From the Field

How a Loss of Trust in School Discipline Affects Racial and Ethnic Minority Students

Download PDF

A student’s lack of trust that school discipline will be administered fairly can contribute to later problems with student behavior and affect the likelihood of attending four-year college, new research suggests.

In a pair of studies, researchers from University of Texas Austin, Stanford and Columbia universities found that trust in the school discipline process declined every semester of middle school, and this decline happened more quickly and strongly for African Americans  and Latino students. Racial and ethnic minority students’ decline in trust was predicted by their awareness of  of the possibility of procedural injustice at their school.

This Loss of trust by spring of seventh grade predicted African Americans’ subsequent discipline infractions and four-year college enrollment. A second study found a similar drop in trust among Latino middle school students, but didn’t follow them through graduation to assess the impact.

One bright spot was that the loss of trust was mitigated by a “wise feedback” intervention, in which teachers took time to write notes on papers that both spelled out high standards for work and conveyed their belief that the African-American students were capable of reaching those standards.