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«The Social Control of Childhood Behavior via Criminalization or Medicalization: Why Race Matters DISSERTATION Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the ...»

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In sum, relatively large African-American student bodies are more likely to be subjected to intensive surveillance and routine searches of person and property, increasing the risk of punishment (Kupchik and Ward 2013; Noguera 2003; Welch and Payne 2010). Furthermore, teachers and administrators are more likely to view the misbehavior of racial and ethnic minorities as aggressive or confrontational than that of White school children, particularly if the teacher or administrator is not AfricanAmerican (Ferguson 2001; Irwin, Davidson, and Hall-Sanchez 2013; Morris 2005). As a result, their perceptions of the African-American student body as unruly, disobedient, and less deserving of inclusion translate into a greater willingness on behalf of schools to apply harsh disciplinary measures (Ferguson 2001; Irwin, Davidson, and Hall-Sanchez 2013; Morris 2005; Skiba et al. 2013). Therefore, regardless of available resources and other characteristics of the student body, schools with relatively larger African-American student bodies will be more likely to use strict disciplinary policies.

On the other hand, the surveillance of White children who misbehave often involves medical or psychological therapy and the use of pharmaceutical treatment (Morgan et al. 2013; Stevens, Harman, and Kelleher 2005). Furthermore, teachers and administrators are more likely to consider biological or psychological disorders as the cause of misbehavior in White school children than they are racial and ethnic minorities, whose behavior they attribute to poor parenting (Behnken et al. 2014; Miller, Nigg, and Miller 2009). As a result, their perceptions of the African-American student body as unruly, disobedient, and less deserving of inclusion translate into a greater willingness on behalf of schools to apply harsh disciplinary measures (Ferguson 2001; Irwin, Davidson, and Hall-Sanchez 2013; Morris 2005; Skiba et al. 2013). Therefore, regardless of legal obligations to cover children who display behavior problems with services under IDEA or Section 504, schools with relatively larger African-American student bodies will enroll fewer students in such programs.

While schools have been the primary focus of research on school disciplinary practices, far less attention has been paid to how the racial composition of the larger school district may influence school disciplinary policies. The failure to consider both school and district-level racial composition overlooks several important factors pertaining to school discipline. First, while school discipline is ultimately a decision made by teachers and school administrators, districts establish a curriculum and set disciplinary standards for their public schools to follow (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010; Lyons and Drew 2006). Moreover, districts can be held federally accountable for student and school performance, increasing pressure on districts to ensure that schools are keeping children safe and meeting the needs of children with behavior problems (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010; Lyons and Drew 2006). Additionally, school districts raise and allocate funding for important school disciplinary programs, including federally mandated safety and civil rights statutes regarding children with behavior problems (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010).

Finally, given high levels of segregation throughout the United States, decisions regarding the social control of African-American children in schools are likely predicated on the racial composition of the district in which a school is located. For example, because of a lack of resources to accommodate children with behavior problems, predominately African-American districts often rely on large numbers of suspensions and expulsions to demonstrate compliance with federal laws mandating school safety (Lyons and Drew 2006; Simon 2007). Thus, while most school districts have some form of zero tolerance policies that mandate harsh discipline for even minor rule infractions, districts with relatively larger African-American populations may have higher rates of school punishment than districts with relatively smaller African-American populations (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010; Kupchik 2010; Simon 2007; Skiba and Knesting 2001).

Conversely, while federal law mandates children with behavior disorders be provided services under IDEA or Section 504, schools in districts with relatively large African-American populations may be less likely to actually implement these services.

For example, residents of predominately African-American school districts are unlikely to seek out diagnoses for behavior disorders covered under IDEA (Davison and Ford 2002; Miller, Nigg, and Miller 2009; Morgan et al. 2013). Furthermore, they are more likely than residents in predominately White school districts to experience inadequate resources and insufficient information about both available health services and the rights of students with behavior disabilities, decreasing the chances that schools in these districts will provide services covered under Section 504. Importantly, because Section 504 is an unfunded federal mandate, districts must rely on resources provided at the state and local levels (U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 2013).

As a result, districts with relatively larger African-American populations may be less able to provide services under IDEA and Section 504 and therefore may have lower rates of enrollment in these programs than districts with relatively smaller African-American populations (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010).





In addition to directly influencing school disciplinary policies, district-level racial composition can also condition the relationship between school-level racial composition and school discipline. For example, in predominately White local areas, support for harsh discipline increases as the percentage of African-American students increases (Pickett and Chiricos 2012). If local policymakers, school board members, and school teachers and administrators are drawn from this majority White population, fears of criminality and antisocial behavior by African-American school-children could translate into the use of harsh discipline, even in elementary and middle schools (Kupchik and Ward 2013; Pickett and Chiricos 2012; Welch and Payne 2010). On the other hand, in districts with relatively larger African-American populations, local governments and school boards are more likely to contain African-American members and schools may be more likely to higher African-American teachers and administrators (Skiba and Peterson 2000; Zumwalt and Craig 2005). Thus, in districts with relatively smaller AfricanAmerican populations, small but noticeable differences in racial composition at the school level should be associated with greater differences in the likelihood of using school punishment than in districts with relatively larger African-American populations (Irwin, Davidson, and Hall-Sanchez 2013; Welch and Payne 2010).

