Pushout refers to practices that contribute to students dropping out. These include unwelcoming and uncaring school environments and over-reliance on zero tolerance school policies that push students out of school. Historically, factors (e.g., suspension, expulsions, systemic inequality) that result in school pushout have disproportionately impacted students of color, students from low-income families, LGBT students and students in the juvenile justice and alternative education settings. Research demonstrates that the dropping out of school that is a product of pushout has severe and lasting consequences for students, schools, and communities. Students who are pushed out experience diminished academic opportunities and social alienation. They are pushed into substandard alternative schools and GED programs, which may compromise future academic and job success.

Pushout has been attributed to:
School/Resource factors

  • lack of adequate resources and overcrowded schools
  • overreliance on punitive measures such as suspensions and expulsions
  • lack of adult support for students
  • low expectations
  • overemphasis on high stakes testing and test preparation
  • lack of physical and emotional safety at school
  • poor or limited teacher training and support
  • inadequate curricula and interventions that fail to individual or special education needs
  • lack of effective and equitable college preparatory and career counseling services
  • lack of cultural and linguistic competence

Individual Community factors

  • lack of parent, student, family, and community participation in school decision making
  • little or no academic mentoring and support for students
  • a history of systemic racism and inequality

Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Dropout Crisis in Philadelphia

(2011) Youth United for Change

The authors use the term “pushout” rather than “dropout” to focus on systemic problems and to acknowledge some youth consider themselves not dropouts but students forced to leave school. Based on the authors’ survey, the majority of youth respondents said disciplinary climate—most notably suspension and expulsion—contributed to students feeling unwelcomed and “pushed” out of school.

Fact Sheet on School Discipline and the Pushout Problem

(2011) Dignity in Schools

The fact sheet identifies the concept of school pushout and whom it affects.

Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School-to-Prison Pipeline

(2010) Advancement Project

This report aims to help stakeholders move beyond zero-tolerance policies and high-stakes testing, explaining how their mutual reinforcement contributes to hostile school environments and pushes students into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Handcuffs on Success: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools

(2013) Advancement Project, American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse

Across the state of Mississippi, zero tolerance and other overly harsh school disciplinary policies and practices push tens of thousands of students out of school, criminalizing and incarcerating students for trivial misbehaviors and normal age appropriate misconduct. This report highlights the ways that destructive approaches to school discipline not only harm students and families but also make more difficult the lives and careers of teachers, law enforcement, and community members.

Facing the School Dropout Dilemma

(2012) American Psychological Association

This report reports that students perceived as detrimental to their schools’ success are encouraged implicitly or explicitly to withdraw or transfer from their schools.

Schools for All Campaign: The School Bias & Pushout Problem

(2008) American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California

This report explains challenges, consequences, and solutions related to bias within school environments that push out students: make them feel alienated, and make them more likely to misbehave.

National Resolution for Ending School Pushout

Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC)

This resolution reframes the issues of school climate and discipline, attempting to move the emphasis from punishment and exclusion to human rights for youth. It describes the risk factors for and consequences of pushout and presents positive approaches to address the pushout issue.

America’s Pushout Crisis

The Schott Foundation for Public Education

This report explains that Black and Hispanic students compared are more likely to encounter school discipline disparities resulting in fewer learning opportunities and more days out of school—both strong predictors of student pushout.

FACT SHEET: School Discipline and The Pushout Problem

Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC)

This document provides statistics on suspension and expulsion, dropout, and incarceration of youth.

Alaskan Schools: What Matters to Students?

(2012) American Institutes for Research

This report examines the relationship between school climate and student academic engagement among Alaskan native students.

What works Clearinghouse: Dropout Prevention Practice Guide

(2008) U.S. Department of Education

This practice guide identifies evidence based recommendations to reduce the challenge of dropout prevention. The guide provides practical and clear information on issues related to dropout prevention.

Interventions to Address Racialized Discipline Disparities and School “Push Out”

Kirwan Institute

The policy brief highlights interventions across the country that are being implemented to decrease student pushout and discipline disproportionality.

Why Students Drop Out of School and What Can be Done

(2001) Russell Rumberger

The paper reviews the theoretical and empirical research that attempts to explain why students drop out of school based on two different conceptual frameworks: individual perspective and institutional perspective. This paper also examines various strategies to address dropout, reviewing examples of both programmatic and systemic solutions.

Accountability Guidelines on School Pushout and Charter Schools

(2014) Dignity in Schools Campaign

This resource calls on states and localities to put in place laws and policies that will increase accountability and oversight of charter schools to address school pushout.  The Guidelines call on all schools that receive public funding to implement best practices that encourage inclusive and positive school discipline practices to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Model School Code

(2011) Dignity in Schools Campaign

The Dignity in Schools Campaign Model Code on Education and Dignity presents a set of recommended policies to schools, districts and legislators to help end school pushout and protect the human right to education, dignity, participation and freedom from discrimination.

School Pushout: Dropout and Discipline

(2011) League of Education Voters Foundation

This document shows the financial consequences of pushout and dropout and cites Denver Public Schools as an example district that implemented new discipline policies (2008-09), clarified and expanded parents and students’ due process, and improved students’ high school attendance, graduation, and dropout rates.

Transforming Schools – by Ending School Pushout through School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS)

(2012) Community Asset Development Re-defining Education (CADRE)

This case study on Los Angeles, CA, summarizes the CADRE’s efforts to influence Los Angeles Unified School District’s adoption of a district-wide “Discipline Foundation Policy” that is based on School-Wide Positive Behavior Support.

Walla Walla: A compassionate approach to discipline

League of Education Voters

At Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, a small alternative school transformed itself from a school with a zero tolerance mentality to one that embraced open communication with dialogue and a compassionate approach. This transformation resulted in reduced suspension and expulsion rates and an increase in graduation rates.

School Discipline and Pushout: Fact Sheet for the Recovery School District

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Youth, in partnership with Dignity in Schools Campaign

This factsheet on the Recovery School District in New Orleans, LA, documents how charter schools push out students and encourage parents to transfer their children to traditional schools to avoid a suspension or expulsion on their children’s records.

Dismantling The Cradle To Prison Pipeline: Preventing Pushouts in Mississippi Schools

(2013) Children’s Defense Fund – Southern Regional Office

This report provides four major recommendations to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline and prevent school policies that push out students who most need intervention.