From the Field

Research Notes: Who Refers Whom? Teachers and Disciplinary Referrals

Research has shown consistently that Black students are suspended from school at higher rates than other students, even when committing the same offenses. A new working paper from the Annenberg Institute goes a step further, looking at patterns among teachers referring students for disciplinary action.

Researchers Michael S. Hayes from Rutgers University, Jing Liu from University of Maryland College Park, and Seth Gershenson from America University conclude that students are less likely to receive a disciplinary referral from teachers of the same race or gender than from teachers of different demographic backgrounds.

Using data collected from a large and demographically diverse urban school district in California from the 2016-17 to the 2019-20 school years, the authors also found that students are less likely to be referred by more experienced teachers who hold English language learner and special education credentials.

The authors adjusted for other variables to distill the impact of the teacher on the student’s behavior and the likelihood that the individual teacher will make a disciplinary referral in the first place. Their results are consistent with existing scholarship that students receive fewer disciplinary referrals and suspensions from same-race teachers, emphasizing the importance of teacher diversity for behavioral and academic outcomes. This study’s findings clearly demonstrate that teachers play a paramount role in creating—and reducing—inequities in student disciplinary systems.