First-Of-Its-Kind Study Shows When, How, and Why Black Students Get Disciplined At Higher Rates

First-Of-Its-Kind Study Shows When, How, and Why Black Students Get Disciplined At Higher Rates

School is back in session. As Labor Day weekend approaches, a first-of-its-kind study not only illustrates a wide gap between the disciplinary rates of Black and white students but assesses how holidays and breaks impact these rates compared to the beginning of the year.

Discipline is not static. For years, racial disparities have persisted as educators consistently exclude Black students from school at the highest rate, with more than 1 in 8 Black students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions in 2017–18. But when do these disciplinary actions occur? University professors in California have found that school discipline ebbs and flows before winter, spring, and summer breaks and rises sharply after classes resume.

Who conducted the study?

Jason Okonofua, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, connects the school district and this study. He notes that the school district “had been under a consent decree for many years for disparate impact of the Black students being more likely to get kicked out of school,” per the newsroom at Stanford Graduate School of Business. So he aims to develop solutions that help racially stigmatized youth succeed in school and reduce their risk of discipline problems and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Okonofua teamed up with coauthors Sean Darling-Hammond of the University of California, Los Angeles, Michael Ruiz of UC Berkeley, and Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford University to pen The Dynamic Nature of Student Discipline and Discipline Disparities.

The study takes a hard look at four years of data “regarding the daily disciplinary experiences of 46,964 students from 61 middle schools in one of the nation’s largest school districts”, according to the research.

When do discipline disparities occur?

The research team found that the discipline rates would rise through Labor Day leading up to the Thanksgiving break. But it just “shoots up again” right after the break. According to Eberhardt, “This pattern repeats itself after every major school break across the academic year, and we see this across all four years of the data we had access to.”

For instance, “fewer” than five students had been disciplined in the district at the start of the 2015-16 school year. By the time Halloween rolled around, 1% of all students had been formally disciplined. These patterns occur for all students across schools, grade levels, and years.

What are the discipline disparities between Black and white students?

The first day of school is met with daily discipline rates but at a disparity of 0.3 percentage points for Black and white students. That disparity rate grew to 1.2 percentage points when Labor Day came around. Around the Thanksgiving break, the gap increased by 1.9 percentage points. And these disparities would go on to widen in the subsequent months.

What are the negative effects of persistent discipline disparities?

The consequences of suspension go far beyond missing days of school and loss of learning. Students can perceive the disciplinary action as a rejection, leading to a lack of trust between students and their teachers. As a result, students are more likely to act out, perform poorly academically, experience depression, and get caught in the criminal justice system.

“Many researchers have documented that there’s an increased likelihood of ending up incarcerated, both due to just spending less time in school and more time in neighborhoods that are policed,” Okonofua said, per the news outlet. “And once they’re on that path, it’s a lifetime thing; that’s how the school-to-prison pipeline works.”

How can schools get involved?

  • Track their early-year discipline data and address any imbalances
  • Implement interventions early in the school year to boost students’ sense of belonging
  • Provide access to psychological services during school hours when discipline is on the rise
  • Offer teachers professional development focused on implicit racial biases, empathy building, and prioritizing equitable treatment

RELATED CONTENT: In 2023? Some Schools In The South Still Allow Paddling As A Form Of Student Discipline