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New Policy Brief Released: "What are the Sources of School Discipline Disparities by Student Race and Family Income?"

November 19, 2017

New study examines differences in suspension rates and durations by race and family income in the state of Louisiana.

A new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University examines differences in school suspension rates and durations by race and family income in the state of Louisiana from 2001-2014. These differences are notable both because of the troubling causes of discipline disparities and because of the associations between exclusionary discipline and negative outcomes for students, including lower academic achievement and greater contact with the juvenile justice system.

The study finds that black students are twice as likely as white students to be suspended, and low-income students are about 1.75 times as likely as non-low-income students to be suspended. This includes large gaps in suspension rates for both violent and nonviolent infractions, and these gaps persist after researchers account for characteristics such as students’ prior test scores and special education status.

Disparities in suspension rates are evident for students within the same school and across schools, as black and low-income students disproportionately attend schools with high suspension rates. Study co-author Nathan Barrett said, “Our research suggests that reducing discipline disparities based on race and income would require addressing both within-school and across-school disparities.”

The researchers find that black and low-income students receive longer suspensions than their peers for the same types of infractions, and even the same specific incidents. The study examines punishments resulting from fights between a black student and white student, which allows the researchers to determine whether black and white students are punished differently. They find that black students received slightly longer suspensions than white students after these fights. The difference is about one additional suspension day for every 20 fights.

Co-author Jon Valant said, “It’s extremely difficult to assess whether discriminatory school practices contribute to disparities in suspension rates. By looking at interracial fights and controlling for students’ other background characteristics, we tried to isolate cases in which it would be hard to attribute gaps to explanations other than discriminatory practices. We see small but statistically significant gaps in how black and white students are punished.”

While this study focuses on discipline disparities across Louisiana, the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has forthcoming studies examining the New Orleans school reforms’ effect on student discipline and crime participation.

This study was authored by Nathan Barrett (Education Research Alliance for New Orleans), Andrew McEachin (RAND Corporation), Jonathan Mills (University of Arkansas), and Jon Valant (Brookings Institution).