Punishing Promise: School Discipline and Boston Police during Desegregation
Matt Kautz

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Teachers College, Columbia University

Primary Discipline

In cities throughout the country, both the number of school suspensions and the racial disparities in who schools suspended increased at an unprecedented rate during desegregation. In Boston, MA, these changes were especially dramatic. During the first year of desegregation (1974-1975), suspensions more than doubled and, while African-American students comprised only 38 percent of the school population, they represented 58 percent of school suspensions and received longer punishments than their white peers ? a devastating trend that persisted for more than a decade with increasingly severe consequences. Compounding this punitive school discipline was the expanded reach of Boston's police in and around schools as the mayor deployed half of the city's officers into schools before eventually creating a separate safety and security department to patrol their hallways. Matt's dissertation studies how education and law enforcement policies in Boston merged in the lives of young people from the 1960s into the 1970s and 1980s. He connects school-based disciplinary changes during Boston's distinct phases of desegregation and their racially disparate dimensions to changes in local law enforcement in order to understand how policies in these two domains merged in the lives of Boston's youth. Using court documents, student codes of discipline, and other archival sources, he analyzes how the racialized construction of school disciplinary policy during desegregation furthered the criminalization of Black youth and led to high suspension, arrest, and dropout rates. His research returns attention to punitive disciplinary policy crafted during the era of desegregation and how schools helped spur mass incarceration.
About Matt Kautz
Matt Kautz is a PhD candidate in the History and Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research studies changes in school discipline policy during the era of desegregation and its connections to concurrent changes in law enforcement. His work documents how school disciplinary policies during desegregation efforts were deeply intertwined with local law enforcement changes and makes explicit the role of urban schools in spurring mass incarceration. Prior to pursuing his doctorate at Teachers College, Matt taught in Detroit, MI and Chicago, IL for four years. While in graduate school, Matt has worked with the Harlem Education History Project's Youth Historian's program as an instructor. Currently, he is a doctoral research fellow at Teachers College's Center on History and Education. He holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, and an M.A. in Education from the University of Michigan.

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