Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Persistently Disciplined Urban Students' Experiences of the Middle School Transition and "Getting in Trouble"

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Persistently Disciplined Urban Students' Experiences of the Middle School Transition and "Getting in Trouble"

Article excerpt

Urban middle school students of color are disproportionately subjected to exclusionary discipline, reflecting a discipline gap between White students and students of color. The discipline gap results in negative outcomes similar to those caused by the academic achievement gap. Although the discipline gap occurs at all levels of schooling, it becomes exacerbated at the middle school transition when all students are subject to exclusionary discipline more frequently than they were in elementary school. Some students experience repeated discipline events throughout the school year causing them to become persistently disciplined. Although persistently disciplined students are frequently subjected to discipline experiences, they are rarely asked their perceptions of these experiences. Drawing upon stage-environment fit theory, this qualitative study examines the experiences of 11 persistently disciplined urban middle school students of color to understand how they experience the middle school transition, how it adversely impacts them, and how it contributes to the rise in the discipline gap at this developmental stage. Findings suggest that peer "drama" plays a key role in derailing persistently disciplined students and attention to peer relationships will be required in successfully decreasing discipline events. Additionally, these students require rigorous content be made accessible to them by supportive teachers and through means that do not require the mastery of reading.

More than 2 million students in the United States were suspended out of school during the 2009-2010 school year (Losen & Martinez, 2013). Out-of-school suspensions, along with in-school suspensions and expulsions, belong to a category called "exclusionary discipline" because they remove students from classrooms. Educators' uses of exclusionary discipline have sharply increased as zero tolerance policies have proliferated (Fabelo et al., 2011). These disciplinary responses are not applied equally to all students. Instead, disproportionality exists between the number of White students and students of color who receive exclusionary discipline, causing a "discipline gap" between these groups of students (Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010).1

Urban middle school students of color are the most likely to experience the disparities in educators' uses of suspension and expulsion to discipline students (Losen & Skiba, 2010; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002). Not only are Black, Latino, and Native American students excluded from school at higher rates than their White counterparts (Losen & Martinez, 2013; Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008), but middle school students are also disciplined more frequently than elementary and high school students (Raffaele Mendez & Knoff, 2003; Skiba et al., 2002; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997). Recent research suggests that students who transition to middle school in sixth or seventh grade experience a higher number of suspensions than those who stay in a K-8 school (Arcia, 2007). Increased disciplinary events occur at the transition to middle school particularly among students of color and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Malaspina & Rimm-Kaufrnan, 2008; Theriot & Dupper, 2010).

While we know that being suspended or expelled from school predicts school dropout (Balfanz, Byrnes, & Fox, 2013), we do not know what this process is like for students or how disciplined students make sense of their experiences. Though a handful of recent studies ask high school students about their experiences related to school discipline (see Brown & Rodriguez, 2009; McNeal & Dunbar, 2010; Sheets, 1996), voices of middle school boys and girls of color who compose the population of disciplined students have been omitted. The purpose of this study is to gain insight into the disproportionality of middle school discipline by examining persistently disciplined2 students' experiences through their eyes in order to bring their perspectives to bear on reforming inequitable exclusionary discipline practices. …

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