The Discipline Gap and Social Equity in Schools
Friday, November 13, 2015: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Foster I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Ashlyn Nelson, Indiana University
Panel Chairs: David Oclander, Noble Network of Charter Schools
Discussants: Jason A. Grissom, Vanderbilt University
Racial disparities in school discipline outcomes have recently received tremendous attention in the popular press. For example, NPR recently presented an hour-long coverage of this issue in October 2014. Further, this issue has also received national attention as a civil rights issue. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice are actively investigating school districts for civil rights violations related to disproportionate disciplinary outcomes. Students of color disproportionately experience punitive and exclusionary disciplinary actions including detentions, in- and out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions. Nationally, 5 percent of white students receive an out-of-school suspension, as compared to 16 percent of African-American students and 29 percent of African-American boys.
There is ample evidence that the school-based discipline gap adversely affects both academic and non-academic outcomes. For example, children who experience these disciplinary actions have lower academic achievement on average. Exclusionary disciplinary policies may reduce children’s opportunity to learn and reduce the time that children spend engaged in educationally meaningful activities. In addition, race-based discrimination in school predicts declines in grades and mental health, as well as increases in the proportion of children’s friends who are disinterested in school and exhibit problem behaviors. Thus, racial disparities in punitive disciplinary actions may be may be hypothesized to exacerbate existing race-based achievement gaps.
This panel will include three papers examining various aspects of the race-based discipline gap. Collectively, these papers aim to expose potential patterns of discrimination within schools and to influence broader trends in civil rights reforms at many levels of government. The first paper, “Teacher-Student Match and Student Disciplinary Outcomes in North Carolina,” uses administrative data to empirically assess the role of teacher characteristics in determining student disciplinary actions. This question is salient because teachers serve as gatekeepers who report the severity and frequency of disciplinary actions, and research indicates that teacher race and gender can matter for minority students. Because the racial composition of the teaching workforce is vastly mismatched to the current public school student population, exploring the critical relationship between teacher demographic characteristics and student discipline outcomes is essential. The second paper, “Racial Disparities in School Disciplinary Outcomes,” uses administrative data from Indiana to examine whether the disproportionate classification of racial minorities as special education students may explain the race-based discipline gap. The paper employs panel data techniques including school and/or district fixed effects to examine whether variation in disciplinary outcomes is explained by within- versus across-school variation. The paper also employs the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition technique, which will estimate the predicted level of suspensions and expulsions for students of color if they had the same distribution of characteristics as white students (i.e., if the poverty and special education distributions of students of color within and across schools were similar to those of white students). The third paper, “Do School Discipline Policies Treat Students Fairly? Identifying Disproportionalities in Arkansas,” employs administrative data to examine the student and school characteristics that predict the type and frequency of discipline referrals a student receives.