Discipline Disparities

Discipline disparities refer to instances when students who belong to specific demographic groups (e.g., race/ethnicity, sex, disability status) are subjected to particular disciplinary actions disproportionately—at a greater rate than students who belong to other demographic groups (e.g., Black males are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than White and Asian males).

Discipline disparities also refer to differences in the type of disciplinary action taken against a student. Research has demonstrated that students who belong to specific demographic groups are more likely to face harsh (e.g., corporal punishment) or exclusionary (e.g., out-of-school-suspension) discipline compared to students who belong to other demographic groups even when committing similar offenses and/or exhibiting minor (e.g., coming to school out of dress code) or subjective behaviors (e.g., talking back).

  • General Info
  • Strategies & Practices
  • Tools
  • On The Ground
  • Other
General Info: 

Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement

(2011) Council of State Governments Justice Center in partnership with the Public Policy Research Institute, Texas A&M University

This landmark study, with support from Texas leaders, is informative for not only Texas but also other jurisdictions in which stakeholders seek to understand specific school discipline issues. One of the study’s findings is that minorities and students with specific disabilities disproportionately receive disciplinary actions that remove them from class.

The Achievement Gap and the Discipline Gap: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

(2010) Anne Gregory, Russell J. Skiba, and Pedro A. Noguera

This paper says evidence does not exist that racial differences in misbehavior cause the racial discipline gap. The authors’ analyses reveal White students tended to receive disciplinary office referrals for behavior that can be observed more objectively—e.g., smoking, vandalizing, leaving class without permission, making obscene comments—while Black students compared with White students were more likely to receive disciplinary office referrals for behaviors that can be interpreted more subjectively (e.g., disrespecting, threating, making excessive noise).

Revealing New Truths About Our Nation’s Schools

(2012) Office for Civil Rights, The Transformed Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC)

This summary report reveals two types of discipline disparities: 1) in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, African-American and Hispanic students disproportionately were expelled, and 2) African-American and Hispanic students comprised the majority of students who encountered more severe discipline—school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement.

Suspended Education Urban Middle Schools in Crisis

(2010) The Civil Rights Project at UCLA in partnership with The Equity Project, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Indiana University

This report reveals that great disparities, by race and gender, especially for Black male youth, exist in rates of suspension and removal from learning opportunities. It says these high rates are even more disturbing since it does not find data that out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are effective.

Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School

(2012) Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA

This report presents data analyses by race, gender, and/or disability status and reveals, in most of its districts, it is clear which students have the highest risk for suspension.

Colorado Disciplinary Practices, 2008-2010: Disciplinary Actions, Student Behaviors, Race, and Gender

(2012) National Education Policy Center (NEPC)

This study reports that while most disciplinary actions were discretionary, American Indian, Black, and Latino students faced discipline at much high rates, especially out-of-school suspensions—the most common discipline across schools, on average. This study also finds disproportionate discipline not only by race but also by race in combination with gender.

Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice

(2011) National Education Policy Center

This policy brief reviews literature and data on disparities in school discipline, including disparities by not only race but gender and disability status. It reviews the negative impact on students and their families and recommends the need for reform.

Disparities in School Discipline Move Students of Color Toward Prison

(2012) Center for American Progress

This article explains discipline disparities reflect the first step for the disproportionate number of minority students along the school-to-prison pipeline to incarceration.

Keeping California’s Kids in School: Fewer Students of Color Missing School for Minor Misbehavior

(2013) Center for Civil Rights Remedies

This report addresses trends in rates of out-of-school suspensions in California.

Legal and Justice Center: New Report on Suspensions and Racial Disparities

The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and the Legal Aid Justice Center have partnered on a new report documenting the scope of racial disparities in school suspension in Virginia.

Strategies & Practices: 

Discipline, Achievement, & Race: Is Zero Tolerance the Answer?


This book chapter incorporates field-based wisdom from school leaders about shortcomings of a zero tolerance approach, and summarizes some promising alternatives.

Tools: 

Racial Disparities Toolkit Materials

Padres and Jóvenes Unidos

This website includes a list of “racial disparities toolkit materials”.

A Toolkit for Community Leaders 

This is a toolkit, for any community, of key lessons from the Safe Schools/Health Students Initiative.

Tools for Achieving Fair Discipline: A Guide for Parents, Youth, Community Members, and Advocates who want Equality and Fairness in School Discipline

ACLU of Northern California

https://www.aclunc.org/sites/default/files/tools_for_achieving_fair_discipline.pdf

http://www.fixschooldiscipline.org/toolkit/#

On the Ground: 

School Discipline and Disparate Impact

(2011) United States Commission on Civil Rights

Due to its state legislature’s mandate, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools made some changes in out-of-school suspensions and required schools to incorporate positive behavioral interventions and supports. So far, reports show the new policies have decreased discipline disparities noticeably.

States Share Solutions to Racial Disparities in School Discipline

(2012) School Safety Partners

This article cites several jurisdictions that have decreased suspension rates and that aim to decrease discipline disparities.

Delaware District Agrees to Address Disparate Discipline Practices

(2012) Education Week

This article summarizes the resolution agreement that Christina School District in Delaware agreed to take to address discipline disparities.

African American Disproportionality in School Discipline: The Divide Between Best Evidence and Legal Remedy

(2009) Russell J. Skiba, Suzanne E. Eckes, Kevin Brown

This paper reviews research on school discipline, racial disparities in particular, and the absence of court-accepted legal strategies to address this issue.