Stanford Study Examines the Reasons Behind Racial Disparities in School Discipline

Dr. Eberhardt

A new study authored by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology and Jason Okonofua, a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University, examines the reasons behind the large racial disparities in school discipline.

Jason Okonofua

The researchers presented primary and secondary school teachers with records describing two instances of misbehavior by a student. The researchers randomly assigned names to the files, suggesting in some cases that the student was Black and in other cases that the student was White. After reading about each infraction, the teachers were asked about their perception of its severity, about how irritated they would feel by the student’s misbehavior, about how severely the student should be punished, and about whether they viewed the student as a troublemaker.

A second study followed the same protocol and asked teachers whether they thought the misbehavior was part of a pattern and whether they could imagine themselves suspending the student in the future.

The stereotype of black students as “troublemakers” led teachers to want to discipline Black students more harshly than White students. The teachers were more likely to see the misbehavior as part of a pattern, and to imagine themselves suspending that student in the future.

“We see that stereotypes not only can be used to allow people to interpret a specific behavior in isolation, but also stereotypes can heighten our sensitivity to behavioral patterns across time. This pattern sensitivity is especially relevant in the schooling context,” Dr. Eberhardt said.

Dr. Eberhardt is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Dr. Eberhardt joined the Stanford faculty in 1998 after teaching for three years at Yale University.

The study, “Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students,” was published on the website of the journal Psychological Science. It may be accessed here.

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