Panel Paper: Different Treatment and Disparate Impacts: Evidence on Inequities in School Discipline from a U.S. State

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 : 4:05 PM
Clement House, 5th Floor, Room 02 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gary Ritter and Kaitlin Anderson, University of Arkansas
There is much discussion in the United States media about high rates of exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions), disproportionalities in school discipline by which students in racial minority groups are punished more often, and the school to prison pipeline. According to a 2014 report from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black students represent only 15% of students across the nation, but 35% of students suspended once are Black, 44% of students suspended more than once are Black, and 36% of expelled students are Black. While these aggregate disparate disciplinary outcomes are troublesome, it is even more important that we understand more about the infractions that lead to the punishments and the differences within schools.

This paper presents a detailed descriptive look at school discipline data within a single rural state in the Southern U.S. using individual-level data. The context for this study is Arkansas, the 29th largest state in square miles and the 33rd most populous state in the country. In this study, we exploit seven years of student-level discipline data, achievement data, and demographic data from Arkansas to carefully scrutinize discipline disparities. This paper covers three main topics. First, we describe the extent to which certain subgroups of students (African American students in particular) are cited more frequently for misbehaviors and/or punished more frequently for misbehaviors. Second, we attempt to move the discussion away from making comparisons solely on outcomes and describe the extent to which certain subgroups of students are punished more frequently or severely for the same misbehaviors in the same schools. Third, we focus on one area in which disproportionalities by race are often in the unexpected direction – corporal punishment - and present a descriptive analysis on the types of schools and communities that still choose to use this type of disciplinary consequence.