Racial bias associated with disparities in disciplinary action across U.S. schools

Racial bias associated with disparities in disciplinary action across U.S. schools
Credit: Egan Jimenez, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Studies have shown that black students are subjected to higher disciplinary rates than whites, resulting in a number of negative life outcomes, including involvement in the criminal justice system.

Using federal data covering 32 million students across 96,000 K-12 schools, researchers at Princeton University investigated the degree to which in disciplinary action across the United States relates to county-level measures of .

After pairing two different sets of data—one on racial and another on disciplinary reports in schools—the researchers show that experienced higher rates of suspension, expulsion, in-school arrests and law enforcement referrals than white students. This gap was larger in counties with more racial bias.

Their results were published April 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our research joins a wealth of other findings suggesting that racial bias is contributing to disciplinary disparities," said Stacey Sinclair, a co-lead author of the study and professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "In terms of a policy fix, it's hard to say what that would be. Our particular research identifies a relationship between racial bias and disciplinary disparities, but does not specify the reasons for this relationship."

Sinclair worked with Travis Riddle, a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton's Department of Psychology, on the study. The pair combined data from the Department of Education and Project Implicit, a nonprofit organization that collects data about people's biases.

The Department of Education conducts a survey every other year, collecting data on the rates of disciplinary actions broken down by race. Project Implicit collects information about racial bias from people using the internet, including the county where the survey respondent lives.

Using a , the researchers estimated the racial bias recorded by 1.6 million respondents who visited the Project Implicit website on a county-level basis, matching those responses with the Department of Education data. The researchers used data from 2015 to 2016, analyzing a little over 3,100 counties; there are currently around 3,200 counties in the United States.

Racial bias associated with disparities in disciplinary action across U.S. schools
This map represents the “relative risk ratio” or percentage of black students who received out-of-school suspensions compared to white students. Credit: Travis Riddle, Princeton University

The researchers investigated racial bias with regard to five common disciplinary actions: in-school school arrests, expulsions, law enforcement referrals, and in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

For each disciplinary action, black students were subjected to higher rates than whites. This was especially high with suspensions; 13.46 percent of black students received out-of-school suspensions compared to 3.5 percent of white students. This is nearly four times higher for blacks than whites.

"These disciplinary outcomes can be especially damaging to students. Studies have shown that in-school arrests, for example, have been associated with increased risk of engaging in anti-social behavior, and with dropping out of school," Riddle said.

The researchers expected to see larger disciplinary disparities in the South, and while disparities existed in the South, they seemed more strongly pronounced in the Northeast, based on the counties they were able to evaluate, which didn't include every U.S. county. Given the nature of the data, it is unclear why disparities might be concentrated in these areas.

To make sure these results were specific to racial biases, the researchers performed the same analysis using sexuality bias, which Project Implicit also collects. They found no meaningful correlation between higher rates of disciplinary action and sexuality bias.

The researchers highlight the correlational nature of the study, noting they are unable to identify a cause-and-effect relationship because of the data limitations.

"It's certainly possible that racial bias is a contributing factor to these disparities. It's also possible the disparities are contributing to racial bias. Either way, our work is one piece in a larger puzzle that's increasingly pointing toward racial bias as a factor," Riddle said.

The paper, "Racial disparities in school-based disciplinary actions are associated with county-level rates of racial bias," was published April 2 in PNAS.

Explore further

Study finds racial disparities in school discipline

More information: Travis Riddle et al. Racial disparities in school-based disciplinary actions are associated with county-level rates of racial bias, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1808307116
Citation: Racial bias associated with disparities in disciplinary action across U.S. schools (2019, April 3) retrieved 23 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-racial-bias-disparities-disciplinary-action.html
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Apr 03, 2019
People who have a strong tribal identity tend to regard outsider rules and regs with disdain. They are also more apt to victimize outsiders to both strengthen their tribe while weakening competitors.

Tribalism is among the most potent of human motivators.

