Rac(e)ing to punishment? Applying theory to racial disparities in disciplinary outcomes

Shafiqua J. Little, Richard O. Welsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent decades, racial disparities in K-12 disciplinary outcomes in the United States have garnered considerable attention. Empirical studies have established that schools’ discipline policies and practices play an important role; however, the lack of an integrated theoretical framework inhibits the discourse on bias and discrimination as a contributing factor. This study aims to close the gap between theory and empirical evidence by examining the contributors to the racial disparities in disciplinary outcomes through theoretical lenses. Our findings indicate that school discipline approaches that predominantly focus on policing minor and subjective behavior may facilitate racial bias in enforcement. Our results suggest that the racial discipline gap may be the product of the: (a) heightened focus on risk management, (b) cultural and demographic mismatch between the teaching workforce and students, and (c) transmission of dominant values through school discipline policies and practices that are reflective of upper and middle-class norms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-584
Number of pages21
JournalRace Ethnicity and Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • School discipline
  • broken windows theory
  • critical race theory
  • discipline gap
  • educational equity
  • race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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