2008), which in turn could affect their performance in school. This is consistent with U.S. research that suggests minority students are more likely to be suspended or expelled (Skiba et al. 2002; Brooks, Schiraldi, and Zeidenberg 1999). There is also evidence that minority students experience discrimination in Canada (Alladin 1996; Cheng and Soudak 1994), which could in turn affect their school performance. Given recent research suggesting that the Quebec population is generally less accepting of immigrants than the populations of the other provinces of Canada, including Ontario (Andersen and Milligan 2009), it is possible that discrimination may be more prevalent in Quebec schools.

Martin Ruck and Scot Wortley (2002, 193) examined student perceptions of discriminatory implementation and administration of school discipline in Canadian high schools. Ruck and Wortley found that although immigrants believed that police were biased against their ethnic group and that students from their ethnic group were more likely than others to be disciplined in school, especially with regard to suspensions, immigrant students did not report differential treatment from teachers. Interestingly, perception of bias appeared to increase with length of stay in Canada. The authors suggest two possible mechanisms for this effect: (1) immigrants who have spent more time in Canada may be more cognizant of existing social inequalities and prejudices, and (2) recent immigrants might have experienced more-severe school disciplinary practices or discrimination in their country of origin, and as a result their Canadian experiences would be mild by comparison. It is possible that such differences in perceptions of fair discipline could transfer into differential effects on student performance.

As outlined in detail later, the educational systems in Ontario and Quebec are independent and quite different. It seems sensible to suggest that these differences could affect how discipline is applied. Although no research has yet addressed this question, it is possible that a greater gap in school performance between immigrant and nonimmigrant students results from differences in the disciplinary climate in the two provinces. Addressing this question is a main goal of our own analysis, which follows later.

The Canadian Educational System

Education in Canada falls under provincial jurisdiction. There is no federal department of education or countrywide educational policy. The lack of federal governance of educational issues means that each province has a high degree of autonomy and authority to establish its own policy on how to handle disciplinary problems in schools. Provinces discuss common educational policy issues through the Council of Ministers of Education in Canada (CMEC), though ultimately the implementation of common strategies is left to the discretion of the province. Nevertheless, Canada's educational systems are highly centralized at the provincial level. Each province has its own ministry of education, which establishes curricula, norms, assessment, and certification and provides the bulk of funding for public schools, though some provinces (e.g., Quebec) supplement provincial expenditures with local property taxes.

Beneath the provincial level are school boards, which are primarily responsible for ensuring that all students within their districts have access to educational services or policies dictated by the province. Schools, which provide these educational services to students, fall under the jurisdiction of school boards (see Lessard and Brassard 2009). Until recently provinces afforded a large degree of autonomy to school boards, schools, and teachers in implementing educational policies. However, greater involvement of provincial governments over the past decade or so has resulted in increasingly closer monitoring of school and teacher practices (Mawhinney 1995; Jull 2000).

Although provinces control the design of their educational systems, the structure of Canada's educational systems varies only minimally across the 10 provinces, with the exception of Quebec. Typically, Canadian students attend elementary school from kindergarten (ages 4 and 5) to grade 8 (usually age 13) and then attend secondary school from grades 9 to 12 (graduating around age 17). In the Quebec educational system, students attend elementary school only until grade 6 and then move to secondary school for grades 7 to 11. Students who wish to continue to postsecondary education enter the CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel) program after grade 11. Ontario students, on the other hand, continue to tertiary education immediately following grade 12.

One major provincial difference is in the provision of "separate" schools: publicly funded institutions with a religious orientation. In Ontario separate schools are now entirely associated with the Roman Catholic Church, because the majority of Protestant-based schools dissolved into the current public school system. Remnants of these religious beginnings in the public schools were evident even until the mid-1980s—the Lord's Prayer was still recited at the start of the school day. More recently, however, religion has been effectively removed from public school education in Ontario. On the other hand, separate schools continue to have a strong Catholic educational presence to this day.

Quebec had a similar system of publicly funded Catholic and Protestant school boards until 1998, when the separate Catholic and Protestant school boards were respectively replaced by English-language and French-language school boards that mirror the larger society (see Young and Bezeau 2003). At the time of reform in Quebec in 1998, there were 137 Catholic and 18 Protestant school boards that were replaced by 60 French-language and 9 English-language school boards (Smith, Foster, and Donahue 1999, 2). The distribution of school boards in Ontario is much more equal. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education (2009a), as of 2009 Ontario had 35 public school boards (31 English language and 4 French language) and 37 Catholic school boards (29 English language and 8 French language).

Finally, although the vast majority of schools in Canada are publicly funded, provincial differences are noteworthy in terms of the prevalence of private schooling. Although it has grown in recent years, the private educational sector is relatively small in Ontario. In 1999 only 4.3 percent of elementary and secondary students in Ontario were enrolled in private schools. In Quebec on the other hand 9.2 percent of elementary and secondary students attended private schools (Statistics Canada 2001). More recent estimates for Quebec suggest that about 17 percent of high school students attend private schools. It has also been estimated that nearly 30 percent of high school students in Montreal are enrolled in private institutions. Although we have no evidence to support the idea, it seems sensible to suggest that the larger private sector in Quebec results in less province-wide standardization in how schooling is administered, even if there is relatively high standardization within the public school system.

Legal Context: The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court

To understand the limitations of administering school discipline in Canada, it is helpful to be aware of the legal context and in particular students' and educators' rights. Of course, this knowledge also helps facilitate cross-national comparisons of the differences in the nature and effects of school disciplinary climate. We start by noting that legal challenges to school policies and decisions are far less prevalent in Canada than they are in some other countries, especially the United States. Nevertheless, legal challenges have increased since the inception of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 (Dennis 1996; Hartig and McDonald 1996; MacKay 2008). Although Canadian case law regarding students' rights and school discipline is well established, new challenges continually appear. Recent court challenges have fallen under six broad categories: (1) minority language education rights, (2) denominational rights, (3) freedom of religion, (4) freedom of expression of the teaching staff, (5) protection of students from unreasonable searches, and (6) students' equality rights with respect to educational services (LeBel 2006, 137). While court decisions with respect to human rights violations—especially regarding minority language and religion—have tended to side with inclusion, decisions regarding discipline have consistently sided with educational administrators (MacKay 2008; MacKay and Burt-Gerrans 2005; Keel 1998).


Excerpted from IMPROVING LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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