Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Researcher-Practitioner Partnership to Eliminate Racial Disparities in School Discipline

Evidence shows Black, Latino, and Native American youth are significantly more likely than their other students to be referred to administration for disciplinary action and receive out-of-school suspension or expulsion.1-5 Moreover, this type of exclusionary discipline significantly impacts these youths’ trajectories; students who have been suspended or expelled are more likely to be held back a grade, leave school, and become involved in the criminal justice system.6-8  Given these findings, DPS underwent a major policy overhaul in 2008, with the goal of reducing the use of exclusionary discipline.  The new policy encourages schools to implement proactive and preventive interventions such as restorative approaches to resolving discipline problems. Although initial evidence suggested success in reducing suspensions and expulsions, researchers discovered that racial disparities continue to exist in school discipline outcomes. To address this issue, the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver (DU) partnered with the Division of Student Services of Denver Public Schools (DPS) in fall 2012 to examine racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Over the summer of 2013, the partners submitted a proposal to the Institute of Education Science (IES) for funding to support the team’s efforts to generate new knowledge that can inform district policies and practices aimed at reducing racial disparities in exclusionary school discipline.

Research Questions and Methods

To address the aforementioned areas of inquiry, members of the partnership will focus on three major research questions:
  • What multilevel risk and protective factors contribute to racial disproportionality in office discipline referrals and exclusionary discipline sanctions?
  •  What malleable school-level factors differentiate schools with high and low racial disproportionalities in exclusionary discipline sanctions?
  •  Are student academic outcomes related to racial disproportionality in school discipline?

The researchers will primarily rely on secondary data analysis of administrative data and census tract information, including student records, school climate surveys, and school performance framework files. The sample will include all K-12 students enrolled in DPS schools between 2008 and 2014.

Future Goals

The current proposal sought funding to continue an early-stage partnership addressing racial disparities in school discipline and their prevention. In order to achieve buy-in from the varied and numerous stakeholders involved, this partnership must demonstrate that disparate disciplinary action results in disparate outcomes for both the individual student as well as overall student body outcomes. The authors propose capacity building activities to include researcher-practitioner partnership meetings, stakeholder engagement activities, advisory board meetings, and district decision-making activities. As this particular partnership moves forward, it will follow an iterative research-to practice cycle, engaging stakeholders in each stage.


Anyon, Y., Jenson, J., Altschul, I., McQueen, J., Farrar, J., Greer, E., Simmons, J., & Downing, B. Submitted to the Institute of Educational Sciences. A researcher-practitioner partnership to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline. July 2014-June 2015 (400,000)

For More Information

For a more in-depth look at the IES proposal, including researcher hypotheses and ongoing challenges, contact Dr. Yolanda Anyon.


1 Hannon, L., DeFina, R., & Bruch, S. (in press). The relationship between skin tone and school suspension for African Americans.

2 Krezmien, M. P., Leone, P. E., & Achilles, G. M. (2006). Suspension, race, and disability: Analysis of statewide practices and reporting. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14, 217-226.

3 Payne, A. A., & Welch, K. (2010). Modeling the effects of racial threat on punitive and restorative school discipline practices. Criminology, 48, 1019.

4 Skiba, R. J., Horner, R. H., Chung, C.-G., Rausch, M. K., May, S. L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40, 85-107.

5 Wallace Jr, J. M., Goodkind, S., Wallace, C. M., & Bachman, J. G. (2008). Racial, ethnic, and gender differences in school discipline among us high school students: 1991-2005. The Negro Educational Review, 59, 47.

6 Fabelo, T., Thompson, M. D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks III, M. P., & Booth, E. A. (2011). Breaking schools' rules: A statewide study of how school discpline relates to students' success and juvenile justice involvement. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center and The Public Policy Research Institute of Texas A&M University.

7 Rausch, M. K., Skiba, R. J., & Simmons, A. B. (2004). The academic cost of discipline: The relationship between suspension/expulsion and school achievement. Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, School of Education, Indiana University.

8 Skiba, R. J., Simmons, A., Staudinger, L., Rausch, M., Dow, G., & Feggins, R. (2003). Consistent removal: Contributions of school discipline to the school-prison pipeline. Paper presented at the School to Prison Pipeline Conference, Boston, MA.

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