Students in segregated school systems are less likely to experience harsh disciplinary action if their teachers reflect their racial makeup, according to new research out of the Andrew Young School. This finding may be particularly important to schools with large African American populations.
“Literature has shown over and over that African American students are disciplined more harshly. Punitive disciplinary measures, such as out-of-school suspensions, are more likely to be used in areas that are more segregated and in areas with more African American students,” said study co-author Christine Roch, an associate professor of public management and policy.
“We looked at segregation at the district level using an index that measures racial distribution across geographic areas,” Roch said. “We were looking at the communities the schools are embedded in rather than the schools themselves.” Their study uses data from the Georgia Department of Education and the U.S. Census.
“Representative bureaucracy” – the idea that those with authority better serve their community if they are racially representative of them – may influence discipline techniques, Roch said. “There has been a lot of research done with representative bureaucracy and discipline. Our contribution is in considering the segregation of school systems, using those racial contexts to study representative bureaucracy and how that influences discipline in schools.
“With teachers that are racially representative of their students, we found we’re more likely to see a decrease in the amount of out-of-school suspensions among students, particularly in areas with increased segregation, possibly because race is more noticeable in those communities.”
In the paper Representative Bureaucracy and the School Discipline: The Influence of School’s Racial Contexts, Roch and co-author Jason Edwards (Ph. D. ’15) define punitive discipline as anything that takes students out of the school setting. This method is less desirable when there are alternative discipline techniques that could keep students in school and focused on their studies.
Roch described what happens in these schools as active representation.
“Passive representation occurs when people are able to represent other individuals, so we have teachers representing their students. However, active representation occurs when people act differently as they represent students, often because they share the same values or goals,” she explained.
Roch also cautioned that data from the school district level cannot account for what is happening at the individual level of the teacher or student. “When we’re thinking about discipline, there are a lot of factors that influence behavior. All we can see is the school level, and we can only guess what is going on individually.”
Download the full paper at https://arp.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/06/01/0275074015589126.full.pdf+html.