While the association between school-level racial composition and punitive school discipline should be less pronounced in districts with relatively larger AfricanAmerican populations, district-level racial composition may magnify the influence of school-level racial composition on medicalized social control. While rates of medical diagnoses of behavior disorders are lower for African-American schoolchildren than for White schoolchildren, schools in predominately White school districts may benefit from greater social and economic resources at the district level. For example, schools in these districts may have access to greater local resources, including personnel and information, to meet the needs of children eligible for services IDEA or Section 504 (Kim, Losen, and Martinez 2010). On the other hand, schools in predominantly African-American may be strapped for personnel and financial resources and are often unable to appropriately handle children with behavior problems. For example, inadequate staffing and services may lead to misdiagnoses or underdiagnoses, as teachers and staff are unable to properly identify symptoms of behavior disorders when children act out (Spangler and Slate 2012). As a result, the negative association between school-level African-American composition and the likelihood of medicalized school discipline should be more pronounced in districts with relatively larger African-American populations.

Summary and Hypotheses The literature discussed above describes how school discipline has shifted towards post-industrial social control techniques modeled on the criminal justice and medical systems. Through legal mandates influenced by the changing perception of youth and education in society, schools have increasingly adopted the social control practices of both and the medical system. However, early evidence suggests that these models are unevenly distributed across schools serving different racial and ethnic populations. Specifically, this paper examines whether schools and districts with relatively larger African-American populations are more reliant on criminalized school discipline and less likely to use medicalized school discipline. Furthermore, this project examines whether district-level racial composition moderates the relationship between school-level racial composition and school disciplinary policies.

H1: Schools and districts with relatively larger African-American populations will have higher rates of criminalized disciplinary measures (suspension and expulsion) than schools and districts with relatively smaller African-American

–  –  –

H2: Schools and districts with relatively larger African-American populations will have lower rates of medicalized disciplinary measures (IDEA and Section 504) than schools and districts with relatively smaller African-American populations.

H3: The positive association between school-level African-American composition and punitive school discipline will be less pronounced in districts with relatively larger African-American populations.

H4: The negative association between school-level African-American composition and medicalized school discipline will be more pronounced in districts with relatively larger African-American populations.

Data and Methods To examine how school and district level racial composition and socioeconomic status influence school disciplinary practices, this paper relies on multiple sources of data. Information on school punishment, medicalization, and police-student contact were taken from Part 2 of the 2009-2010 U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CDRC data contains cumulative and end of year data on an assortment of information regarding school-level educational programs and services for 85 percent of U.S. schools and districts (U.S. Department of Education 2012). All other school-level independent and control variables were taken from the NCES Common Core of Data Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey: School Year 2009-2010. All district-level independent and control variables are taken from the School District Demographics System American Community Survey (ACS) Profiles, 2006-2010 2.

Unlike Census long-form data, ACS data do not represent a single time point and are thus not representative for any given year. However, it is common practice to use the ACS to represent a data point in Census analyses, particularly to estimate non-Census years (Iceland, Sharp, and Timberlake 2013; Sharp The final sample included all public elementary and middle schools in the 48 contiguous states with at least 20 students that were not considered alternative schools for students with learning and behavior problems 3. After dropping schools that did not meet the criteria and the small proportion of schools with missing data on outcome and predictor variables, the final sample size is 50,095 schools nested within 6,128 districts.

Dependent Variables This paper focuses on two approaches to the social control of childhood problem behavior: criminalization and medicalization. Criminalized school discipline is captured using a count of the total number of students who were suspended or expelled during the school year. Medicalization is captured using a count of the total number of students who were provided services under IDEA for either emotional disturbances or “other health impairment” and another count of the total number of students who were covered under Section 504. As noted earlier, to qualify for IDEA, students must meet the diagnostic criteria for one of thirteen disability categories (Holler and Zirkel 2008).

Because the focus of the paper is examining how racial composition influences the ways in which schools respond to and socially construct behavior problems, I wanted to focus on those impairments explicitly related to behavior. Emotional disturbances and Iceland 2013). Furthermore, the ACS recommends using 5-year estimates when examining smaller geographic units (U.S. Census Bureau 2008). Finally, because of the centrality of district-level information to the research questions, I chose to rely on estimates using specific district boundaries, as opposed to cityor county-level boundaries.

I removed schools and districts from Alaska and Hawai’i for several reasons. First, as relatively new states without any geographic or historical connections to the racialized history of the United States, it is unknown if race contributes to social construction in the same way as it does in the rest of the country.

Second, Hawai’i and Alaska present unique racial and ethnic dimensions, specifically native Hawaiians and Alaskans. Results including Alaskan and Hawaiian schools do not differ greatly from the current analysis and are available by request.



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