By James Barnett
Through collaborations with the Joseph C. Cornwall Center at Rutgers-Newark, the New Jersey State Policy Lab has provided ongoing, rigorous research on the subject of discipline disparities in New Jersey K-12 schools through multiple reports and articles.[i][ii] Generally, the researchers have concluded that schools in New Jersey that are more segregated in terms of racial demographics and that serve higher percentages of students with disabilities experienced higher rates of school suspensions. While this phenomenon is likely attributable to a wide array of factors, one that has gathered considerable attention in recent education literature is the “diversity gap” between educators and students. Research has shown that some White teachers hold higher rates of implicit bias towards students of color which can manifest in “lower teacher expectations for students’ educational attainment, decreased access to advanced coursework, and higher rates of suspensions and exclusionary discipline.”[iii] This exclusionary discipline is said to be reduced when there is more “race matching” between teachers and students, calling for a need to promote teacher diversity in schools.[iv]
New Jersey is not exempt from this evidenced discourse. While more than 60% of all students in the K-12 school system are of color, the majority of educators remain White; with the gap continuing to widen in the post-pandemic wake of educator shortages.[v] Sampling the school districts ranking in the two highest intervals for in-school and out-of-school suspension rates from the September 2022 Policy Lab report by Campbell et. al, we analyze data from the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) Performance Reports for the school year 2020-2021 on student, teacher, and administrator racial makeup and number of severe disciplinary instances (including violence, vandalism, HIB, and substance offenses and police notifications resulting from disciplinary action). Of the districts found to have the highest rates of these instances of disciplinary action, the disparities between the percentage of teachers and administrators of color compared to students are stark. In one district in Cumberland County, for example, the proportional makeup of students of color was 87.3% higher than the corresponding makeup of teachers and 74.2% higher than the corresponding makeup of administrators.[vi] In 2020-21, this district reported 53 instances of violence, vandalism, harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB), and substance offenses, and 24 police notifications to the DOE (in a district of only 4,854 students).
To quantify our analysis, we grouped each of the 25 districts in our sample into five separate equal intervals based on level of disparities found between both teacher and administrator racial makeup and student racial makeup. We found that:
- Twenty out of 25 districts fell into the two highest intervals for student/teacher minority racial disparity (the percentage difference between students of color and teachers of color), reflecting each one having a makeup of students of color that was over 70.2% higher than that of teachers.
- Fifteen out of the 25 districts fell into the two highest intervals for student/administrator minority racial disparity (the percentage difference between students of color and administrators of color), reflecting each one having a makeup of students of color that was over 63.8% higher than that of administrators.
- The average percentage of the total student body that was subject to severe disciplinary action for these districts falling in the two highest intervals for both teacher and administrator disparities was 0.39%; while it was only 0.09% for the districts that fell in the lower three intervals.
- The average percentage of the total student body that was subject to discipline that resulted in police notification for these districts falling in the two highest intervals for teacher and administrator disparities was 0.32%; while it was only 0.03% for the districts that fell in the lower three intervals.
While there are numerous other policies and factors that could lead to this trend, this racial makeup data may provide greater insight into the rates of disciplinary offenses. There also could be reporting issues present in some instances, (e.g., districts with low numbers of offenses or no data reported at all). To be more comprehensive, this analysis could be expanded to include a wider array of districts across the state to analyze the trend on a larger scale.
Additionally, in the future we also hope to apply this analysis to educational attainment rates in these districts to gauge potential impacts on assorted variables referenced in research surrounding the topic.
James Barnett is a graduate student in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Planning and Policy at Rutgers University. He is working toward a Master of City and Regional Planning degree in 2024.
[i] Kim, Elisabeth. “Discipline Inequity and Segregation in New Jersey’s High Schools.” New Jersey State Policy Lab. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, October 21, 2022. https://policylab.rutgers.edu/discipline-inequity-and-segregation-in-new-jerseys-high-schools/.
[ii] Lee, Cheon, Elisabeth Crowell Kim, Vandeen A Campbell, Charles M Payne, Jamelia N Harris, and Dillon Turner. Rep. Discipline Disparities in New Jersey’s High Schools. Newark and New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, 2022.
[iii] Blazar, David. Rep. Teachers of Color, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Student Outcomes: Experimental Evidence from the Random Assignment of Teachers to Classes 21. 501st ed. Providence, RI: Brown University, 2021.
[iv] Zerbino, Nicolas. “Teacher Diversity and Student Success: Why Racial Representation Matters in the Classroom.” Brookings. Brookings, May 3, 2021. https://www.brookings.edu/events/teacher-diversity-and-student-success-why-racial-representation-matters-in-the-classroom/
[v] DiFilippo, Dana. “Teacher-Student Diversity Gap Widens in New Jersey.” New Jersey Monitor, December 23, 2022. https://newjerseymonitor.com/2022/09/09/teacher-student-diversity-gap-widens-in-new-jersey/