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November 1, 2023
Vol. 81
No. 3
Research Alert

The Consequences of Inconsistent Discipline in Middle Schools

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    Classroom Management
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      For responses to challenging behavior within a school to be effective, rules and consequences must be applied consistently, especially by principals and assistant principals. A recent study examined how consistent North Carolina middle school teachers perceive their school administrators to be, discipline-wise. The same study looked at how likely Black students in those teachers' schools are to receive out-of-school suspensions in response to their behavior (their "risk ratio"), to see if a leader's consistency might be related to the suspension rates of Black students. Findings showed that many of these teachers view their school administrators as inconsistent when applying school discipline—and in schools where teachers rated their administrators as more consistent, the risk ratio for Black students being suspended decreased.
      Researcher John A. Williams III examined middle school teachers' views because many studies indicate that middle schools have the highest rates of school suspensions for students. Data from 108 public middle school teachers' responses on the 2015–16 North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey were reviewed—particularly their responses to the question Do school administrators consistently enforce rules for student conduct? These teachers taught in five racially diverse districts. On a 4-point scale (with 4 being most consistent), the mean answer teachers chose for this question was 2.65 in urban schools, 2.75 in suburban schools, and 2.60 in rural schools, indicating many respondents did not see their school leaders as consistent.
      Another factor significantly influencing rates of suspension for Black students was a school's percentage of economically disadvantaged students: In schools that had higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students, the risk ratio for Black students being suspended was higher. The author notes that other research also indicates that Black learners, specifically, experience the effects of inconsistencies in school discipline acutely:
      When investigating discrepancies with how school rules are applied, an inescapable reality is that the level of wealth or poverty a school contends with is influencing how school administrators oversee school discipline for African American middle school students.
      The researchers recommend that principals devote time to explaining major disciplinary decisions to teachers—and, when at all possible, include teachers and students in making decisions about discipline.
      References

      Williams, J. A. III (2022). Middle school teachers' perceptions of school administrators' enforcement of school rules for African American students. Journal of Classroom Instruction56(2), 4–16.

      Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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