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Call for Papers: Research to Inform Policymakers with a Focus on Race and Gender Disparities in School Discipline

Date Published: December 16, 2011

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project, in collaboration with the Research-to-Practice Collaborative, seeks papers that will inform school discipline policies at the district, state, and federal levels. The goal of these papers is to reduce schools’ reliance on suspension and expulsion to manage student behavior, with special attention to reducing disparities.



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The broad goal of the Research-to-Practice Collaborative on Race and Gender Disparities in Discipline, which is supported by Atlantic Philanthropies, is to explore gaps in our knowledge, assess the needs of the field, and develop a strategic plan including recommendations for practice, policy and research. Ultimately, the Collaborative intends that these papers will foster effective interventions that are practical and evidence-based.

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies will accept approximately 15 research papers for presentation at a national conference on understanding and addressing race and gender disparities in school discipline, to be held in Washington D.C. in November or December of 2012. In the past, similar conferences have attracted national media attention and several researchers have participated in subsequent testimony before congress. The research-based recommendations emerging from such conferences have often helped to shape new federal and state policies. Honorariums will be awarded in the amount of $1,000 for a finished draft paper and conference presentation, and another $1,000 for final papers selected for publication. Previous conference-related books include Harvard Education Press publications: “Racial Inequity in Special Education” and “Dropouts in America.”

Paper proposals should provide new research on policies, programs, and practices, as well as findings-based policy recommendations toward improving school discipline and reducing disparities. All proposed research should provide credible results through a high quality research design and methodology. Syntheses of the literature with strong implications for policy may be considered, to the extent that an innovative or robust methodology (e.g., meta-analysis) is proposed. Further, revisions and updates of recently published studies will also be considered. Accepted proposals will be those most likely to move the field forward, either in terms of better understanding of the reasons for disciplinary disparities or improving practice with respect to intervention.

Proposed studies might look at policies and their impact on several populations or may focus on a particular population. Especially needed is research that includes analysis of groups with large disciplinary disparities yet have not received much attention in the literature (e.g., females, LGBT, Native Americans). Further, proposals in any of the categories below that provide cross-subgroup analysis are desired. Some examples are research on the effect of out- of- school suspension on Black male students classified as having  “emotional disturbance,” Latina girls from low-income families, or LGBT students of color. Submissions of proposals that contain longitudinal analysis (similar to the Council of State Governments Report on Texas, “Breaking the Rules”) are of special interest. Studies exploring the replication of successful programs are also sought.

The outline below provides prospective researchers with a clear sense of the kind of research topics we hope to support. Proposals are not required to fit within the structure of the outline and are not limited to one of the listed topics.


1.    To what extent is the use of suspension connected to poor academic performance or other unintended negative outcomes?
A number of studies have indicated that being suspended increases the risk of dropping out and involvement in the juvenile justice system. Additional research is needed to further establish and explore the connections between school discipline policy and practice and a host of important outcomes including:
•    Lower test scores and grades
•    Failing to graduate
•    Juvenile justice involvement
•    Special education identification or restrictive special education placement

Further, research evaluating the use of early warning systems and other uses of discipline data to inform interventions designed to reduce the risks of these negative outcomes would be valuable.

2.    What factors contribute to racial and gender disparities in school suspensions?
Research has consistently documented the large disparities but more needs to be understood about the reasons behind observed disparities, including the following:
•    Does bias play a role in school discipline? There is a need for research that explores questions about the possible role of conscious and unconscious bias in producing the observed discipline disparities. Proposals might include explorations of bias by race/ethnicity, gender, disability, poverty and against LGBT students.
•    Do different subgroups of students receive harsher discipline for similar misbehavior? If so, why?
•    Are school-linked factors, (e.g., school disciplinary philosophy, school climate, high-stakes testing, tracking, access to counseling, or teacher classroom management) associated with higher rates of suspension regardless of race and other student characteristics?
•    Is the level of subjectivity involved in determining whether an offense warrants suspension correlated with greater disparities in discipline?
•    What is the relationship of poverty to observed racial disparities?
•    Is there a relationship between indices of teacher quality (e.g., teacher experience or certification) and racial disparities in school discipline?

3.    Are some disciplinary policies particularly harmful?
The American Pediatric Society and the American Psychological Association have suggested that many zero-tolerance approaches to school discipline are counter-productive. Are there disparities in terms of who is exposed to counter-productive policies and practices?
Studies detailing the use and impact of particular policies and their enforcement could be of particular use to policymakers including the following:
•    Are suspensions for truancy increasing? What is their impact?
•    Is there a relationship between harsh discipline policies and school demographics?
•    What is the impact of policies and practices designed to diminish bullying on disparities in discipline? Are there unintended negative consequences?
•    Do different types of teacher evaluation have an impact on how students are disciplined?
•    Do alternative disciplinary schools exacerbate or mitigate disparities?
•    Do any problems result from greater flexibility for charter schools discipline policies?
•    Are similar disparities found in corporal punishment? Is corporal punishment an educationally sound practice?


