Discretion: A Tool for Equity or Oppression?

Recently, with the sentencing of Paul Manafort and the college access scandal, I’ve been thinking a lot about “discretion” and the consequences of its inequitable application. A few examples from around the internet:

  • “Hispanic students constitute 22.3% of students but only 15.4% of students receiving gifted services (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). […] Researchers have identified teacher discretion in the gifted assignment process as a potentially important contributor to this inequity. […] Reliance on teacher referrals can disadvantage students of color if teachers hold lower expectations for them or are less likely to recognize giftedness in such students.” (Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High-Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs| Grissom, Redding)
  • “During the 2009-2010 school year more than 70 percent of students arrested in schools were Black or Hispanic. […] The evidence shows that zero-tolerance policies have failed to make schools safer and are not effective at handling disciplinary issue. […] school districts should establish a disciplinary policy that clearly outlines disciplinary actions and consequences based on the severity of the misbehavior. […] This practice will also ensure that school administrators are not stripped of discretion when disciplining students and unique and mitigating circumstances are considered before punishment is imposed. ” (Tolerance in Schools for Latino Students: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline | Castillo)
  • “[…] exposure to same-race teachers lowers office referrals for willful defiance across all grade levels, suggesting that teacher discretion plays a role in driving our results.” (Exposure to Same-Race Teachers and Student Disciplinary Outcomes for Black Students in North Carolina | Lindsay, Hart)
  • “In New York, attitudes toward manipulation—the propensity among teachers to score leniently—appear to have varied significantly from school to school. They also, interestingly, may have even varied within schools. In the Regents study, white and Asian students were more likely than their black and Latino counterparts to have their test scores manipulated if they fell just short of the cutoff—there were just much more black and Latino students total who scored below the threshold. In other words, the score manipulation may have contributed to inequality just as much as it erased it.” (Why Would a Teacher Cheat? | Wong)

In Missouri, Black and Brown students are arrested at higher percentages (18.6%; 6.2% respectively) than they represent in enrollment numbers (14.2%; 5.2% respectively). Why do you think that is? How does discretion contribute to this inequality?

How does discretion show up in your classroom or school? And more importantly, why are Black and Brown students subject to the most negative consequences of its application?



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