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«Behavioral Dissonance and Contested Classroom Spaces: Teachers’ and Students’ Negotiations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments by Rebecca Neal A ...»

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8. Formations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments

9. Jonathan and Ms. Esther Exchange

10. Byron and Mr. Abrahm Episode

11. Lil P and Ms. Esther Episode

12. Progression of Negotiated Classroom Disciplinary Moments.................176

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There is evidence to suggest that schools do not equally or consistently enforce discipline rules among students. Researchers confirm that students from racially diverse backgrounds are disciplined more often and more harshly when compared to White students (Cantor et al., 2002; Mendez & Knoff, 2003; Richart, Brooks, & Soler, 2003;

Toldson, 2008). Nationwide, records of school discipline referrals showed that Native American Indian, Hispanic,1 and African American2 males were most likely to be suspended, expelled, or removed from the classroom setting (Noguera, 2003; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002; Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008).

Skiba et al. (2011) recently reported that students of all races can exhibit similar behaviors, but African American and Hispanic students were more often suspended or expelled. Even when looking at district and state level discipline records, Skiba et al.

(2011) reported that students of color have over a 25-year history of being suspended more often than their peers. The aforementioned trends suggest that African American and Hispanic students are at an increased risk for unfair treatment.

In 2003, Mendez and Knoff, reported that a disproportionate percentage of African American males, as early as elementary school, experienced school suspensions at three times the rate of their White male counterparts. African American females were The terms Hispanic and Latino/a are used to describe people of Latin-American descent in North America. Both terms are used interchangeably throughout this paper.

The terms African American or Black are used to describe people of African descent in North America.

eight times more likely as White females to be suspended in elementary school. Mendez and Knoff (2003) also commented that students of color were overrepresented in suspensions and that “at the middle school level, almost one-half of all [African American] males and almost one-third of all [African American] females experienced at least one suspension” (p. 38).

Strongly articulated within the literature on school discipline is a deficit perspective suggesting that students struggle at school because of personal factors related to their individual characteristics, having nothing to do with structural or institutional forces (Artiles, 2003; Gay, 2002, 2010; Lee, 2003, 2010). Deficit perspectives situate problems and difficulties that students experience as something that is produced within, by, or due to individual circumstances (Valencia, 2010). This viewpoint does not account for institutional factors, human resilience, perseverance, or within group differences; and only illuminates negative and simplistic thinking. Urgently needed in this research domain are studies that broaden the unit of analysis beyond individual student deficits and that account for contextual and institutional forces.

There is no doubt that discipline inequities within U.S. public schools exist and that current discipline studies report trends in infractions, but ignore students’ interpretations of events during teacher-student conflict incidents that trigger discipline referrals and sanctions. Indeed, current studies fail to account for an emic perspective that would enrich analyses of discipline inequities. With that said, and given the complexities embedded within school discipline and the fact that some student groups are repeatedly being excluded from school through school disciplinary practices (e.g., office referrals, dismissals, suspensions, expulsions), there is a need to examine school discipline problems through different lenses. Addressing these limitations, this study examined students’ and teachers’ perspectives and thought processes during instances of teacherstudent conflict within the classroom.

Why do we need to learn about students’ thought processes during instances of teacher-student conflict within the classroom? It is necessary for scholars, practitioners, and society at large to understand how current school disciplinary practices significantly marginalize certain student groups (e.g., African American or Latino), by creating barriers that exclude and deny them access to educational opportunities. When students are suspended or expelled from school, they are not learning and simultaneously being denied their educational rights. Currently, much attention is given to documenting infractions in decontextualized way. It is important that researchers consider students’ perspectives as a way to understand how students come to negotiate decisions made during teacher-student conflicts that can lead to their involvement in classroom disruptions. Given the consistent disproportionate representation of students of color in school disciplinary sanctions, we must now alter existing disciplinary practices with new approaches that consider the sociocultural contexts in which children live, learn, feel, and behave.

The representation of students of color in school discipline is indeed a complex problem, but before I begin to unpack it, it is necessary to define explicitly the terms and constructs used in this study. For this purpose, I define in the next section school discipline. While research trends suggest there are discipline inequities, and there is consensus that discipline inequities exist with applications of behavioral sanctions and referrals, there is considerable disagreement on how researchers interpret these data and how inequities are explained. For these reasons, I also discuss the consequences of discipline inequities and then move into the main explanations of discipline inequities represented in the literature. I end the chapter by introducing the research question for this study.





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School discipline policies are necessary to ensure the physical wellbeing of students. A consistent finding in school discipline research is that schools are expected to maintain safe environments while maximizing learning opportunities for all students. In this vein, school discipline serves to advance a dual agenda, an organizational goal (order) and an equity goal (enhance learning opportunities) for some students while denying the educational rights of others (Losen, 2011; Morrison, Redding, Fisher, & Peterson, 2009; Sprague & Horner, 2009).