"Primeval man", he argued, "regarded actions as good or bad solely as they obviously affected the welfare of the tribe, not of the species". Among the living tribal peoples, he added, "the virtues are practised almost exclusively in relation to the men of the same tribe" and the corresponding vices "are not regarded as crimes" if practised on other tribes (Darwin, 1871)

-And by "Primeval man", Darwin was really referring to all of us while at the same time revealing his own tribal eurocentric bias.

The only way to reduce crime rates among the minorities is to reduce their tribal identification. A traditional way of doing this is to present competing tribes with a common enemy.

Apr 03, 2019
Unfortunately, we live under a system that thrives on tribal disparity. Politicians would rather emphasize and aggravate the tribal dynamic - internal altruism in conjunction with external animosity - rather than find common ground and compromise.

After all, democracy is based on tribalism. Group competition. It depends on the absence of reason inherent in the desire to further ones own tribe at the expense of others. It accepts the fact that tribalism is unavoidable, and seeks to capitalize on it by directing and controlling it.

But this also implies that, in order to function at all, democracy must be a rigged system, with the important decisions made beforehand and in secret, and the system manipulated to make them happen despite the selfish wishes of the majority.

Democracy is a good show but it cannot be the way the world is run. As many philos have pointed out in rare flashes of honesty, any earnest democracy will soon be corrupted and replaced by a despot.

Apr 03, 2019
One might think that trump is the rare case where the will of the people was actually able to disrupt the system. But the US has seen an enormous influx of outsiders with many different tribal identities. Presenting them with a common enemy and dire threats, whether real or contrived, is a way of getting them engaged in a system they would normally care little about.

"They're saps 'cause they risk their lives for strangers", sonny corleone says to his brother michael. "You're countrys not your blood."

-An old and effective ploy. We see the same thing during the founding of the 3rd reich. The scene in riefenstahls nazi propaganda film 'Triumph of the Will'... "Wo heisst du Kamerade? Und du?"

-The identical mechanism in that case was used to turn an entire country into an army. A tribe.

Apr 03, 2019
racial bias = neologism for widespread racism

and since racism is correlated with lower IQ, then stupidity is widespread in the USA and in some other places.

I bet if they measure IQ and racism in schools the matching would be there. West virginia, Alabama, Michigan, for example, would lead the lowest IQs.

No wait, the president represents the bright and thoughtful. Actually he does not, he represents the imbeciles, right now he might be watching porn, eating cake and tweeting hatred.

Apr 04, 2019
racial bias = neologism for widespread racism
'Racism' is a natural result of tribalism. Internal amity + external emnity. The tribes that were better at it are the ones that survived. Ie we are bred for it.
and since racism is correlated with lower IQ, then stupidity is widespread in the USA and in some other place
-See that? Youre a bigot and you dont even realize it. Or just a troll. Trolling is also a version of tribal warfare.

Apr 05, 2019
Blacks live in 80% fatherless homes today. They lack structure and discipline in their lives and as a result are 3x more likely to be involved in crime than whites or other cultures. This speaks to a lack of discipline and the folly of one-parent homes.

Apr 05, 2019
And where are all the fathers?

In prison.

Maybe you forgot.

The whippings will continue until morale improves. AKA, teh stoopit, it burnz.

Apr 08, 2019
Measuring "racial bias" is highly subjective and depends on personal definitions of racial bias. Measuring crimes committed by different racial groups is much more rigorous.

FBI crime statistics for 2017 show that 46% of violent crime was committed by whites (which includes hispanics), 44% by blacks. By ethnicity, about 5% of the violent crimes were committed by hispanics. Blacks make up roughly 12% of the total population of the U.S.. That means they commit violent crimes at a rate 3.5x the average.


As Thorium Boy pointed out, children of one-parent homes have a significantly higher incidence of crime and the black community has a disproportionate percentage of children raised by one parent.

The United States is much more racially integrated today than 50 years ago yet blacks still commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes. Racial bias does not explain this.

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