Implementing State-Level Policy Reform to Eliminate School Discipline Disparities: A Mixed Methods Examination

Can a state-level policy initiative that targets school discipline disparities on the basis of race reduce inequality in student outcomes?

The Maryland State Department of Education, which oversees schools in a state where Black students are nearly four times more likely to experience exclusionary discipline than White students, has developed a method and policy for measuring and reducing inequality in disciplinary outcomes. The policy involves a risk ratio with benchmark groups within school and in state to detect and monitor disproportionality, a requirement that identified districts and schools conduct root cause analyses and implement corrective actions plans, and ongoing monitoring to ensure gaps are “reduced” by the 2019-20 school year and “eliminated” by the 2021-22 school year. Bottiani and Bradshaw will prospectively examine the impact of the policy in reducing racial disparities in school discipline, and assess the variability, successes, and challenges of using the metric. Using a mixed-methods design, the team will characterize schools’ use of the risk ratio, as well as gauge the degree and significance of disproportionality and the presence of imposed accountability measures. Case study methods will also be used to identify schools with and without disproportionality, how metrics were modified over time, use of alternative disproportionality metrics, and explanations of inconsistencies across metrics. Finally, using regression discontinuity design and drawing from administrative data, the team will examine the policy’s impact on out-of-school suspension and expulsion disparities for Black students compared to White students. Ultimately, Bottiani and Bradshaw will learn how well the state’s measurement policy monitored and detected significant disproportionality, how it was used by schools, and whether inequalities in student disciplinary and engagement outcomes were reduced as a result.

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