Race and Discipline in Schools(Draft 2)


(This is the second draft of a research essay I’m writing for my English Comp 1 class and I would like to know what people think about it.)

When it comes to discipline in schools there are some who think it’s about race or sex but that is only the gist of the problem because it goes deeper than just the color of a person’s skin. There are other reasons why school districts have the discipline policies that they have and as a result curtain students suffer under them when they’re enforced. I think one the reasons is that parents want schools to do more than what’s needed of them so school administrators tend to make discipline policies that are far too broad and could never be enforced fairly in the long run. Then it comes down to where the school is located in regards to the income of the parents because if something happens at a school located in a high income area there is a parent home who can confront the school about the situation and it is usually handled quickly but if a school is located in a lower income area then both parents are more than likely working long hours and can’t confront the school about a situation so it’s not handled right away until it becomes a major problem.

The major problem I have with zero tolerance policies for discipline in schools is that it is a major contributor to the school to prison pipeline which isn’t as bad as it was in the 90’s but it’s still a problem in low income schools as most students that get in trouble in school are more likely to have problems with law enforcement as many school discipline policies tend to normalize incarceration because according to a Frontline documentary titled “Prison State” which takes a look at the cycle of incarceration in America as well as one state’s effort to try and reverse the trend. In the documentary they claim that people from low income communities are more likely to go to schools with zero tolerance policies as well as having know someone or have someone in their family who have been arrested or have been to jail. In the documentary Michelle Alexander an Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University states “In these communities where incarceration has become so normalized, the system operates practically from cradle to grave. When you’re born, your parent has likely already spent time in behind bars. You’re likely to attend schools that have zero tolerance policies, where police officers patrol the halls, where disputes with teachers are treated as criminal infractions, where a schoolyard fight results in your first arrest. You find at a very, very young age, even the smallest infractions are treated as criminal.” I can agree with that quote because it’s true that schools in low income or high minority populations the schools are basically in my opinion small prisons because as another person in the documentary Mark Bolton states “We’ve gone through just an explosion of jail and prison construction in this country, coasting us billions and billions of dollars to build, and another billions and billions of dollars to operate.” after hearing this it made me think that something needs to be done differently when it comes to crafting school discipline policies.

In another article I read titled “Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Differences in School Discipline among U.S. High School Students: 1991-2005” written by John M. Wallace, Jr., Ph.D. where he writes about the a study he did that was about the racial, ethnic, and gender differences in school discipline in the study he writes, “School-based zero tolerance policies are rooted historically in federal drug policies designed to deter drug trafficking through immediate, harsh, and legally mandated punishments (Verdugo, 2002).” that is something I think that schools shouldn’t be doing at all while schools are not doing this intentionally they need to really look at their discipline policies before they make them official because many students that get in trouble for breaking such policies without even knowing because the student handbooks they bring home are sometimes 30 pages or more and most students don’t read the handbook most times they just throw them in the trash so many parents never even see the handbook with the school’s discipline policy written in it. In the article John M. Wallace also states that “Virtually every study that has examined racial differences in school discipline has found that Black youth are more likely than White youth to be suspended and to be expelled (The Civil Rights Project/Advancement Project, 2000). Beyond this consistent finding, however, there are at least four important areas related to racial and ethnic differences in school discipline that past research has not addressed adequately.” I agree with this because many studies have an agenda or are only interested in appealing to people who share their views on the subject. John M. Wallace goes on to explain each of the four areas that studies tend to leave out being “One important topic that relatively little research has examined is the extent to which there are racial or ethnic differences in less severe school disciplinary practices that might precede serious disciplinary measures like suspension and expulsion. Beginning to address this gap in the literature, a recent study of 19 middle schools in a large Midwestern public school district found that Black youth were referred to the office more often than White youth (Skiba et al., 2002). Interestingly, the reasons that Black and White youth were sent to the office were different, with Black students being sent to the office for more subjective reasons like “disrespect” and “perceived threat” while White students were more likely to be referred for more objective reasons that included smoking, vandalism, and leaving school without permission. The results of the study led the authors to conclude that differences in Black and White youths’ rates of suspension are due, in large part, to disproportionate office referrals (Skiba et al., 2002). In light of the limited body of research on racial and ethnic differences in minor disciplinary practices (e.g., office referrals) and the potential importance of minor disciplinary practices as “gateways” to suspension, these practices are an important topic for additional research. A second area of research that past research has failed to address adequately is the extent to which other racial or ethnic groups besides Black youth are also more likely than White youth to receive school disciplinary actions. One of the few studies to examine school discipline for other groups of young people used data from 1996-1997 on suspension among White, Black, and Hispanic students from 142 schools from a school district in west central Florida (Raffaele Mendez & Knoff, 2003). The study reported that Hispanic students were more likely than White students to be suspended but less likely than Blacks to be suspended (Raffaele Mendez & Knoff, 2003). The only national study on racial and ethnic differences in disciplinary disproportionality that we were able to find examined parents’ reports of whether their 7th -12th grade child had been suspended or expelled. The study found that suspension and expulsion rates were highest among American Indian (38%) and Black (35%) students, at an intermediate level among Hispanic students (20%) and lowest among White (15%) and Asian American (13%) students (Hoffman & Llagas, 2003).

