Abstract: Race, Exclusionary Discipline, and Connectedness in Secondary Schools (Society for Prevention Research 24th Annual Meeting)

195 Race, Exclusionary Discipline, and Connectedness in Secondary Schools

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Pacific A (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Yolanda Anyon, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Duan Zhang, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Cynthia Hazel, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background: Growing evidence indicates that disparities in suspensions and expulsions are meaningful barriers to health equity for youth of color. In particular, disproportionate exclusionary discipline practices increase these students’ risk for dropout and involvement in the criminal justice system. However, few studies have considered whether inequitable school discipline practices have consequences for students who have not been suspended or expelled, or for youth that are not overrepresented in the school discipline system. Some prevention scientists have hypothesized that discipline disproportionalities could signal to all students that their school is not inclusive, rules are unfair, or that adults are biased (e.g. Bradshaw et al., 2010). As a result, students may become more critical and suspicious of teachers’ and administrators’ actions, while becoming less likely to interpret the behavior of school adults as caring, respectful, and encouraging. In other words, students in highly inequitable discipline contexts may feel less connected to school, thereby increasing their risk for delinquency and social-emotional maladjustment. To test this hypothesis, this study considered whether racial disproportionalities in suspensions are related to all students’ sense of school connectedness.

Methods: Data sources include survey of secondary school students (n=29,148) linked to administrative data (n=107 schools) from a large urban district. The racial composition of participants was 2% Native American, 5% Asian or Pacific Islander, 12% Black, 51% Latino, 19% White, and 11% Multiracial. Multilevel modeling was used to estimate the relationships between school-level rates of suspension for Black students and six measures of school connectedness.

Results: Controlling for race, gender, grade level, school racial composition, and the school’s overall suspension rate, analyses revealed that the suspension rate for Black youth was significantly and negatively associated with five measures of connectedness for all students: perceptions of teachers’ care (OR=.20, p<.001) and encouragement (OR=.14, p<.01); respectful treatment by school adults (OR=.12, p<.01); the availability of school adults with whom students feel comfortable discussing safety concerns (OR =.36,  p<.05); and a school climate that teaches respect for people of all backgrounds (OR=.12, p<.01).

Conclusion: Study results broaden our understanding of the possible deleterious impacts of discipline disparities. Findings suggest that all youth, not just students of color, may be harmed by racial discipline gaps. Preventive interventions that reduce discipline disproportionalities may also improve all students’ school connectedness, thereby lowering their risk for negative developmental outcomes.