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.

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.