DUPRI Seminar Series
Duke University Population Research Institute Presents Jayanti Owens, Assistant Professor, Brown University. "What Drives Racial/Ethnic Disparities in School Discipline?"
Additional Comments: School suspension and expulsion predict lower school achievement, higher school dropout, and greater interaction with the criminal justice system. Black and Latinx students are respectively 3.2 and 1.3 times more likely than White students to be suspended or expelled. Nonetheless, the causes of these racial/ethnic gaps in discipline remain unclear, due largely to challenges from non-random student sorting into schools/classrooms and difficult-to-observe variation in student behaviors, discipline histories, and classroom situational cues. This study uses an original video vignette experiment with roughly 1,000 U.S. teachers, each linked to administrative data on their school’s characteristics, to disentangle for the first time the roles of three widely-supported mechanisms of Black-White and Latinx-White gaps in school discipline. Tested mechanisms include: 1) between-school sorting (i.e., non-white students disproportionately attend majority-minority and economically disadvantaged schools, which are more punitive to all students), 2) differential behavior perceptions (i.e., comparable behaviors are perceived as worse with non-White vs. White students), and; 3) differential treatment/support (i.e., non-White students are sanctioned more harshly or provided less support for comparable behaviors). (A fourth mechanism, behavior differences, has also been proposed but has gained limited empirical support in prior research and thus is not the focus of the present study.) Findings reveal that between-school sorting plays the largest role in explaining racial disparities in discipline: if White students were to equally attend disadvantaged and minority schools, they would experience similarly high rates of school discipline as Black and Latinx students. Differential behavior perceptions and differential treatment/support also gain some empirical support.