There is no one definition for school discipline. Generally, school discipline is

defined as:

school policies and actions taken by school personnel with students to prevent or intervene with unwanted behaviors, primarily focusing on school conduct codes and security methods, suspension from school, corporal punishment, and teachers’ methods of managing students’ actions

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Although multiple interpretations regarding school discipline exists, the Office of Civil Rights has provided explicit definitions of disciplinary infractions that schools are expected to refer to when completing surveys and reporting students’ involvement in disciplinary infractions (see e.g., Losen, 2011); however, “because there are no federal requirements regarding schools and districts to use a standard set of definitions in their daily operations”, great variability exists among schools, within districts, and between states (D. Losen, personal communication, December 20, 2011). Nonetheless, generally

disciplinary exclusion from school falls into the following categories:

short-term out of school suspensions, long-term suspensions, placement in a disciplinary alternative program or school, and expulsion; but for serious offenses schools are increasingly referring students to law enforcement

–  –  –

responses include in-school suspension, detention, after-school-detention and Saturday school-detention. (D. Losen, personal communication, May 26, 2012) The literature on discipline inequities also covers the prevalence of harsh disciplinary sanctions. Cantor et al. (2002) reported most U.S. public K (kindergarten) schools had policies in place that require teachers to address misbehaviors and discipline problems within the classroom. If, however, the incident was serious enough to require additional assistance, as mentioned previously, school policies often direct teachers to seek further recourse in the form of school administrative intervention, security or police action, or some other unspecified type of intermediation. Regardless of the different types of disciplinary sanctions (e.g., warning, office referral, dismissal, in school suspension, restitution), out of school suspensions were also the most widely used form of discipline by schools. Despite the popularity for schools to use suspensions as a form of disciplinary correction, Toldson, (2011), Dupper (1994), and Dupper, Theriot and Craun, (2009) determined that suspensions were ineffective, destructive to personal selfesteem, and often an antecedent to students dropping out of school.

The U.S. Department of Education defines suspension as “an out-of school suspension, during which a student is excluded from school for disciplinary reasons for 1 school day or longer; it does not include students who served their suspension in school” (Planty et al., 2009, p. 70). This means that a teacher’s choice to issue a behavioral referral coupled with an administrative decision to suspend or expel a student can function as an act of exclusion. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), about 7% of students were suspended from public elementary and secondary schools at least once in 2006; however, the percentage of African American students suspended was more than double that, reaching 15 percent. The suspension percentages for other student groups during the same year were: 8% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 7% of Hispanic students, 5% of White students, and 3% of Asian/Pacific Islander students (NCES, 2006). Expulsion rates were a bit lower, of which percentages included 0.5% African American, 0.3% American Indian/Alaska Native, 0.2% Hispanic, 0.1% White, and 0.1% Asian/Pacific Islander students (NCES, 2006).

A focused analysis of school discipline indicates there is great variability in how schools, districts, and states define, interpret, and implement disciplinary procedures.

Such great irregularity can contribute to the perpetuation of behavioral misunderstandings and discipline inequities between teachers and students, especially when certain student groups are repeatedly represented in school discipline. It is for these reasons, plus others later discussed in this chapter, that we must take a closer examination of school discipline inequities beginning with the consequences of inequitable disciplinary practices.

–  –  –

There is no doubt that the consequences of exclusionary discipline practices are widespread and can have serious lifelong implications for students. Suspensions and expulsions are among the most central practice that limits educational opportunities resulting in the “denial of access to learning opportunities that occurs when students are not in school” (Townsend, 2000, p. 382). Routinely argued is that inequitable access to educational opportunities contributes to lower academic achievement (Artiles, Trent, & Palmer, 2004; Blanchett, 2006).

Discipline referrals are often indicators of future school difficulties, dropping out of school, or are considered precursors for placement into special education classes for students identified with a learning disability (LD) or an emotional-behavioral disorder (E/BD; Mendez et al., 2002; Mendez & Knoff, 2003; Skiba et al., 2002). When students are not in school or exposed to the school curriculum, their learning is inhibited both academically and socially. In this way, the removal or separation of students from the classroom serves as a primer for significant academic and social difficulties. It can also inhibit positive peer relationships which are crucial for students developing adaptive social skills (Mathur & Rutherford, 1991). This situation compounds the already inequitable conditions in which students of color are educated, since these groups tend to attend schools that are fraught with deep structural inequities (e.g., lower levels of funding, lower quality teachers, limited curricular and infrastructural resources; Anyon, 2005).

In general, students being issued school discipline sanctions seem to have futures full with obstacles that become impediments to academic and social success. Besides quitting school, several scholars have noted students’ involvement in school suspensions are connected to several other undesirable educational and negative life outcomes. For instance, when students are repeatedly issued school disciplinary sanctions, consequences can be serious and have long lasting effects. Common among students receiving high disciplinary referrals are lower grades, lower levels of school engagement, increased truancy, and higher dropout rates (Toldson, 2011). Besides experiencing academic shortcomings, consequences of exclusionary discipline practices can also include students developing a more negative attitude (Toldson, 2011) and deleterious feelings toward oneself and school, as well as feelings of rejection (Nichols, 2004; Rocque, 2010;

Sprague & Walker, 2000).



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