Racial Gaps in School Discipline Linked to Level of Implicit Racial Bias Among Local Population

According to a new report by psychologists at Princeton University in New Jersey, there is a correlation between counties where the population has demonstrated a high-level of racial bias and large racial gaps in school discipline rates.

For their study, the researchers used data from the U.S. Department of Education on the rates of disciplinary actions broken down by race on 32 million students at nearly 96,000 schools.  The research used school discipline data on in-school school arrests, expulsions, law enforcement referrals, and in-school and out-of-school suspensions. The results showed that Black students experienced higher rates on all five disciplinary actions compared to their White peers. This was especially true for the rate of suspensions, which is nearly four times higher for Black students (13.5 percent) than White students (3.5 percent). To their surprise, the researchers found these disparities to be the most strongly pronounced among counties in the northeastern United States.

“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,” said Travis Riddle, a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton’s department of psychology.

This information on racial gaps in school discipline was compared to county-level information from Project Implicit, a nonprofit organization that collects data about people’s implicit biases using a internet-based survey. Their data included survey responses from 1.6 million people in 3,100 American counties.

When researchers compared the racial gaps in school discipline to the level of implicit racial bias among the population of a county as measured by the Project Implicit internet survey, a direct correlation was found.

“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,” Dr. Riddle said.

The report, “Racial Disparities in School-Based Disciplinary Actions Are Associated With County-Level Rates of Racial Bias,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.


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  1. Theodora Rapp Graham says:

    As a founding editor of a journal (in 1974 & still continuing), I’m
    impressed with what you’ve accomplished. Wish you good luck with your
    endeavors. It’s a tough job!

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