research News

Finn discusses racial, gender differences in school discipline


Published June 19, 2014

Jeremy Finn.

Jeremy Finn

UB Graduate School of Education faculty member Jeremy D. Finn recently was a speaker at a national conference on school discipline, suspensions, security and misbehavior, with special emphasis on alternatives to excluding students from schools.

Finn, whose specialties include the effect of class size on learning, academic performance, graduation rates and future employment, says the conference informed educational policymakers about current research on school suspensions and racial/ethnic disparities in particular.

The conference, “Closing the School Discipline Gap: Research to Remedies,” was sponsored by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, the Equity Center at Indiana University, the Gallup organization and others. It was held at the Gallup Center in Washington, D.C.

“There was a lot of discussion of alternatives to excluding students from school, which is known as harmful to many students,” says Finn, a professor and associate dean for research in the GSE. “School security measures play a major part in this issue.” The audience, he adds, included educational administrators, policymakers at all levels and government representatives.

Finn presented a paper, co-authored by Canisius College’s Timothy Servoss, titled “Misbehavior, Suspensions and Security Measures in High School: Racial/Ethnic and Gender Differences.” In it, Finn and Servoss examined the characteristics of schools that implemented the most extreme security measures and those with the highest levels of discipline.

The study used data on individual students to examine misbehavior and race and gender disparities in suspensions.

The paper concluded with numerous findings. Among them:

·        Out-of-school suspensions were more frequent among schools in higher-crime neighborhoods. Thus, students suspended may be relegated to an environment not conducive to positive educational or social outcomes.

·        In-school suspensions serve a “gateway” function with regard to out-of-school suspensions. They may provide a time and place to address behavior problems before they occur.

·        African-American students and Hispanic/Latino students were suspended at higher rates than were non-Hispanic whites, differences in most cases not attributable to different levels of misbehavior.

“All of these have implications for school policy and practice,” the paper states.

Finn was one of the principal investigators in the largest randomized study ever done in American education on class size. The landmark longitudinal study of 12,000 students started in 1985 and is ongoing, as researchers assess whether there is a connection between class size and other life characteristics, such as employment and mortality rates.

“The study has followed the students into young adulthood and found long-term effects of attending small classes in elementary grades,” Finn says. “The benefits of small class size include higher test scores, higher rates of taking advanced course work and higher rates of taking the SATs and ACTs.”