Eliminating Disparities in School Discipline–Evidence Blast


March 2013


empty high school hallway

Our Evidence Blast series provides research, data, and resources to help practitioners and policymakers make important decisions about schools and students.

Discipline disparity is a growing problem in our schools. Disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions for students of color result in substantial loss of instructional time for these students. According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students are disciplined more often than their white classmates “who commit similar infractions and who have similar discipline histories”(p. 29).

Racial disparities in school discipline also exist in Northwest states, but the pattern of disparity varies. For example, Montana and Idaho were shown to have the smallest suspension gap between African American and white students, but were among eight states in the nation with the highest suspension rates for Native American students (Losen & Gillespie, 2012).

To create What We Know about Reducing Disproportionate Suspension Rates for Students of Color, a literature summary for the Oregon Leadership Network Research Alliance, we examined over 8,900 articles in search of evidence of school and classroom practices that can help reduce disproportionality in discipline referrals and suspensions for middle and high school students. Yet while numerous studies described the problem of disproportionate rates of suspensions, only a handful examined potential solutions. We identified the following school or classroom characteristics as statistically associated with lower suspension rates for students of color:

  • Positive, caring teacher-student relationships
  • High academic, social, and behavioral expectations for students
  • Structured school and classroom environments
  • Parental involvement
  • Teacher and student resources
  • Preventative and proactive school discipline practices
  • Social and emotional learning

Given the lack of evidence available, practitioners and policymakers should use caution interpreting these findings, and seek to rigorously evaluate practices they are implementing in their schools, districts, and states.

Watch the video below to see members of the Oregon Leadership Network Research Alliance further discuss these findings:

Research and Data Resources

This is a sampling of publicly available research and resources documenting discipline disparity and practices associated with reducing disciplinary actions. (Much of the research on this topic is available only from peer-reviewed journals.) For customized literature searches on this or other topics that include searching peer-reviewed research, please contact Jennifer Klump, Ask A REL Reference Desk librarian.

Preventing Disciplinary Exclusions of Students from American Indian/Alaska Native Backgrounds

This report by University of Oregon researchers presents 2009-2010 data on disciplinary exclusions in schools and juvenile incarcerations from one state to demonstrate that American Indian/Alaska Native students: (a) are disproportionately overrepresented in disciplinary exclusions from the classroom, (b) lose 4.5 times as many student days as white students due to disciplinary exclusions, and (c) are removed to alternative education for relatively minor offenses.

U.S. Department of Education (ED) Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC)

The CRDC collects data from a sample of school districts on key education and civil rights issues including student enrollment and educational programs and services data, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency (LEP), and disability. Disaggregated data on discipline includes in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and expulsion under zero-tolerance policies. The CRDC is a longstanding and important aspect of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. This information is also used by other ED offices as well as policymakers, researchers, and others in the education community.

Featured Technical Assistance Providers

Region X Equity Assistance Center

Operated by Education Northwest, the Region X Equity Assistance Center (EAC) is one of 10 federally funded centers that promotes educational equity and access through high-quality training and technical assistance and dissemination of resources. The center’s work focuses on assisting districts to use data to identify disparities in student outcomes and school behavioral practices, eliminate bullying and harassment, support English language learners and dropout prevention programs, and to increase student, parent, and community engagement. Region X consists of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Territory of American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Territory of Guam, Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap), Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. The Region X EAC collaborates with the Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, and the Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice to provide assistance to districts and State Education Agencies in the region to ensure compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws and to protect the civil rights of all students.

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

The mission of the OCR is to guarantee equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR also provides technical assistance to help institutions achieve voluntary compliance with the civil rights laws that OCR enforces. OCR works to ensure that has that students are not disciplined more severely or frequently because of their race, color, or national origin.

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities Section

The Civil Rights Division enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status, and national origin. The Educational Opportunities Section enforces Federal anti-discrimination laws and court decisions in cases involving elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. This division represents the OCR in cases and lawsuits alleging discrimination.

The Evidence Blast is just one way Education Northwest (EdNW) provides research-based information to our region. Since our inception, EdNW has been transforming research into practical tools educators and policymakers can use to improve teaching and learning. In addition to helping clients collect and interpret meaningful data, we provide evidence-based answers to questions about practice and policy through our free Ask A REL service. Sign up to receive additional education research blasts and other news from EdNW