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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).