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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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Thus far I have covered a breadth of information relating to school discipline inequities. In doing so, I discussed types of school discipline and provided specific examples, highlighted the methods utilized to conduct this literature review and addressed publication trends, design methodology, and data analysis procedures. The main findings indicate that more attention was devoted to studying discipline inequities using quantitative measures and that in general the educational field is slanted in its negative depiction of African American and Hispanic students’ representation in school discipline. In addition, many studies inferred that a person’s racial or cultural background was an active ingredient for bias and the maintained tone in the literature was that students of color representation in school discipline stemmed from individual choice and circumstance. As a whole, lack of attention was given to understanding students’ meaning-making processes during episodes of conflict. Even less consideration was given to studying how discipline infractions that occur in the classroom are constructed during teacher-student interactions. In the upcoming sub-sections, I discuss geographic locations of studies included in this literature review, the analytical level at which studies were conducted (e.g., state, district, school), age of students included in the studies and identified explanations of student behaviors.

Geographic locations of studies. The geographic locations of the studies spanned the country (see Table 5). The majority of studies (n = 7) were conducted in the Midwest region of the United States of which one author specifically identified Michigan. Six studies took place in the Southeastern part of the United States of which four authors specifically identified Florida.

Table 5 Discipline Studies by Geographic Region and Research Method

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Five studies examined discipline issues utilizing national data sets, and three studies did not report a location. A single study was conducted in the Southwest (no specific state identified by authors), Mid-Atlantic (i.e., Maryland) and Northeast (no specific state identified by authors). Two studies took place in the Southern region of the country (i.e., Texas and Virginia). Most studies reported geographic location by region and did not identify a specific state unless mentioned above. No study locations were described as primarily rural areas; and when authors reported using district data that included rural areas or populations, 99% were excluded from the sample population. One study included data from rural schools (i.e., Mendez et al., 2002).

Analytic level of study. All studies used national, state, county, district, or school level data. Five studies, of which were all quantitative utilized national data sets, but the greatest number of studies (n = 10) utilized district level data. Of the studies that examined district level data, eight employed quantitative methodologies, one qualitative, and one study utilized both qualitative and quantitative data analysis procedures. Eight studies utilized school level data, of which three were qualitative and five quantitative.

One study examined discipline issues at the county level and two studies examined discipline issues utilizing state level data. The various levels for the studies are shown in Table 6. One study (Mendez et al., 2002) described district characteristics as Inner City, Suburban, and Rural. District wide ethnic percentages of the student population for this particular study was reported of which the authors indicated that 56% of students were identified by their parent as White, 23% as Black, 18% as Hispanic, and 3% as other.

Although Mendez et al. (2002) stated only general education schools were included in the study, they did indicate that both suspensions rates of special education and regular education students were part of their data analysis. In addition, they did not report the ethnic composition of students receiving special education services. Also missing in this study was the percentage of the students attending suburban or rural schools in the district.

Table 6 Discipline Studies by Analytical Level and Research Method

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The Mendez et al. (2002) study generated new knowledge relevant to the longstanding problem of school disciplinary policy and practices. Their work specifically improved upon previous research in the field in four ways: (a) they looked at suspensions at the elementary, middle, and high school level; (b) they investigated suspension rates by school level, ethnicity, and gender combined; (c) they identified the specific types of behaviors that were most frequently associated with suspension; and (d) they identified students who were most frequently suspended in each infraction category by ethnicity and gender. The benefits of such a study shed a new perspective on a problem that has existed for decades. Showing a distribution of reasons for each suspension by race and gender allows for different trends in discipline to be identified.

Another team of researchers conducted a study in what the authors identified as a suburban school district in a southwestern state with a diverse student population (Neal et al., 2003). Here again the authors did not report any additional ethnic or socioeconomic demographic information regarding the characteristics of the school district or sample.

Target grade. The grade levels targeted across studies had great variability.

Illustrated in Table 7 is the concentrated research area for each publication listed by author. The bulk of research conducted on discipline that has disaggregated data by race (e.g., African American and Hispanic) focused on middle (6th through 8th) and upper (9th through 12th) grades. When reporting target grades by school level, the fewest number of studies (n = 2) focused exclusively on disciplinary sanctions at the elementary school level (i.e., kindergarten through 5th grade). Three studies (i.e., two quantitative, one qualitative) focused exclusively on discipline issues occurring on the middle school level.

Five studies (all quantitative) focused exclusively on sixth through twelfth grades, four studies (i.e., three quantitative and one qualitative), reported results exclusively relevant to disciplinary issues during high school (i.e., ninth through twelfth grade). Six studies (i.e., four quantitative, one qualitative, and one mixed methodologies) focused on discipline issues from K-12th grade and six studies had a random grade level focus (i.e., third through eighth, fourth through sixth, sixth through ninth, seventh, ninth, and tenth grades). A few studies (e.g., Mendez et al., 2002; Rocque, 2010; Skiba, et al., 2002) explicitly stated including discipline data of students receiving special education services.

Table 7 Target Population

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When looking at patterns within target populations among publications between 2000 and 2010, changes over time were oddly most visible during even numbered years.

