The Urban Review

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 317-342

First online:

The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment

  • Russell J. SkibaAffiliated withDepartment of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University100 Smith Research Center, Indiana Education Policy Center
  • , Robert S. MichaelAffiliated withIndiana Education Policy Center, Indiana University
  • , Abra Carroll NardoAffiliated withDepartment of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University
  • , Reece L. PetersonAffiliated withUniversity of Nebraska at Lincoln

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The disproportionate discipline of African-American students has been extensively documented; yet the reasons for those disparities are less well understood. Drawing upon one year of middle-school disciplinary data for an urban school district, we explored three of the most commonly offered hypotheses for disproportionate discipline based on gender, race, and socioeconomic status. Racial and gender disparities in office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions were somewhat more robust than socioeconomic differences. Both racial and gender differences remained when controlling for socioeconomic status. Finally, although evidence emerged that boys engage more frequently in a broad range of disruptive behavior, there were no similar findings for race. Rather, there appeared to be a differential pattern of treatment, originating at the classroom level, wherein African-American students are referred to the office for infractions that are more subjective in interpretation. Implications for teacher training and structural reform are explored.

minority overrepresentation school discipline suspension expulsion