A third important under-investigated topic in the relationship between school discipline and race and ethnicity concerns changes in the application of disciplinary practices over time. Recent research suggests that exclusionary disciplinary practices have been used with increasing frequency, at least since the broad implementation of school-based zero-tolerance policies in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, to our knowledge, no study has examined explicitly trends in school disciplinary practices over time, or across racial and ethnic groups (see Raffaele Mendez, Knoff, & Ferron, 2002).

A fourth important issue that past research has not explored adequately is the extent to which key socio-demographic variables, potentially confounded with race and ethnicity, act to either moderate or mediate the relationship between race and ethnicity and school discipline. A moderator is a variable that influences the strength of the relationship between two variables; a mediator is a variable that explains the relationship between two variables. Although there are differences in the specific findings, some previous studies suggest that gender may moderate the relationship between school discipline and race; that is, the strength of the relationship between school discipline and race may vary, depending upon students’ gender. For example, some authors have found that Black males have the highest suspension rates, followed by White males, Black females, and White females (Skiba et al., 2002), whereas others find that Black females’ rates are higher than White males’ and females’ (e.g., Raffaele Mendez & Knoff, 2003). Given the lack of consistency in the findings of the relationships between gender and racial and ethnic differences, further research is merited.” When you take those areas into account it becomes clearer that something different needs to be done when schools are writing their discipline policies which brings me to the conclusion that a teacher’s expectations may also lead to how schools craft their discipline policies.

       According to an article written by Rebecca Kline titled “Teachers Expect Less From Black and Latino Students” where she states that “But teachers had lower expectations for disadvantaged students and students of color, the researchers found. Teachers thought a college degree was 47 percent less likely for African-American students than for white peers, and 53 percent less likely for low-income students than for students from more affluent families. Teachers thought Hispanic students were 42 percent less likely than white students to graduate from college, the study found.” If this is true for student performance academically then the same could be said for how some teachers may expect some students to get in trouble. There may be students that could internalize that if a teacher thinks they’re trouble they might as well be trouble while some may want to prove them wrong about their expectations about their actions. I bring this up because sometimes teachers if they have had student’s sibling in their class who had gotten in trouble in the class the teacher may think that the sibling of their last student may act the same way I know this because I’ve had some of the same teachers as my older brother and many of them thought I would act or be just like him and I wasn’t but they expected that I was just like him.

      School discipline policies are not intentionally bias towards minority students but they are not crafted the same for all schools as each school is different and serves different racial and ethnic groups and many times schools are just crafting policies based on what administrators have to work with. One of the way I would like schools to craft their discipline policies is to ask the community they serve for suggestions on how to deal with infractions or students who get in trouble they could even ask the students who will be attending the school on what kind of punishments should be handed out for breaking the rules. Doing those things would improve the way schools discipline policies are shaped.

Works Cited

“Prison State.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Klein, Rebecca. “Teachers Expect Less From Black And Latino Students.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/07/pygmalion-effect-study_n_5942666.html>.

“School-to-Prison Pipeline.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. <https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline&gt;

Wallace, John M. et al. “Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Differences in School Discipline among U.S. High School Students: 1991-2005.” The Negro educational review 59.1-2 (2008): 47–62. Print.

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