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Animating Discipline Disparities Through Debilitating Practices: Girls of Color and Inequitable Classroom Interactions

by Subini Annamma, Tamara Handy, Amanda L. Miller & Elizabeth Jackson - 2020

Context: Girls of Color are overrepresented in school disciplinary actions based on subjectively judged, minor infractions. Studies have consistently shown that this exclusionary discipline has long-lasting impact on Girls of Color and their educational outcomes, including increased risk for pushout and involvement in the criminal legal system.

Focus of Study: We sought to uncover the processes that animate the statistics of overrepresentation of Girls of Color in disciplinary actions. Said differently, we sought to understand where, how, and why Girls of Color were being disciplined in schools. Using a Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) lens and centering the voices of Girls’ of Color, this empirical study was guided by the question, What mechanisms propel and dispel disciplinary inequities for Girls of Color?

Research Design: The qualitative research took place in a suburban school district in the Midwestern United States marked by increasing racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity. This was part of a larger two-year study that centered the voices of more than 50 Girls of Color, their families (11), and their teachers (11), exploring understandings of and experiences with school discipline disparities for Girls of Color. Data sources for the full project included interviews with Girls of Color (32), families (10), and teachers (8); focus groups (Girls of Color = 17; families = 3; teachers = 3); classroom and district event observations, Education Journey Mapping (21); and a Cartographer’s Clinic. Data for this study focus on the interviews and focus groups with Girls of Color, working to center them as knowledge generators.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our analysis revealed the ways in which discipline disparities were animated by inequitable academic and behavioral responses of teachers to classroom interactions, which we name debilitating practices. Further, Girls of Color embodied repositioning as ways of maintaining their integrity and individuality when experiencing academic and behavioral injustices. We conclude with major implications for school personnel: (a) academically, educators must reflect on how ability is distributed and withheld in the classroom along racialized and gendered lines, and (b) behaviorally, positive behavior supports should be imagined and implemented through a race and gender conscious lens. Though we focus on classroom interactions, we also understand that public schools, schools of education, and society all have a role to play in dismantling the school–prison nexus. However, classroom interactions continue to be identified as the source of disciplinary disparities in both quantitative and qualitative studies. Consequently, teachers have an opportunity to change their classroom practices to academically and behaviorally support Girls of Color.  

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 5, 2020, p. 1-46
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23280, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 2:18:06 AM

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About the Author
  • Subini Annamma
    Stanford University
    SUBINI ANCY ANNAMMA, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Stanford University. Her research critically examines the mutually constitutive nature of racism and ableism, how they interlock with other marginalizing oppressions, and how these intersections impact education in urban schools and youth prisons. Dr. Annamma is a past Ford Postdoctoral Fellow, Critical Race Studies in Education Associate Emerging Scholar recipient, and AERA Division G Early Career Awardee. Her recent writing appears in Theory Into Practice, Review of Research in Education, and Teaching and Teacher Education. Dr. Annamma’s book, The Pedagogy of Pathologization: Dis/abled Girls of Color in the School-Prison Nexus (Routledge, 2018), focuses on the education trajectories of incarcerated disabled girls of color and has won the AESA Critic’s Choice Award and the NWSA Alison Piepmeier Book Prize.
  • Tamara Handy
    University of Kelania Sri Lanka
    E-mail Author
    TAMARA HANDY, Ph.D., is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Disability Studies, Ragama Medical Faculty, University of Kelania Sri Lanka. Her research interests include inclusive education and education in war-affected countries. Her recent writing appears in Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal and Curriculum Inquiry.
  • Amanda Miller
    SUNY Cortland
    E-mail Author
    AMANDA L. MILLER, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Foundations and Social Advocacy Department at SUNY Cortland. Her scholarship focuses on how schooling mechanisms produce or disrupt academic and social opportunities for girls of color with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also studies teacher preparation for culturally sustaining inclusive education and family–school–community partnerships with and for families from diverse backgrounds. Her recent writing appears in Race Ethnicity and Education and Inclusion.
  • Elizabeth Jackson
    University of Kansas
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH JACKSON is a doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on the relationships between disability, race, gender, and mechanisms in school that propel and disrupt student entry to domestic minor sex trafficking. Her dissertation examines the ways that school special education staff may contribute to its disruption.
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