Exclusionary Discipline: Racial Disparities in How Educators Evaluate and Sanction Misbehavior
Jayanti Owens

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Brown University

Primary Discipline

School suspension and expulsion predict juvenile detention, educational attainment, earnings, incarceration, and recidivism. Suspension/expulsion impacts children’s development, contributing to cumulative disadvantages for students, families, and communities. Black students face more suspension/expulsion: 20% of Black boys are suspended, compared to 12% of Black girls, 9% of Hispanic boys, and 6% of White boys.Neither higher incidence of infraction nor lesser responsiveness to restorative discipline practices (like tutoring or counseling) fully accounts for Black boys’ higher suspension/expulsion rates. Implicit bias offers a possible explanation: certain teachers might sanction Black boys more readily, and punitively, than White boys for identical, routine misbehavior. This compelling hypothesis has received scant empirical investigation.This project: 1) precisely estimates magnitudes of teacher bias in evaluations of identical misbehavior and in recommended sanctions, and; 2) tests an intervention to reduce bias. We deploy a video vignette experiment that manipulates the race/ethnicity and gender of students committing identical misbehavior. Teachers are randomly assigned to student, intervention, and punitive or restorative school discipline environment. Teachers then view and rate videotaped misbehavior and report recommended sanction.This project quantifies teachers’ implicit bias; the social psychological mechanisms underlying disproportionate suspension/expulsion; and factors magnifying bias. Results will inform promising strategies for teacher training and administrative disciplinary decision-making.
About Jayanti Owens
Jayanti Owens is an assistant professor of sociology and international and public affairs at Brown University. Her research focuses on social stratification and inequality in education, families, and labor markets. Using surveys, experiments, and administrative records, she investigates the causes and consequences of uneven educational and labor market rewards and penalties along lines of gender, race/ethnicity, and immigrant status. In particular, she is interested in differences in behavior presentation and perceptions of these behaviors by key decision-makers in contexts ranging from families and classrooms to workplaces. Her research has been funded by organizations including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Social Science Research Council. She received a B.A. from Swarthmore College, where she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, and a joint Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography from Princeton University. Prior to coming to Brown she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Owens has worked in the Education Policy Center of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. and Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, NJ.

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