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Report Identifies Racial, Gender Disparities in Colorado School Discipline


Ryan Pfleger, (202) 270-0028
William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,

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BOULDER, CO April 30, 2012 -- A new report confirms the existence of suspected disparities in school discipline in Colorado and calls for further research as well as policy changes.

The report, Colorado Disciplinary Practices, 2008-2010: Disciplinary Actions, Student Behaviors, Race, and Gender, is published today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. It is written by University of Colorado Boulder graduate students Ryan Pfleger and Kathryn Wiley.

The report comes as the Colorado legislature has recently taken school discipline policies under review, pursuant to SB 11-133. The report analyzes the most complete set of Colorado discipline data, and according to the authors, “adds to and reinforces existing studies, documenting some troubling patterns, and suggests important changes in policy and in future data gathering.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • Behavior categories identified as discretionary – meaning that schools have latitude in choosing what disciplinary measures to employ as a consequence of those behaviors – account for the vast majority (85.5 percent) of student behavioral incidents in the two years from 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Such behaviors include disobedience, detrimental behaviors, and “other” violations.
  • Schools are, on average, more likely to assign out-of-school suspensions than any other disciplinary action. The next most common category is in-school suspensions.
  • Higher percentages of Black, American Indian, and Latino students receive disciplinary actions compared with White and Asian American students. Black students and other students of color are assigned out-of-school suspensions at rates far higher than White or Asian students.

The authors note that while past research has shown patterns in which certain racial groups are assigned discipline disproportionate to any race-identified differences in behaviors. The Colorado datasets do not allow for such analysis, however.

The authors identify two policy issues from their data. The first is whether racial disproportionality reflects a disproportionate number of students of color engaging in certain types of behaviors, or whether it reflects students of color being punished for behaviors that White students engage in without such serious consequences. The second issue involves out-of-school suspensions and the negative consequences, such as the higher dropout rates, correlated with this type of disciplinary action.

They urge the consideration of remedies to address the frequent use of out-of-school suspensions, and in particular its frequent use for students of color. They recommend revising school discipline policy to take into account the over representation of students of color in disciplinary actions, as well as the collection of additional data to further understand patterns and reasons for those patterns in disciplinary practice.

Find Colorado Disciplinary Practices, 2008-2010: Disciplinary Actions, Student Behaviors, Race, and Gender, by Ryan Pfleger and Kathryn Wiley, on the web at:

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on NEPC, please visit