ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, black and Latino students are far more likely than their white classmates to be removed from school as punishment. These disparities have led to widespread concern about a potential "school-to-prison pipeline," in which detentions, suspensions, and expulsions ultimately lead to the overrepresentation of people of color in the nation's prisons.
Breaking the pipeline is an explicit federal priority, and on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton pledged $2 billion to help schools add counselors and reduce suspensions. "This is not just an education issue, this is a civil rights issue, and we cannot ignore it any longer," she told a Harlem audience in February 2016.
But while much has been said about the potential negative effects of exclusionary school punishment, little is known about what policymakers can do to address it. By contrast, researchers have devoted considerable attention to studying racial disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes--and there is compelling evidence that when students have a teacher of the same race, they tend to learn more at school (see "The Race Connection," research, Spring 2004).
Those findings raise a parallel question: Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?
In this study, we analyze a unique set of student and teacher demographic and discipline data from North Carolina elementary schools to examine whether being matched to a same-race teacher affects the rate at which students receive detentions, are suspended, or are expelled. The data follow individual students over several years, enabling us to compare the disciplinary outcomes of students in years when they had a same-race teacher and in years when they did not.
We find consistent evidence that North Carolina students are less likely to be removed from school as punishment when they and their teachers are the same race. This effect is driven almost entirely by black students, especially black boys, who are markedly less likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline when taught by black teachers. There is little evidence of any benefit for white students of being matched with white teachers.
Although these results are based on a single state, they should encourage efforts to promote greater diversity in the teaching workforce, which remains overwhelmingly white. In addition to offering more diverse role models at the front of the class, our findings suggest that employing more teachers of color could help minimize the chances that students of color, who trail their white peers in academic achievement, are also subjected to discipline that removes them from school.
A "Pipeline" Problem
The theory behind the "school-to-prison pipeline" concept is that black and Latino students experience harsher discipline in school than their white peers, and that these school-based experiences increase the likelihood of their eventual engagement with the criminal justice system. Indeed, a 2014 analysis of school discipline data by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found these students are overrepresented among students who experience exclusionary discipline across the country. Black children,...
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