1.    Are there effective alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion?
Do systemic interventions designed to reduce disciplinary removals actually reduce disparities? Are there examples of successful “culturally competent” systems of support and intervention?  Are interventions cost effective? Can locally successful systemic interventions be scaled up?
The examinations might include the following:
•    School wide systems of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS)
•    Response to Interventions (RTI)
•    Social and emotional support
•    Classroom and behavioral management training
•    Restorative justice
•    Reliance on in-school suspensions
•    Systemic focus on social and emotional supports or health services

2.  What does our knowledge of psychology and child development suggest would help schools address adolescent misbehavior?
Some studies suggest there is no deterrent benefit of frequent use of suspension but additional research is needed regarding how to improve behavior. To what extent do developmental approaches also consider gender and cultural differences?
Proposals might explore the following:
•    How might research on psychology and adolescent behavior (including brain development) inform the role of school discipline policy in deterring future misbehavior?
•    To what extent do current policies reflect the state of our knowledge about adolescence? Cultural competence?
•    To what extent does training in higher education prepare teachers, counselors and administrators to work with diverse adolescents? Are models or programs particularly effective?

3.  How are remedies to disparities in discipline evaluated?
The impact of federal, state and local intervention efforts should be evaluated and improved as needed. Is this happening? What are the criteria for success?
Proposals might explore the following:
•    Has OCR’s focus on school discipline and civil rights enforcement had an impact?
•    Have there been successful remedies to address racial disciplinary disparities among students with disabilities?
•    Have there been successful race/gender conscious forms of PBIS implemented?
•    Are there policies/practices/programs whose success has been demonstrated in terms of reduced dropouts and/or decreased risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system?
•    Are there effective ways to address the possible contributions of bias?
•    Are there effective ways to involve youth or the community at large?

4.    Economics: What are the costs/benefits associated with the frequent use of suspension and expulsion?
How are the disparities reflected in economic analysis?
Proposals may focus on national, state or district level estimates of costs and benefits including the following:
•    What are the costs of suspension based on heightened risk for dropping out?
•    What are the benefits of interventions considering their impact in reducing suspensions, and the longitudinal benefits and costs avoided?
•    What are the costs/benefits of adding security measures? How do these compare to investments in guidance counselors, teacher training, and other non-security based interventions?
•    What are the costs/benefits of alternatives that do not involve disciplinary exclusion from school?
•    How do costs/benefits play out over different time periods? What costs are associated with the status quo?
•    What does cost/benefit analysis suggest for officer involvement in school discipline?

5.    What do we know about the affect of police in schools?
School administrators across the country have engaged law enforcement agencies to address issues of school violence and safety on campuses, but these partnerships vary considerably, particularly in their training and evaluation.  In schools with a law enforcement presence, including school police, school resource/security officers and local law enforcement, several questions arise including:
•    Is the presence of law enforcement related to disparities in discipline?
o    Does this relate to how law enforcement are engaged and deployed on school campuses?
o    How do arrest powers by law enforcement on school campuses relate to disparities in discipline?
•    How does having law enforcement on the school campus affect school climate and the use of disciplinary exclusion?   
•    What distinguishes law enforcement that improves school climate and trust, vs. law enforcement that increases tension and inappropriate or unnecessary arrests?
•    What are some best practices for the coordination of school and law enforcement efforts to ensure school safety?
•    Are there particularly effective models of officer training or community oversight?

6.    How does involvement with the juvenile justice system (or other systems such as foster care) affect the risk for disciplinary removal?
Qualitative as well as quantitative studies are encouraged.
Explorations might include the following:
•    Does the quality of education and social/emotional supports provided to students in JJ facilities prepare them for successful reentry to school?
•    For students with disabilities who become involved in the JJ system, are states meeting their obligation to ensure they receive appropriate special education supports and services as they enter and exit the JJ system?
•    How do probation systems help or hinder successful reentry to school? Are there race/gender disparities in the probation system with regard to reentry?
•    How well does our public school system keep track of school-aged children as they enter and exit the JJ system? Are there effective tracking systems available?
•    How does the experience of disciplinary removal involving the juvenile justice system influence mental health?
•    Are there ways that the juvenile justice system can help reduce the number of youth referred by educational agencies on the basis of school code violations?

Proposal Submission Guidelines

Include the following in the submitted proposal:

1.    A separate cover page should include:

a.    Proposal title
b.    Names and affiliations of authors and contact information
c.    State which topic or topics are addressed in the paper
d.    Name the research method/design that best describes the paper:
(Mixed Method, Qualitative, Quantitative, Experimental, Quasi-Experimental, Non-Experimental, or Longitudinal)
e.    Population: Note if the paper addresses the topic using a population that has been underrepresented in the research (e.g., females, LGBT, Native Americans).
f.    Human Subjects Research Protection: Indicate whether the research has been approved by an institutional review board (IRB) or that IRB is not applicable.

2.    Abstract: Submit an abstract of no more than 500 words

3.   Proposal of no more than three pages in length should contain:

a.    A description of the core topic including the relevance to race/gender disparities.
b.    Objective(s) or purpose(s)
c.    Perspective(s) or theoretical framework
d.    Methods
e.    Data sources
f.    An exploration of policy implications/recommendations is emphasized. Therefore, be sure to include anticipated results, conclusions, and recommendations
g.    The proposal should not contain any author information, additional references, tables, charts, grafts, or figures.

There is a strong preference for original submissions. However, in some cases, an updated or modified version of an author’s recently published study will be accepted with acknowledgements to the original source.

Cover letters, abstracts, and proposals must be submitted electronically to the Center for Civil Rights Remedies by February 28, 2012.

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