New School Study Shows Black Kids Get Cops, White Kids Get Docs

Daily Beast

A new study says black students are more likely to get criminalized discipline, while white students receive medical intervention.

In the midst of rising racial tension nationwide, new data on school discipline is bolstering the argument that America’s race problem begins in school.

The study, published in the Sociology of Education, found underprivileged schools with higher levels of black students more likely to use “criminalized” discipline than “medicalized.” Data from 60,000 schools in 6,000 schools districts was gathered for the study, making it one of the largest on this topic to date.

David Ramey—assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State and the author of the study—has spent years researching how sociological factors affect schools’ modes of punishment. Even when the level of misbehavior is the same, he says, the treatment is not. “White kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem,” he says. “Black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn.”

Ramey is clear about the distinction between the two disciplinary styles. Criminalized discipline revolves around penalizing the student, using concrete things like suspension, expulsion, or referral to law enforcement. Medicalized is distinctly more benign, searching for solutions through medical attention or psychological intervention.

The deeper implications of Ramey’s results are troubling. Misbehavior from black students is seen as a crime that warrants punishment; misbehavior from whites is a malady that needs medicine.

The American Civil Liberties Union refers to this issue as the "school-to-prison pipeline" (STTP): “a nationwide system of local, state, and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system.” Dwindling resources, pressure to bring in high test scores, and increased caution from school shootings are all cited as contributing factors.

Statistics on their information page echo the results of Ramey’s study. Black students with learning disabilities are three times more likely to be suspended than white students with learning disabilities, and four times more likely to end up in correctional facilities. In 2000, black students represented only 17 percent of national public school enrollment but accounted for 34 percent of suspensions.

To read more about the disparaties outlined in the Sociology of Education report click here: New School Study Shows Black Kids Get Cops, White Kids Get Docs