Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline: Implicit Bias is Heavily Implicated

by Tom Rudd

Feb 1, 2014

This issue brief shows that zero-tolerance policies that mandate automatic disciplinary consequences are applied unevenly across racial and ethnic groups, contributing to the disproportionality problem and creating risks of other negative life outcomes, such as higher drop-out rates, lower academic achievement, incarceration later in life and all of their collateral results.
  • Research suggests that Black students as young as age five are routinely suspended and expelled from schools for minor infractions like talking back to teachers or writing on their desks.
  • Contrary to the prevailing assumption that African American boys are just getting "what they deserve" when they are disciplined, research shows that these boys do not "act out" in the classroom any more than their White peers.
  • The problem of racial and ethnic disproportionality in school discipline is not new. In 1975, in one of the earliest investigations of school disciplinary policies and practices, the Children's Defense Fund revealed that suspension rates for African American students were between two and three times higher than those for White students.
  • Racialized disproportionality in the administration of school discipline is now a national crisis. In January of 2014, The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights issued a national 'guidance' to assist public elementary and secondary schools in meeting their obligations under Federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • To ensure compliance with the provisions of the Guidance, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice will investigate complaints of bias in the application of school discipline and both departments will conduct compliance reviews nationwide.