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Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Punishment Gap: School Suspension and Racial Disparities in Achievement

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
February 10, 2016

Edward Morris and Brea Perry's new study of the connection between discipline practices and the racial achievement gap is a must read.

The abstract offers this summary:

"While scholars have studied the racial “achievement gap” for several decades, the mechanisms that produce this gap remain unclear. In this article, we propose that school discipline is a crucial but under-examined factor in achievement differences by race.

Using a large hierarchical and longitudinal data set comprised of student and school records, we examine the impact of student suspension rates on racial differences in reading and math achievement. This analysis—the first of its kind—reveals that school suspensions account for approximately one-fifth of black-white differences in school performance.

The findings suggest that exclusionary school punishment hinders academic growth and contributes to racial disparities in achievement. We conclude by discussing the implications for racial inequality in education."

* * * * *

"Racial disparities in educational achievement are one of the most important sources of American inequality. Racial inequalities in adulthood in areas as diverse as employment, incarceration, and health can be traced to unequal academic outcomes in childhood and adolescence (Belfield and Levin 2007).

While the racial “achievement gap” has been consistently documented over several decades, scholars are still working to understand the mechanisms that produce this gap (Jencks and Phillips 1998Magnuson and Waldfogel 2008). In this article, we propose that school discipline is a crucial, under-examined factor in achievement differences by race.

Though large racial disparities in discipline exist, this pattern has never been empirically examined as an explanation of racial gaps in school performance. This article presents evidence that exclusionary school punishment may hinder academic growth and contribute to racial inequalities in achievement.

Using detailed data from school records and controlling for a host of school and non-school factors, we confirm that minority students are more likely to be suspended. Moreover, using variance decomposition methods that isolate within-student trajectories, we show that suspension is associated with significantly lower achievement growth across time.

Finally, we conduct the first comprehensive analysis of suspension as an explanation for the racial gap in achievement. This analysis reveals that school suspensions account for approximately one-fifth of black-white differences in school performance, demonstrating that exclusionary discipline may be a key driver of the racial achievement gap.

We suggest that the escalation of exclusionary discipline in schools can result in severe academic consequences for minority students."

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