Panel Paper: Understanding the Geographical Variation in Racial Disciplinary Gaps and Its Linkages with Racial Achievement Gaps

Saturday, November 10, 2018
McKinley - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Maithreyi Gopalan, Indiana University

Over the last few years, racial disciplinary gaps—differences in the rates of adverse disciplinary outcomes such as school suspensions and expulsions between Black/Hispanic and white students—has received significant attention as a critical educational inequality issue in the US. While five percent of white boys and two percent of white girls received one or more out-of-school suspensions annually, 18 percent of Black boys and 10 percent of Black girls; and seven percent of Hispanic boys and three percent of Hispanic girls received one or more out-of-school suspensions in AY 2013-14 comparatively (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2014; 2016). Yet, there is no consistent national-level analysis of the patterns, trends, and correlates of these racial disciplinary gaps across the country.

I estimate racial/ethnic disciplinary gaps (and their associated standard deviations) using multiple measures of school disciplinary outcomes in nearly all school districts in the United States using data from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), between 2011 and 2013. I combine this data with the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA) to examine the correlates of these racial disciplinary gaps. I explore the associations between the estimated racial disciplinary gaps and the various measures of school district characteristics available from the SEDA using a random-effects meta-analytical model (also known as precision-weighted random effect models). Finally, I use similar precision-weighted models to examine the association between racial achievement gap measures and the racial disciplinary gap measures across the districts in the country.

I show that, just like racial achievement gaps, racial disciplinary gaps also vary substantially, ranging from negative to greater than two standard deviations (SDs), across districts. However, unlike the correlates of racial achievement gaps, the extensive set of district-level characteristics, including economic, demographic, segregation, and school characteristics available from the SEDA, explain roughly just one-fifth of the geographic variation in Black-white disciplinary gaps and one-third of the variation in Hispanic-white disciplinary gaps. Most of this variation is driven by within-state variation. Disparities in the average socioeconomic conditions that minority students are exposed to explain the largest portion of the variation (17 percent of the overall variation) in racial disciplinary gaps. Finally, I also find a modest, statistically significant, positive association between racial disciplinary gaps and racial achievement gaps, even after extensive covariate adjustment. Every one SD increase in Black-white discipline gap is associated with a 0.2 SD increase in the white-Black achievement gaps across districts. The results of this analysis provide an important step forward in determining the relationship between two persistent forms of inequality that have long plagued the US education system.


United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2014). Civil rights data collection: data snapshot (school discipline). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2016). 2013-2014 Civil rights data collection: A first look. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.