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Black Students ‘Face Racial Bias’ in School Discipline
Black student in class with his hand raised.

By Nick Morrison, Contributor

FORBES and Excerpt

Racial bias may be to blame for the greater disciplinary problems black students face at school, according to a new study.

Previous studies have shown black students are more likely than their white peers to fall foul of school disciplinary procedures, and face poorer life outcomes as a result.

Now a groundbreaking study has for the first time linked the greater likelihood of black students being punished at school with levels of racial bias in the surrounding community.

Black students are almost four times as likely to be suspended from school as white students, almost three times as likely to be removed from the classroom but kept within school, and almost three times as likely to be expelled.

They are also almost three times as likely to be referred to police for an incident on the school grounds, and three-and-a-half times as likely to be arrested for an incident either on school grounds or during school activities.

Disciplinary actions are associated with a range of negative life outcomes, including involvement in the criminal justice system.

Now researchers at Princeton University have conducted a large-scale study to examine the role of racial bias in school discipline. Using data covering 32 million students in 96,000 K-12 schools across the U.S., they found that the discipline gap between black and white students was larger in counties with more racial bias.

The researchers used both explicit – self-reported – and implicit – looking at associations with people of different races – measures of bias, with data from 1.6 million respondents, for the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their analysis found that explicit bias was consistently associated with larger racial disparities in school discipline. Although there was also a link between implicit bias and disciplinary disparities, it was less pronounced.

The disparities were also more strongly pronounced in Northeast counties than in the South, although they still existed in the South.

The researchers performed the same analysis using sexuality bias but found no meaningful correlation, suggesting the disciplinary gap was specific to racial bias.

They acknowledged that it was impossible to definitively establish a causal link between racial bias and disciplinary disparities, but said the conclusion that explicit bias predicted the disciplinary gap chimed with previous research on the differences.

“Our research joins a wealth of other findings suggesting that racial bias is contributing to disciplinary disparities,” said Stacey Sinclair, co-lead author of the study and professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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