A recent study found misbehaving white students are more likely to get medical help, while misbehaving black students are more likely to face punitive measures like arrest and suspension.
David Ramey, an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State and the author of the study published in Sociology of Education, analyzed a data set of more than 60,000 schools in more than 6,000 districts. He found schools with relatively larger minority and poor populations are more likely to implement criminalized disciplinary policies — such as suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests — and less likely to medicalize students by, for instance, connecting them to psychological or behavioral care.
Ramey put the findings succinctly to the Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage: “White kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem. Black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn.”
The study helps explain one way black students are disproportionately affected by the school-to-prison pipeline, the criminalized disciplinary system in schools. And it shows just how badly implicit biases can feed the pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately hurts black students
When lawmakers began enacting tough-on-crime policies in the 1970s and ’80s, some of the concepts trickled down to schools, which began outsourcing discipline to police through school resource officers and referrals to the juvenile justice system. The result has been a school-to-prison pipeline that acts as many kids’ first exposure to the criminal justice system — and it can lead to more interactions with the justice system later on, because the lost school time and bad marks on their records can make it much more difficult to get ahead.
Beyond Ramey’s study, there’s a lot of research and data that shows black kids are much more likely to be affected by schools’ punitive disciplinary policies:
- Boys with imprisoned fathers are much less likely to possess the behavioral skills needed to succeed in school by the age of 5, a 2014 study published in Sociological Science found. Black children, who are more likely to have imprisoned black fathers, are therefore more likely to be set on a bad course before they start kindergarten.
- Black students with disabilities are almost three times more likely to experience out-of-school suspension or expulsion than their white counterparts, and twice as likely to experience in-school suspension or expulsion, according to a 2014 report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
- About 70 percent of students involved in in-school arrests or referred to law enforcement are black or Hispanic, according to SuspensionStories.com, which seeks to expose the issues with the school-to-prison pipeline.
So schools aren’t just more likely to criminalize their students nowadays; they’re more likely to criminalize their black students in particular. Some socioeconomic issues — black kids are more likely to be poor, and poorer schools tend to be more punitive — play a role, as Ramey’s study found. But subconscious racial biases play a significant role, as well.