Study Finds Black Students Receive Fewer Warnings From Teachers About Their Misbehavior

New research from the University of Illinois has found that Black middle school students are significantly less likely than their White peers to receive verbal or written warnings from their teachers about behavioral infractions.

“While at first glance, disparities in teacher warnings seem less concerning than being expelled or sent to the principal’s office, warnings represent opportunities for students to correct their behavior before the consequences escalate and they’re removed from the learning environment,” said Kate M. Wegmann, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois and the lead author of the study.

For the study, the researchers examined data from more than 4,100 middle school students at 17 schools in two North Carolina communities. The students were surveyed about the types of misconduct they had engaged in, the discipline they received, and the frequency of these incidents.

The results found that although Black students composed only 23 percent of the study’s population, these students accounted for 37 percent of reported school suspensions and 35 percent of office referrals. Furthermore, about half of all students who reported three or more suspensions, warnings, or calls home to parents, were Black. Additionally, Black male students were 95 percent less likely than their White peers to be warned about their misbehavior before receiving disciplinary action.

“These findings point toward a trend of heightened consequences with little or no forewarning for Black male students, even when behavioral infractions are accounted for,” the researchers wrote.

The full study, “Examining Racial/Ethnic Disparities in School Discipline in the Context of Student-Reported Behavior Infractions,” was published in the August issue of the journal Children and Youth Services Review. It may be accessed here.

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