Certainly one remarkable aspect of research into disparities in public school discipline rates is the failure to recognize that stringent discipline policies do not cause larger relative differences in discipline rates than more lenient ones, the subject of the main Discipline Disparities page of this site.But also remarkable is the way that such research addresses gender differences in discipline rates in much the same manner as racial differences in discipline rates without apparent recognition of the reasons, evident to anyone who has attended school in the United States or any other country, that differences in behavior would be expected to result in substantial differences between male and female discipline rates.While not germane to the instant subject, I note that a proper measurement of the disparities may be found in Table 2 of the Discipline Disparities page.The table also shows that pattern whereby, in accordance with the statistical patterns described on the Scanlan’s Rule and other pages of this site, relative gender differences in discipline rates tend to be larger among whites (where discipline rates are lower) than among blacks, while relative differences in rates of avoiding discipline are larger among blacks than whites.
The 2006 American Psychological Association (APA) Zero Tolerance Task Force report styled “Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in Schools?: An Evidentiary Review and Recommendation,”which is the subject of the APA Zero Tolerance Study sub-page, addressed gender disparities with the usual obtuseness found in discussion of such issue and recommended further study of the issue.As discussed in the sub-page on the report, however, when authors of the report subsequently summarized its findings in a December 2008 American Psychologist article, they sensibly eliminated the recommendation for further study of the issue.In fact that article mentions nothing about gender differences in discipline rates.
But the failure to mention the matter did not undo the damage of the report itself.And one may expect resources to continue to be devoted to this issue.A call for papers for a November or December 2012 conference on discipline disparities by the Civil Rights project treats racial and gender disparities in the same manner.
Whether or not the observed racial difference discipline rates are in part the consequence of differential treatment (the subject of theDisparate Treatment sub-page), the mechanisms that have been suggested as underlying disparate treatment are not implausible (though it warrants note that sometimes the descriptions of the mechanisms seem to confuse explanations for differences in behavior with explanations for differences in treating the same behavior differently).Skiba et al. (in a 2012 paper “Parsing Disciplinary Disproportionality: Contributions of Behavior, Student, and School Characteristics to Suspension and Expulsion”) observe that “[i]t has been suggested that gender disproportionality could be accounted for by the fact that some teachers see boys as more defiant and disruptive than other groups (Newcomb, Abbott, Catalano, Hawkins, Battin-Pearson, & Hill, 2002; Wentzel, 2002).”I have not examined the references.[i]But it warrants note that Skiba et al. characterize the matter in terms that suggest teacher perceptions account entirely for the disparity.It is not inconceivable that inaccurate teacher perceptions could account for some part of the disproportionality.But the suggestion that no part of the disproportionality is accounted for by the fact that boys tend to be more disruptive that girls defies common sense.
The Addendum to a February 2015 study by Losen et al. for the UCLA Civil Rights project, “Are We Closing the Discipline Gap,” which provides profiles on demographic differences in 22 large school districts, states with respect to each school district (beginning at 3):“Furthermore, because males and females come from homes with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, the larger gender gap within each racial group cannot be explained by poverty.”It is hard to understand how a reasonable researcher would think this point is worth making once, much less that it warrants repetition.
The thoughtless carrying over of the concerns about racial differences to gender differences occurs in various settings.In “The Curious Case of Affirmative Action for Women,” (Society 1992), I discuss the way that the affirmative action policies that arose from concern for racial minorities were adapted to women without consideration of the ways important justification for affirmative action for minorities do not apply to women.But affirmative action for women at least involves a situation where concerns about one disadvantaged group has led to policies benefiting another disadvantaged group.
The process is harder to understand when concerns about the possibility of racial discrimination against minorities is translated into concern about the possibility of gender discrimination against male students.Compare Section B of my Comment on Harper Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention 2008 which criticizes the authors’ treatment of differences in outcome rates adverse to advantaged populations as health disparities in the same way as differences adverse to disadvantaged groups.
[i]SeeNewcomb, M.D., Abbott, R.D., Catalano, R.F., Hawkins, J.D., Battin-Pearson, S., Hill, K. (2002). Mediational and deviance theories of late high school failure: Process roles of structural strains, academic competence, and general versus specific problem behaviors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49(2), 172-186; and Wentzel, K. R. (2002). Are effective teachers like good parents? Teaching styles and student adjustment in early adolescence. Child Development, 73, 287-301.