Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Student Perceptions of Disciplinary Policy: Does School Representation Matter?

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 1:45 PM
Ibis (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Christine H. Roch, Mahmoud A. A. Elsayed and Jason T Edwards, Georgia State University
Punitive disciplinary policies, such as out of school suspensions, involve strict sanctions for students. Educators perceive the use of such sanctions as helping to produce more positive school environments with lower levels of misbehavior; however, this may not always occur. The use of punitive policies may provide negative messages to students about the way that they are viewed and treated by school staff and perhaps by government generally. These negative views may lead to a more negative school climate, which may be associated with higher levels of misbehavior (Gottfredson et al., 2005). Researchers have also shown how the use of the strict disciplinary policies can in fact increase the number of future disciplinary infractions that occur within a school, particularly when students perceive punishments as being unjust or unfair (Way, 2011).

In this research, we seek to investigate whether students interpret disciplinary policies differently when they are administered by staff and teachers of similar or different races.  As school faculty and staff more closely represent students by race, we expect that students will interpret the school environment as being more just and respectful. We expect that this process will occur because of symbolic representation, where students will perceive the actions of teachers and administrators of the same race as more legitimate (Pitkin, 1967).

Recent research in representative bureaucracy has demonstrated the role of symbolic representation while investigating citizens’ perceptions of the legitimacy of the activities of the police and of the staff within the Department of Veterans Affairs (Theobald and Haider-Markel, 2008; Riccucci et al., 2014; Gade and Wilkins, 2012). We build on this previous research by examining these effects within the education context and by considering how the effects of symbolic representation may vary across organizational environments.

We will rely on school level data from the New York City Student Survey and the Civil Rights dataset from the U.S. Dept. of Education for the 11-12 school year. These datasets will provide us with information about student attitudes towards teachers and staff and about the disciplinary actions undertaken in schools. Our disciplinary data includes information about the disciplinary actions assigned within each school and the degree of disparity in the rate in which these actions are assigned to members of different racial groups. We will rely on this data while estimating a number of multi-variate models, examining whether representation moderates the relationship between disciplinary assignments and perceptions of legitimacy for students generally, whether these effects vary across racial groups, and whether the influence of representations depends on the mix of disciplinary actions (harsh actions vs. more rehabilitative types of discipline) present within schools.

We expect that this research will help us to better understand the effects of disciplinary sanctions on the school environment.