Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Tracy Sohoni

Committee Member

Allison Chappell

Committee Member

Randy Gainey

Committee Member

Randy Myers


Though delinquency and violence have been steadily decreasing in American schools, research suggests that discipline use has not followed that same downward trend. This raises questions to why schools are reliant on certain disciplinary practices if rates of student misbehavior are not increasing. Due to zero tolerance mandates, schools often take a harsh approach to punishment, yet are also inconsistent in the punishment of similar misbehavior among students, which often leaves students feeling frustrated and sometimes, unsafe. How do school disciplinary decisions affect the ways in which school actors, such as students and teachers, perceive their schools’ environments? This broad question guides the current study, which aims to examine the effects of school discipline decisions on perceptions of climate and safety among students and teachers.

Using the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, this research employs a longitudinal design and multilevel modeling to examine two sets of separate models, one focusing on students and one focusing on teachers, each nested within schools. The theoretical constructs of legitimacy and subjective powerlessness are used to examine whether perceptions of discipline enforcement as legitimate and/or perceptions that school actors have little control over certain aspects of their lives condition the effects of school level disciplinary decisions on perceived climate and safety. Findings suggest that the severity and consistency of school level disciplinary decisions significantly impact various indicators of perceived school climate and safety among students and teachers, and that the theoretical constructs of legitimacy and subjective powerlessness significantly condition many of these effects.

This research fills a gap in the existing literature by examining how school disciplinary decisions affect school environments themselves, rather than examining the correlates or predictors of discipline use or the outcomes of discipline use outside of school walls. Furthermore, it examines the effects of discipline consistency, quantifies administrative discretion, and focuses on teacher outcomes; all areas largely neglected in the school discipline literature. Policy implications primarily concern abolishing zero tolerance mandates to allow for appropriate discretion in discipline enforcement, so that schools’ punishment of misbehavior is more student centered rather than offense centered, and therefore more equitable.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).