A Promise Unfulfilled? How Modern Federal Civil Rights Enforcement is Used to Address Racial Discrimination in School Discipline
Rachel Perera

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Pardee RAND Graduate School

Primary Discipline

Despite decades of literature highlighting stark racial disparities in exclusionary discipline and a flurry of recent policy efforts aimed at narrowing gaps, racial disparities in discipline remain. Researchers hypothesize that prior approaches have been ineffective in narrowing gaps because of an inattention to the role of racism and discrimination in the discipline process. One understudied policy tool that targets racial disparities and centers concerns of racial discrimination in school discipline is the use of federal enforcement of anti-discrimination laws through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).In this study, I provide the first systematic evidence on how OCR’s civil rights enforcement is used to address racial discrimination complaints related to school discipline. To do so, I use a newly obtained dataset combining information on all OCR complaints of racial discrimination in school discipline between 1999 and 2019 with a number of existing public data sources. I first analyze trends in the incidence of complaints and investigations and examine what observable district characteristics predict various types of OCR activity and outcomes. Next, I use a difference-in-difference design that relies on variation in the timing of OCR investigations to estimate the causal effect of OCR initiating a civil rights investigation in a school district on discipline rates, racial discipline gaps, and racial test score gaps. This project will enhance our understanding as to how this mechanism of federal oversight is operating in practice and provide the first quasi-experimental evidence on the effect of federal investigations on student outcomes.
About Rachel Perera
Rachel M. Perera is a Ph.D. candidate in Policy Analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and an assistant policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. Her research uses quantitative policy analysis and applied econometrics to examine racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in education and assess the effectiveness of policies and programs designed to reduce inequality. Her dissertation work examines how federal civil rights enforcement through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is used to remedy racial discrimination in school discipline. In addition to her dissertation, Rachel’s current research focuses on school discipline disparities, principals’ racial attitudes, and student assignment and school choice policies.Prior to joining Pardee RAND, she spent five years with Teach For America, most recently serving as director of research partnerships. She has an M.P.A. from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and a B.A. in History and Political Science from Hofstra University.

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