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Race & School Discipline

April 22, 2015

Do African American students get labeled as troublemakers more quickly than other students do?



Empty Swingset Wayne Silver flickr CC BY 2.0

(Wayne Silver/flickr/Creative Commons License BY 2.0)

Is school justice color-blind? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Teachers given school records of students misbehaving judged students more harshly if they had African American-sounding names. In the journal Psychological Science, Stanford psychology graduate student Jason Okonofua and his colleagues report that records that showed two minor infractions by, say, “Darnell” were graded as more severe and deserving of punishment than the same two infractions committed by “Jake.”

JASON OKONOFUA (Stanford University):

Most school teachers likely work hard at treating their students equally and justly, and yet we find that cultural stereotypes about black people are bending people’s perceptions toward less favorable interpretations of children’s behavior.


Okonofua says the problem can be overcome with new techniques to interpret and respond to student misbehavior. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.