McNair Scholars Research Journal


Racial disparity in disciplinary actions has long been an issue in American public education. The United States Department of Education has collected data on this for over 35 years. Wright, Weekes and Mcglaughlin (2000) claim “research evidence indicates that those who are at disproportionate risk of exclusion are African-Caribbean boys of both primary and secondary schooling age”. With a closer focus on Michigan public schools, national research will also support data collected on racial disciplinary disparity rates by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. In addition, contributing factors and issues associated with unfair disciplinary sanctions on minorities will be examined to determine their effect on multi-cultural education.

Published data on disciplinary disparity rates for the state of Michigan have been available since 1996. Table 1.a. represents the suspension rates by race/ethnicity in the state of Michigan for 1990. From this, it is clear that students of Afro-Caribbean descent were getting hit the hardest. The disciplinary rate of these students surpassed their enrollment population for the participating, surveyed school districts.

The document suggests that poverty has a strong correlation with disciplinary rates during this time period (1990-1995). Since then, other possible contributing factors have surfaced and raised issues in direct relation to educational inequality and justice. For example, the zero-tolerance policy, which will be discussed, is very controversial, due to harsh sanctions on minor offenses and the opportunity for mistreatment due to teacher biases. Language barriers and communications issues in relation to a culturally diverse classroom can also become problematic, as demonstrated in table 1.a.

Table 1.b presents rates in disciplinary disparities by providing student population and suspensions rates by race/ethnicity. This chart will be analyzed independently of the other, due to it being a smaller sample compared to the surveyed schools from 1990. In this district, the Ann-Arbor Public Schools, every minority group except Asians has a disciplinary rate that surpasses its student enrollment rate for the district.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), 74.7% of the Ann Arbor population is considered White; the other 25% consists of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians. With that in mind, the probability of a controlled factor causing the incline in disciplinary rates among minorities is likely. Since both the city and school district are predominantly white, there is a question as to why the minority disciplinary rate surpasses the enrollment rate and has for nearly twenty years. Possible explanations for this continuing trend will be presented, using a national perspective in the form of data and relevant research.