To Educate or to Incarcerate

Factors in Disproportionality in School Discipline

Published in: Children and Youth Services Review, v. 70, Nov. 2016, p. 102-111

Posted on RAND.org on September 30, 2016

by Matthew L. Mizel, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Eric R. Pedersen, Joan Tucker, Brett Ewing, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

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Research Questions

  1. What individual and family factors are associated with school discipline?
  2. Do these variables interact with parents' education levels, affecting the outcome of school discipline?

The school-to-prison pipeline describes the process by which school suspension/expulsion may push adolescents into the justice system disproportionately based on race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender. The current study moves the field forward by analyzing a survey of a diverse sample of 2539 students in 10th to 12th grade in Southern California to examine how demographic, individual, and family factors contribute to disparities in office referral and suspension/expulsion. African Americans, boys, and students whose parents had less education were more likely to be suspended/expelled. Higher levels of student academic preparation for class, hours spent on homework, and academic aspiration were associated with less school discipline. Findings suggest that helping students engage in school may be protective against disproportionate school discipline.

Key Findings

  • African Americans, boys, and students whose parents had less education were more likely to be suspended/expelled.
  • Students who prepared more for their classes, spent more hours on homework, and aspired to higher academic achievement were less likely to be disciplined at school.
  • Helping students engage in school may be protective against disproportionate school discipline.

Recommendation

  • To reduce the disproportionality of school discipline, school districts could assess their disciplinary policies and change those that reinforce inequality or unfairly assess student behavior so that discipline can be applied equally regardless of background.

Research conducted by

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