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Black Students Less Likely to Be Disciplined by Black Teachers, Study Says

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Students are less likely to be suspended, expelled, or placed in detention by teachers who are of the same race as they are, a new study finds.

Findings from the study—to be published today in Education Next—may lend support to the idea that the implicit biases of a mostly white teacher workforce contribute to disproportionately high discipline rates for black students. The research will also likely offer further ammunition to those who have called for a more diverse pool of educators.

Researchers Constance A. Lindsay of American University and Cassandra Hart of the University of California, Davis analyzed disciplinary and demographic data from about 50,000 North Carolina teachers and one million students in 1st through 5th grades from 2008 through 2013. They compared students' disciplinary records over time, controlling for changes in characteristics like school makeup, eligibility for federally subsidized meals, and class size.

What they found: Students matched to a same-race teacher were about 1 percentage point less likely to be expelled, suspended, or assigned detention than students being taught by a different-race teacher.

"The effect of race matching is most pronounced for black male students, whose exclusionary discipline rate decreased 15 percent with a black female teacher and 18 percent with a black male teacher," according to a summary of the research.

The authors did not observe the same decrease in exclusionary discipline rates for white students with white teachers.

Thumbnail image for race of students suspension, detention, expulsionRacial Bias in School Discipline

There could be many explanations for the report's findings: Racial bias in schools may be a factor, and it's also possible that students feel more comfortable when they have a teacher of the same race, which makes them less likely to be defiant or disruptive.

As Education Week has reported before, bias can be a tough issue for schools to tackle. Many schools that rework their discipline policies see a drop in overall discipline rates, but disparities between racial groups persist.

In addition to diversifying the teaching force, researchers are working to develop interventions that can help teachers recognize and counteract their own barriers in racial and cultural understanding.


Related reading on bias in schools and discipline:

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