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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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Pertaining to school discipline, a deficit perspective considers being raised in poverty as a qualifier for students’ proclivity to transgress (Sampson & Lauristen, 1994) and be disruptive in classrooms. Giving weight to this argument is the sheer number of students of color (i.e., African American) living in poverty and the suggestion that low socioeconomic conditions can be linked to student misbehavior and other deficits. As such, Wu, Pink, Crain, and Moles (1982) reported 30 years ago that socioeconomic status was considered a factor for students being at an increased risk to receive more disciplinary referrals.

Aspects of this type of deficit thinking still hold true today. The NCES indicated in 2006 that more than one in three African American children lived in poverty. It also reported that significant proportions of African American children are heavily concentrated in the highest poverty schools and specified that 31% of youth living in large metropolitan areas also live in poverty (NCES, 2006).

Other researchers have also suggested socioeconomic status as a cause for certain groups of students receiving increased discipline referrals (Baker, 2005; Jones, Caravaca, Cizek, Horner, & Vincent, 2006; Richart, Brooks, & Soler, 2003; Skiba et al., 2002;

Zhang & Katsiyannis, 2002); however, even after controlling for socioeconomic status, researchers determined that significant racial disproportionality still existed in school discipline referrals, concluding that “systematic and racial discrimination” does occur and originates at the classroom level (Skiba et al., 2000, p. 16). Kelly (2010) also found that when factors of poverty and low achievement were taken into account that African American students in fact were no more disruptive than any other student. The National Education Policy Center (2010) also addressed the poverty-discipline link and indicated that disparities in school discipline referrals were not due to poverty or inherently bad behavior, and showed that students of color were more likely to be suspended for nonviolent and very minor acts of misbehavior (e.g., disruption); however, “according to the 2000 US census, children growing up in homes near or below the poverty level were more likely to be expelled” (Losen, 2011).

Institutional Factors: Spaces for Delimitations of Power The institutional context is the third traditional explanation regarding students of color representation in school discipline inequities. It is suggested that certain school characteristics such as building level policies, ethnicity and gender of the majority of teachers, the composition of the student population (percentage of minority students), number of students receiving free and reduced lunch, or the location of the school influence how students are viewed and treated while they are at school (Payne & Welch, 2010). To that end, several scholars determined that schools having a higher minority student population often utilized stricter discipline sanctions than schools with fewer students of color.

Other structural factors can also produce inequitable school practices that result in biased treatment of students. Examples of these forces include tracking, testing, curriculum selection, physical design of the building, and pedagogical practices that can individually or collectively reinforce inequities (Nieto, 2004; Reagle, 2006). Because schools are governed by policies that may not align with the values of students and those living in their communities, the impact of school policies can negatively impact the educational opportunities for some students (Nieto, 2004). As an alternative view to the traditional explanations outlined above, I re-frame in the next chapter the problem of discipline inequities by considering oppressive ideologies, deviance and labeling in the production of such racial inequities.

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To conclude, there is a need to understand classroom behavior through different vantage points so that students’ interpretive and meaning-making processes during instances of teacher-student classroom conflict can be understood. Otherwise, students of color will remain excluded from educational environments and continue to experience reduced learning opportunities at school. With that said, and because acts of deviance and misbehavior are caused by a wide variety of factors, it is imperative to consider sociocultural aspects.

As previously explained in this chapter, current studies on school discipline do not account for culture or student perspective. It is necessary to create an alternative framework that is attentive to interactions between teachers and students, and that considers cultural aspects during episodes of potential classroom conflict. One way to do so is by documenting students’ perspectives and examining what happens between teachers and students during classroom conflicts; this will enable researchers to obtain insights into why students make certain behavioral choices. It is also necessary to take into account students’ points of view rather than relying solely on teachers’ perspectives when enforcing school discipline policies. By asking questions that seek clarification and “considerations of why” and explanations of “what does that mean?” creates new pathways of understanding student misbehavior in the classroom. This new understanding can only be achieved by investigating the interactional spaces that teachers and students independently occupy and share together in the classroom.

The education system, those within it, and policy makers have responsibilities to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to reach their best ability and succeed in and at school. At the macro-level, public policies should allow for equitable access to education as a means to creating better futures for all students, including African American males. On the micro-level, teachers must establish a classroom culture where all students regardless of their cultural and linguistic background are welcomed and supported, and provided with the best opportunity to learn (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2006). By accounting for and giving attention to interactional processes between teachers and students, and considering student perspectives; learning environments that preserve the cultural integrity of every child while enhancing their educational success can be established and maintained (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995).

The purpose of this study, therefore, is to explore sociocultural factors that shape how students and teachers conceptualize misbehavior as a way to understand how these perceptions mediate classroom interactional processes that ultimately constitute the precursors of discipline infractions. This work is vital and takes into consideration the importance of teacher and student relationships within K-12 classrooms. Specifically, I investigate student misconduct and study the explanations provided by students that lead to school disciplinary infractions. I approach the study of discipline inequities differently in that I examine a specific time scale, namely the moment-to-moment interactions between students and teachers while a conflict arises. Doing so allows for the study of such notions that have not yet been addressed conceptually or methodologically within school discipline studies. The guiding question addressed in this study is: How does one’s conceptualizations of misbehavior account for the way classroom misbehavior is constructed, interpreted and negotiated between teachers and students?

