Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

John Leonard

Second Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Third Advisor

Eugene Gallagher


School suspensions have recently become a public topic of interest in Massachusetts, culminating in a revision, intended to reduce suspensions, of the school suspension law. The significant body of research on school suspension has shown disparity in how suspensions are disparately applied to different demographic groups of students. It has also been shown to have significantly deleterious academic and psychological effects on students. Significant research has been undertaken to understand disproportionality in suspension, but almost none of this research relates to assistant principals at the high school level. This study, therefore, addresses how the beliefs of high school assistant principals about students, misbehavior, and discipline influence suspension rates at Massachusetts public high schools.

This study utilized a sequential mixed-methodology. Surveys were sent to 378 public high schools in Massachusetts. Sixty-eight assistant principals from fifty-eight schools responded to this survey; eight interview participants were selected from these respondents using stratified purposeful sampling. Survey responses and school information from the Massachusetts DESE were analyzed for relationships among the variables using SPSS. Interviews were transcribed by hand and coded for trends.

Analysis showed no disparity in suspension between White students and Black and Latinos; Asians were suspended at significantly lower rates than all other ethnic groups. Students designated as Low Income, First Language Not English, and Special Education were suspended at high rates overall. Urban schools suspended at higher rates than nonurban schools overall and for nearly all subgroups.

Surveys indicated that most respondents felt their role was to reintegrate students into the school community rather than to punish, and that misbehavior could be avoided by better student-teacher communication. This view was reinforced during the interviews. There was some evidence that respondents saw a connection between family circumstance and misbehavior. During the interviews, the themes of agency, autonomy, and efficacy emerged, with respondents from low-suspending schools displaying more evidence of efficacy than those from high-suspending schools. A need for more research pertaining to assistant principals also emerged from this study.


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