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Structural Inequality in School Discipline:Regulating Intolerance in Public Schools

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $32,000)

With the implementation of zero tolerance policies in schools, we find collateral consequences in education analogous to those of the criminal justice system. School exclusions disproportionately impact black and Hispanic students, males, students with disabilities, and LGBT youth. There is an abundance of literature documenting the adverse effects of these policies on individuals, yet we know very little about the community context of school discipline and whether zero tolerance policies have any impact on school safety. Using Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as a research site, this project draws clear parallels between movements in the criminal justice system and education in three stages: 1) an examination of how neighborhoods shape the discipline policies adopted in schools, 2) an assessment of how zero tolerance and discretionary policies impact student outcomes, with a supplemental analysis by student racial groups, and 3) a longitudinal analysis from 2000-2012 that examines whether suspensions and expulsions reduce school crime. I combine several data sources to address these three stages, including demographic data from Census and the American Community Survey, point crime data collected from local police agencies, education data from the California Department of Education and Common Core for Data, LAUSD school discipline data, and the Los Angeles School Police Department’s school crime data. School policy data are collected and coded using each school’s Student/Parent Handbook, often posted on the school website. These policies are coded as either punitive or restorative and are augmented by a detailed coding of the language of the law – as either a true zero tolerance policy or a discretionary policy – for each type of infraction to assess whether administrator discretion aids discipline disproportionality. I use logistic regression (stage 1), ordinary least squares regression (stage 2), and Poisson regression (stage 3), in accordance with the specific research question. This project offers significant contributions to the literature on zero tolerance, school safety, and discipline disproportionality. By examining how school policies vary within a single district, we gain a better understanding of how local community contexts affect schools and their discipline outcomes. Research on the effectiveness of zero tolerance on school safety is surprisingly limited. This is the first systematical study of its kind to address this important relationship, and as such, I will share my results with researchers, policymakers, educators, and all those committed to providing a safe environment to students without compromising just practices. ca/ncf
Date Created: July 17, 2016