This line of research could improve students’ classroom experiences and aid teachers in understanding alternative ways to interact with students that could deescalate or minimize classroom disruptions. Working toward school success involves teachers and school administrators developing a raised awareness and sensitivity regarding students’ interpretations of their school experiences. This level of consciousness can be pivotal in promoting a form of educational justice for students, especially those highly represented in school disciplinary sanctions. Thus, teachers must go beyond promoting awareness of the ways schools perpetuate social inequalities and reconstruct practices that provides all students opportunities to learn in academically rigorous ways (Villegas & Lucas, 2002).

In attempting to understand and advocate for the rights of students, material and social circumstances “must be understood in the context of concrete daily realities, across various environments” that “emphasize human and ecological values rather than commercial [ideals]” (Swadener & O’Brien, 2009, p. 121).

In this way, we can begin reconceptualizing the field of education with respect to school discipline. Through conscientious minds as “a teacher, researcher, teacher educator, professor, [we must] remind [ourselves] that [our] work goes beyond [ourselves] and that [our] decisions today will affect [students’] lives tomorrow" (Mathur, 2007, p. 23). In the next chapter, I present a review of the research literature on discipline inequities and the study’s conceptual framework.

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In this chapter, I review and critique extant literature on discipline in U.S. public schools. In doing so, I synthesized and critiqued empirical literature germane to inequities in school discipline policy implementation with a particular focus on Latino and African American male students. Both student groups are overrepresented in school discipline referrals and in exclusionary school disciplinary practices. Nationally, African American males are disproportionally represented and Latino students tend to be regionally overrepresented in school discipline.

I begin the chapter with a presentation of the methods used to conduct the literature review. Then I discuss the results of the review, including the features of selected studies, publication trends, methodological and data analysis procedures, and geographic location and grade levels targeted in these studies. The next section describes the explanations of discipline inequities represented in this research. Next, I point out consequences of school discipline sanctions. The chapter concludes with the study’s conceptual framework and the study questions.

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An exhaustive literature review was conducted as a way to understand and explain inequities and disparities in U.S. public schools’ exclusionary discipline practices involving Latino and African American male students. Using electronic databases and selective citations (Cooper, 1988) as a coverage approach, scholarly peer-reviewed articles published from 2000 to 2010 were examined.

A comprehensive and systematic search of electronic databases was performed using five educational and social science search engines: EBSCO HOST (Academic Search Premier SocINDEX with Full Text, Criminal Justice


with Full Text), JSTOR, ProQuest, Wilson Web Social Sciences Full Text, and Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Google Scholar was used as a sixth search engine. During the searches, I combined the following key words and descriptive terms in multiple combinations until a saturation point was achieved: African American males or boys, or Black males or boys, or Hispanic males or boys, or Latino males or boys and school discipline, or school suspension, or school expulsion. Boolean operators were utilized for all searches.

The initial search on EBSCO HOST Academic Search Premier yielded 1713 results. Data based studies with quantitative, qualitative, or mixed designs were only selected. After removing duplicates, excluding studies that only included a female population, selecting studies only conducted within the United States, and those studies relevant to school discipline, the number of articles was narrowed down to 625. These remaining articles were examined to determine if the studies reported racial data on African American or Hispanic students, to which 168 articles were identified. The final review checked if studies met all six criteria. A study was selected if it

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The final number of articles that satisfied the inclusion criteria for this literature review retrieved from EBSCO HOST Academic Search Premier yielded 14 articles.

The search was then replicated using Journal Storage Project (JSTOR), ProQuest, Wilson Web Education Full Text, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and Google Scholar which yielded 59 more publications. From those publications, each article was examined to determine if it met all six selection criteria, of which 12 more articles were identified. The total number of published studies included in this literature review was 26 (see Appendix A for a complete list of the articles found eligible).

The most common reasons articles were excluded were because they were conceptual (e.g., Monroe, 2005; Noguera, 2003) or because data on African American or Hispanic student were not reported (e.g., Gregory et al., 2010). Given the specific focus of this literature review, some of the works by established scholars in this domain were not heavily represented (e.g., Losen, Skiba, Sprague, Sugai). Although the works of these scholars were not significantly visible in this review, the merit and contribution of their work still warrants mention. In the next section, I describe the results of the review of studies on school discipline inequities.

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How are racial disparity trends in school discipline among Latino and African American male students studied? This analysis of empirical research on racial disparity trends in school discipline will aid in the understanding of who is empirically studying school discipline, where are these articles being published and how is discipline among specific minority groups (Latino and African American male students) being investigated. Specifically, I discuss publication outlets and trends, explanations of student behaviors within the literature, and methodological features of studies.

Foci and Features of Research Studies Publication trends were examined between 2000 and 2010. Described in Table 1 are the journal publication frequencies by year and organized by journal field. The

number of studies published in one year was counted and then categorized as follows:

journals with sociological perspectives included Sociological Spectrum, Social Problems, Sociological Perspectives, Sociological Perspectives, and Youth & Society;

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