Disproportionate representation of minority students, especially African Ameri- cans, in a variety of school disciplinary procedures has been documented almost continuously for the past 25 years, yet there has been little study of the factors contributing to that disproportionality. Whether disparate treatment of a group can be judged as bias depends largely on the extent to which other hypotheses that could provide a credible alternative explanation of the discrepancy can be ruled out. In this study, investigation of three alternative hypotheses led to different conclusions for disproportionate representation based on gender, race, and socio- economic status. First, racial and gender discrepancies in school disciplinary outcomes were consistent regardless of methodology, but socioeconomic dispari- ties appeared to be somewhat less robust. Second, we found no evidence that racial disparities disappear when controlling for poverty status; instead, disproportionality in suspension appears to be due to prior disproportionality in referrals to the office. Finally, although discriminant analysis suggests that dispro- portionate rates of office referral and suspension for boys are due to increased rates of misbehavior, no support was found for the hypothesis that African Ameri- can students act out more than other students. Rather, African American students appear to be referred to the office for less serious and more subjective reasons. Coupled with extensive and highly consistent prior data, these results argue that disproportionate representation of African Americans in office referrals, suspen- sion and expulsion is evidence of a pervasive and systematic bias that may well be inherent in the use of exclusionary discipline.
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