search cancel cancel-medium

What are the Sources of School Discipline Disparities by Student Race and Family Income?

A policy brief by Nathan Barrett, Andrew McEachin, Jonathan N. Mills, and Jon Valant on differences in suspension rates and durations by race and family income in the state of Louisiana.

Policy Brief Cover

What are the Sources of School Discipline Disparities by Student Race and Family Income?

by Nathan Barrett, Andrew McEachin, Jonathan N. Mills, Jon Valant

Download Technical Report

In the Unit­ed States, low-income stu­dents and stu­dents of col­or are sus­pend­ed and expelled from school at much high­er rates than their peers. These dis­par­i­ties are con­cern­ing both because of what caus­es the dis­par­i­ties (e.g., var­i­ous types of dis­crim­i­na­tion) and because exclu­sion­ary dis­ci­pline prac­tices are at least cor­re­lat­ed with numer­ous neg­a­tive out­comes for stu­dents. In this study, we exam­ine dif­fer­ences in sus­pen­sion rates and dura­tions by race and fam­i­ly income in the state of Louisiana. Our key find­ings are: Black stu­dents are about 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. Dis­ci­pline dis­par­i­ties are large for both vio­lent and non­vi­o­lent infrac­tions. Dis­par­i­ties in sus­pen­sion rates are evi­dent with­in schools (black and low-income stu­dents are sus­pend­ed at high­er rates than their same-school peers) and across schools (black and low-income stu­dents dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly attend schools with high sus­pen­sion rates). While across-dis­trict dif­fer­ences account for a small por­tion of the dis­par­i­ties, with­in-school and across-school dif­fer­ences each account for a siz­able share of the dis­par­i­ties. Black and low-income stu­dents receive longer sus­pen­sions than their peers for the same types of infrac­tions. For fights involv­ing one white stu­dent and one black stu­dent, black stu­dents receive slight­ly longer sus­pen­sions than white stu­dents. The dif­fer­ence is about one addi­tion­al sus­pen­sion day for every 20 fights. This dis­par­i­ty is evi­dent even after account­ing for stu­dents’ pri­or dis­ci­pline records, back­ground char­ac­ter­is­tics, and school attend­ed. Assess­ing the pres­ence of direct dis­crim­i­na­tion by schools, which occurs when schools pun­ish stu­dents of dif­fer­ent back­grounds dif­fer­ent­ly for the same behav­ior, is a fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge for research on stu­dent dis­ci­pline and requires many assump­tions. Researchers typ­i­cal­ly can­not observe stu­dents’ true behav­iors — only the records that result when schools write up stu­dents for an infrac­tion. We exam­ine the pun­ish­ments that occur after inter­ra­cial fights, which we believe pro­vides a cred­i­ble check for the exis­tence of direct dis­crim­i­na­tion in cas­es where stu­dents behave sim­i­lar­ly. Giv­en that we find that direct dis­crim­i­na­tion occurs in this con­text, with a black and white stu­dent receiv­ing dif­fer­ent pun­ish­ments for the same exact inci­dent, it seems like­ly that direct dis­crim­i­na­tion would occur where dis­ci­pline dis­par­i­ties are less vis­i­ble. More broad­ly, this study helps bet­ter explain the sources of dis­ci­pline dis­par­i­ties and there­fore pro­vides a use­ful basis for iden­ti­fy­ing solutions.

Related Publications