During the odd numbered years, only six studies were published whereas 20 studies were published during even number ending years. As previously mentioned, no studies were published between 2000 and 2001 on discipline that reported racially disaggregated data for African American or Hispanic students. Beginning in 2002, five studies were published of which four studies primarily focused on grades six, seven and eight.

Jumping to 2010, six studies were published, of which high school age students (9th-12th grades) were the primary focus. During the middle of the time period (2004 to 2007) eight studies were published of which the five studies identified grades six, seven, and eight as their target population. Elementary grades (K – 5) as a level were the most ignored, of which 16 studies (61%), did not focus on younger age students.

Summary of Research on School Discipline Inequities The majority of studies was conducted within urban areas and utilized quantitative methodologies. Many urban areas were described as having a high minority population and often authors reported the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Not surprising, qualitative studies tended to use a smaller sample size of which three out of the four qualitative studies examined school level data.

District level data was the largest sample size within the qualitative studies and included 36 administrators from different schools within one school district. Qualitative studies tended to report findings related to perception and offered insight into a person’s decision making and reasoning surrounding fairness, rules, and implementation of policies. The quantitative studies examined discipline issues on a larger scale and provided little insight regarding the perspective of individual students, teachers and administrators.

Thirty-eight percent of the studies focused on investigating individual perspectives. Exactly half of the studies within this category examined students’ perspectives. These studies also only implemented quantitative methodologies. No studies reported or described observable face-to-face interactions at the micro-level between students and teachers while in the classroom. Furthermore, no studies investigated students’ interpretation of classroom events that could be of significance with regard to a student’s involvement in disciplinary related events.

Across studies, no study exclusively examined discipline disparities among Latino students. The examination of Latino students in school exclusionary disciplinary practices appeared to be an overlooked and understudied area within the field. Several studies did however exclusively investigate discipline disparities among African American male students. Additionally, no study exclusively investigated discipline measures among Latino and African American male students receiving special educational services. In the next section, I discuss explanations presented in the literature for school disciplinary measures and inequities.

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When examining the literature on school discipline, scholars theorized three main arguments or explanations for discipline inequities and disparities among students of color within K-12 public schools. These explanations developed into the following categories: (a) cultural deficit perspectives, (b) cultural differences, and (c) institutional factors.

Cultural Deficit Perspective Over the last 11 years schools are taking a harsh stand on school discipline; in part because of high profile cases of school violence. Some theorize that harsh school disciplinary practices are a way of controlling or regulating students; specifically African American students who are also the group most likely to be overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions (Monroe, 2005); however, Welch and Payne (2010) suggested that no clear explanation exists for the “pattern of expanding school punitiveness” (p. 26), and that the harsh discipline and punishment toward students mirrors incidents within the criminal justice system.

In general, research shows that students of color are referred for school discipline at a higher rate than their White counterparts (Arcia, 2007b; Mendez & Knoff, 2003;

Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008). Inequities in school disciplinary actions between 2000-2010 show students of color, specifically African Americans were referred most often for subjective offenses like defiance or disrespect of authority, threatening, and disobedience, as well as suspension and expulsions when compared to other student groups (Eitle & Eitle, 2004; Lewis, Butler, Bonner, & Joubert, 2010; Skiba et al., 2002; Townsend, 2000). It was widely recognized throughout the literature that teachers placed a strong emphasis on controlling behaviors of African American students (Mendez, Knoff, & Ferron, 2002; Richart et al., 2003; Skiba et al., 2002) and were more likely to demonstrate reactions that appear to be more severe than required (Monroe, 2005).

Race and gender. Discipline policies often are not race and gender neutral.

Students at greatest risk for being suspended are male and African American (Bradshaw, Mitchell, O’Brennan, & Leaf, 2010; Mendez & Knoff, 2003; Skiba, 2002). They also often receive harsher and more punitive discipline sanctions than White students (Skiba, 2002, Welch & Payne, 2010). Day-Vines and Terriquez (2008) found that in one urban high school, Latino and African American male students were eight times more likely than their peers to be issued a behavioral referral.

According to NCES (2010), in 2007, 49.5% of African American male students in grades 6 through 12 have been suspended and 29.6% of Latino students in grades 6 through 12 have been suspended. The average percentage for White males was 21.3% and the overall percentage of male students suspended in grades 6th through 12th was 27.9%. Given the complexity of Latino and African American male students being overrepresented in school discipline, it is necessary to determine indicators of suspension and disciplinary referrals. Doing so, helps to answer the question “who gets suspended from school and why” (Mendez & Knoff, 2003, p. 30).

Interested in understanding some of the potential personal factors that may influence a student being suspended or expelled, Toldson (2011) examined likely causes.

This study was quantitative in nature and included multiple states, involving 6,795 students (1,235 African American; 4,640 White; and 920 Hispanic) and secondary data from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research which included a nationally representative sample of eight and tenth graders in U.S. schools. Results indicated that students of color being suspended or expelled from school often involved poor grades, drugs and delinquency at school, negative attitudes and feelings toward school, classroom disengagement or interruptions, feelings of hopelessness or positive self-worth, thrill seeking, aggressive or delinquent behaviors, and parents’ low level of involvement with school (Toldson, 2011).

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