The University of Michigan released a study in early July that explores elementary school disciplinary policy in urban cities, focusing on the demographics of affected children and investigating how racial inequality can be fostered at a young age.
Data was collected from Princeton University’s Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study, which conducted interviews with the primary caregivers of approximately 5,000 children born in large cities between 1998 and 2000. The U-M study aimed to explore elementary school exclusionary discipline — measures that remove a student from their educational environment — as well as racial variations within the policy and possible associations between exclusionary discipline and aggressive behavior.
According to the study, exclusionary discipline is “anything but a rare experience” in elementary schools; at age nine, more than one in 10 children born in urban areas have had suspension or expulsion on school records. Furthermore, these statistics disproportionately affect urban-born Black children, with about 40 percent of non-Hispanic black boys were suspended or expelled, compared to 8 percent of non-Hispanic white or other-race boys.
Garrett Pace, U-M social work and sociology doctorate student, co-authored the study with colleagues from Pennsylvania State University. He emphasized the importance of implementing resources that foster more inclusive disciplinary practices, especially for racial minorities.
“Black children are disproportionately exposed to exclusionary discipline, and this is largely due to differences in school characteristics, family context, and home environments rather than differences in behavior problems,” Pace wrote in an email interview.
He emphasized the importance of conducting these types of research projects at the University in order to improve the city and the University’s approaches to education.
“I believe this research is important to conduct at the University of Michigan because it illuminates a structural problem in society and has been a collaborative effort,” Pace said. “University of Michigan resources and discussions with faculty have enabled me to engage the research topic more effectively. Many researchers at the University of Michigan are working to understand and address injustices in the world. It’s part of the culture of the university and I would argue it’s also our responsibility.”
Student activist Morgan Locke, an LSA junior, emphasized the importance of disciplinary actions that still allow students to participate in the classroom, fostering a positive environment toward learning instead of labeling a student as a “bad egg.”
“I believe that a huge part of the problem is the lack of empathy teachers are showing to their Black students,” Locke said. “Instead of looking at their behavior and asking themselves about why the child is acting a certain way, they label them as ‘troubled’ or a ‘bad kid.’ When you’re young and impressionable and an authority figure tells you that you are a problem or a nuisance, you will believe them and act accordingly. When we think of it this way, it makes sense as to why kids are more aggressive after being disciplined and lose their excitement for learning.”