Method: The sample comprised 4101 Black and White middle- and high school students who completed the School Success Profile, including information on self-reported frequency of behavior infractions at school and disciplinary consequences. Chi-square tests determined significant differences in experiences of each form of discipline between racial/ethnic groups. Binary logistic regression was used to determine the effects of demographic characteristics and behavior infractions on the odds of experiencing each form of discipline.
Results: Black students were statistically significantly more likely to experience all forms of discipline than White students, despite comprising 22% of the sample. Specifically, Black students were 40% more likely to experience a suspension and 29% more likely to receive an office referral compared to White peers, and Black boys were 432% more likely to report three or more suspensions. Black students were also significantly less likely than White students to receive non-exclusionary discipline such as teacher warnings in association with classroom misbehavior.
Conclusions and Implications: The current results are consistent with evidence demonstrating that Black students are more likely to receive exclusionary punishments and less likely to receive non-exclusionary consequences for similar behaviors compared to White students. Disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline means that Black students also disproportionately experience its negative effects such as truancy, involvement with juvenile justice, poor achievement, and increased risk of dropout. The current study also makes a unique contribution by examining racial/ethnic disparities in the odds of experiencing non-exclusionary discipline. Many studies of discipline disproportionality focus only on exclusionary practices, preventing understanding of whether such practices are part of a natural progression of consequences or given to students with little warning in response to minor infractions.
Policy implications include the elimination of zero tolerance policies and criminalization of school behavior problems to weaken the links between exclusionary discipline, involvement in the criminal justice system, and underachievement. In practice, clear school-level visions of educating diverse populations and detailed criteria for assigning discipline have been demonstrated to reduce disproportionate punishment of students of color. Fostering supportive and trusting relationships between school staff and students and increasing school belonging may help to reduce both inappropriate use of exclusionary discipline and student disengagement after discipline. Less-punitive discipline methods, like restorative justice programs, provide opportunities to hold students accountable while providing ways to positively re-engage with the school community.