News Release

The infrastructure of social control

A multi-level counterfactual analysis of surveillance, punishment, achievement, and persistence

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Educational Research Association

Study: "The Infrastructure of Social Control: A Multi-Level Counterfactual Analysis of Surveillance, Punishment, Achievement, and Persistence"
Authors: Odis Johnson (Johns Hopkins University), Jason F. Jabbari (Washington University in St. Louis)

This study will be presented today at the AERA 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting.
Session: The School-to-Prison and Prison-to-School Pipelines: Studies of the Nexus of Schooling and the Justice System
Date/Time: Sunday, April 11, 10:40 a.m. - 12:10 p.m. ET

Main Findings:

After controlling for levels of school social disorder and student misbehavior, students attending high-surveillance high schools are more likely to be subjected to in-school suspension than those at low-surveillance schools, have lower math achievement, and are less likely to attend college.

Black students are four times more likely to attend a high versus low-surveillance school.


In response to decades of mass shootings, policymakers have increased surveillance measures in schools in an effort to ensure more safe learning environments. These can include detection mechanisms (e.g., metal detectors and drug sniffing dogs), security personnel (e.g., school resource officers), visual monitors (e.g., security cameras), and restrictions on cultural expressions (e.g., strict dress codes)

Recent research has suggested that these measures have not necessarily made schools safer. Rather, instead of being used to thwart the uncommon school shooting, these surveillance measures may increase the capacity for schools to identify and punish students for more common and less-serious offenses.

This study examined the relationship between high-surveillance schools and in-school suspensions for minor offenses, math achievement, and college attendance. In-school suspensions keep students in school but isolate them from the rest of the student population.

The authors used data from the U.S. Department of Education's Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 to examine outcomes on approximately 6,000 students across the country.

The authors found that students who attend high-surveillance schools are more likely to be poor, Black, come from a single parent home, and to have previously repeated a grade. These students are also more likely to attend schools in an urban area with higher perceptions of crime and lower perceptions of safety.

After controlling for levels of school social disorder and student misbehavior, students attending high-surveillance schools were more likely to be subjected to in-school suspension than those at low-surveillance schools.

The authors found that attending a high-surveillance school also significantly decreases 12th grade math test scores and decreases college attendance, with higher rates of suspensions partially explaining the relationships.

"High-surveillance schools create the capacity for high-suspension schools to exist," said Odis Johnson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools. "Greater detection leads to greater punishment, regardless of the students who attend these schools, which ultimately decreases academic achievement and college enrollment."

"When considering the costs of these apparatuses of surveillance, efforts should be made to make schools feel less like prisons," Johnson said. "Not only are these measures not the reasons why schools are safer today than they were in the past, but they may be placing more students on the discipline track and fewer students on the STEM track, and reducing the college enrollment of minoritized students. In schools that are unable to remove surveillance mechanisms, efforts should be made to both reduce suspensions and improve math achievement."

"We argue that if we were able reform schools to lessen the influence of social control through surveillance, disproportionate suspensions, and their impacts on math test scores, young Black adolescents of both genders, would be more likely to enter college," said Johnson.

To request a copy of the working paper, or to talk to study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333; Tong Wu, Communications Associate,, cell: (202) 957-3802


About AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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