Implications for educators and parents
By establishing a relationship between the two gaps at a national level, the research holds particular implications for school administrators, teachers and parents.
Last year the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education rescinded federal guidelines put into place in 2014 to address racial disparities in school discipline. As a result, Pearman noted, school districts’ efforts to promote more equitable discipline practices may soon wane.
“Our findings should caution against such moves,” he said, because curtailing efforts to address discipline disparities could exacerbate the achievement gap.
Pearman also advises parents, teachers and school leaders to pay attention to disparities at their child’s school. “If your district has higher suspension rates for students of color than it does for white students, it’s likely that it is also failing to meet the academic needs of its students of color as well as it does its white students,” he said. “Similarly, if your district is struggling to meet the academic needs of students of color, then it will likely have a racial discipline problem.”
Efforts targeted at closing one gap could have the indirect consequence of narrowing the other, he said.
For instance, educators might adopt ethnic studies programs and culturally relevant teaching to alleviate achievement disparities—efforts that could address the racial discipline gap as well. Using non-punitive discipline practices such as positive behavior interventions and supports, instead of practices that exclude students from school, could also help raise the academic achievement of racial and ethnic minority students.
“These efforts are each targeted toward a particular end,” said Pearman, “but it is possible that they may have crossover effects.”
The study’s co-authors were F. Chris Curran at the University of Florida, Benjamin Fisher at the University of Louisville, and Joseph Gardella at Drexel University.