We are an independent, solution-oriented think tank at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.Learn More.

New Evidence on Racial Disparities in School Discipline

Racial and ethnic disparities in school suspensions have been well documented in education research. In a new Journal of Urban Economics paper, authors Jing Liu of University of Maryland College Park, Michael S. Hayes of Rutgers University, and Seth Gershenson of American University take a step further, looking at referrals for disciplinary action and how often those referrals turn into suspensions. Again, Black and Hispanic students receive harsher discipline than their White counterparts, the study found.

Using administrative data from a large and diverse urban school district in California, the researchers found that Black and Hispanic students were more likely to be referred to administrators for infractions than their White peers, and more likely to be suspended because of those referrals. This was true even when their White counterparts were referred for the same incident and had similar disciplinary history. The disparities were largely at the high school level and involved more serious incidents.

Overall, Black students were more than five times as likely to be referred and seven times more likely to be suspended in a single year than White peers. The gap between Hispanic and White students was smaller but still significant, the researchers found.  The analysis found that racial disciplinary practices varied by grade level, with disparities higher for Hispanic students in high school and slightly higher for Asian students in elementary schools.

The research highlights the need for educators to continue working to reduce racial bias in decisions affecting school discipline.

-Robert Nishimwe