Racial Discipline Disproportionality in Montessori and Traditional Public Schools: A Comparative Study Using the Relative Rate Index





Montessori, discipline, discipline disproportionality


Research from the past 40 years indicates that African American students are subjected to exclusionary discipline, including suspension and expulsion, at rates two to three times higher than their White peers (Children’s Defense Fund, 1975; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002). Although this phenomenon has been studied extensively in traditional public schools, rates of racially disproportionate discipline in public Montessori schools have not been examined. The purpose of this study is to examine racial discipline disproportionality in Montessori public elementary schools as compared to traditional elementary schools. The Relative Rate Index (RRI) is used as a measure of racially disproportionate use of out-of-school suspensions (Tobin & Vincent, 2011). Suspension data from the Office of Civil Rights Data Collection was used to generate RRIs for Montessori and traditional elementary schools in a large urban district in the Southeast. While statistically significant levels of racial discipline disproportionality are found in both the Montessori and traditional schools, the effect is substantially less pronounced in Montessori settings. These findings suggest that Montessori schools are not immune to racially disproportionate discipline and should work to incorporate more culturally responsive classroom management techniques. Conversely, the lower levels of racially disproportionate discipline in the Montessori schools suggests that further study of discipline in Montessori environments may provide lessons for traditional schools to promote equitable discipline.

Author Biographies

  • Katie E. Brown, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    Katie E. Brown is a PhD student in the Curriculum and Instruction Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a focus on urban education.
  • Aimy S.L. Steele, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    Aimy S.L. Steele is a PhD student in the Curriculum and Instruction Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a focus on urban education.


The American Civil Liberties Union. (n.d.). School-to-prison pipeline. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/school-prison-pipeline

American Psychological Association. (2008). Zero tolerance. Washington, DC: Author.

Ansari, A., & Winsler, A. (2014). Montessori public school pre-K programs and the school readiness of low-income Black and Latino children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(4), 1066-1079. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036799

Banks, J., Cochran-Smith, M., Moll, L., Richert, A., Zeichner, K., LePage, P., . . . McDonald, M. (2005). Teaching diverse learners. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 232-274). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bell, D. A. (1979). Brown v. Board of Education and the interest-convergence dilemma. Harvard Law Review, 93(3), 518-533.

Byun, W., Blair, S. N., & Pate, R. R. (2013). Objectively measured sedentary behavior in preschool children: Comparison between Montessori and traditional preschools. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10(2), 1-7. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1479-5868-10-2.pdf

Bradshaw, C., Mitchell, M. M., O’Brennan, L. M., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Multilevel exploration of factors contributing to the overrepresentation of black students in office discipline referrals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 508-520.

Cartledge, G., Gibson Jr., L., & Keyes, S.E. (2012). Special education and discipline disproportionality of African American students. In J. L. Moore III & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), African American students in urban schools (pp. 75-93). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Castellanos, A. G. (2002). A comparison of traditional vs. Montessori education in relation to children's self-esteem, self-efficacy, and prosocial behavior (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from UMI (3070508)

Children’s Defense Fund. (1975). Out-of-school suspensions: Are they helping children? Cambridge, MA: Children’s Defense Fund.

Children’s Defense Fund. (2012). Zero tolerance and exclusionary school discipline policies. Retrieved from http://www.childrensdefense.org/

Christle, C. A., Jolivette, K., Nelson, C. M. (2010). Breaking the school to prison pipeline: Identifying school risk and protective factors for youth delinquency. Exceptionality, 13, 69-88. doi: 10.1207/s15327035ex1302_2

Cornell, D., & Lovegrove, P. (2015). Student threat assessment as a method of reducing student suspensions. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion (pp. 180-191). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Dohrmann, K. R., Nishida, T. K., Gartner, A., Lipsky, D. K., & Grimm, K. J. (2007). High school outcomes for students in a public Montessori program. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22(2), 205-217. doi: 10.1080/02568540709594622

Ervin, B., Wash, P. D., & Mecca, M. E. (2010). A 3-year study of self-regulation in Montessori and non-Montessori classrooms. Montessori Life, 2010, 22(2), 22-31.

Feyerherm, W., Snyder, H. N., & Villaruel, F. (2009). Chapter 1: Identification and monitoring. In DMC Technical Assistance Manual (4th ed.) (pp. I1-I34). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.

Gillborn, D. (2006). Critical race theory and education: Racism and anti-racism in educational theory and praxis. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 27(1), 11-32.

Gonzalez, T. (2015). Socializing schools: Addressing racial disparities in discipline through restorative justice. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion (pp. 151-165). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Gramsci, A. (2010). Intellectuals and hegemony. In C. Lemert (Ed.), Social theory: The multicultural and classic readings (4th ed.) (pp. 263-265). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (Original work published 1971)

Gregory, A., Skiba, R. J., & Noguera, P. A. (2010). The achievement gap and the discipline gap: Two sides of the same coin?. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 59-68.

Hancock, S. D. (2011). White women’s work. In J.G. Landsman & C.W. Lewis (Eds.), White teachers/diverse classrooms: Creating inclusive schools, building on students’ diversity and providing educational equity (2nd ed., pp. 93-109). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Hirschfield, P. J. (2010). School surveillance in America: Disparate and unequal. In T. Monahan & R. Torres (Eds.), Schools under surveillance: Cultures of control in public education (pp. 38-54). New Brunswick, NH: Rutgers University Press.

James, M. (2014). Keeping our promises: Exposing and subverting educational inequities in urban schools in the 21st century. Paper presented at the 1st Biennial International Conference on Urban Education. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Johnson, T., Boyden, J. E., & Pitz, W. J. (2001). Racial profiling and punishment in U.S. public schools: How zero tolerance policies and high stakes testing subvert academic excellence and racial equity. Research report [and] executive summary. Oakland, CA: Applied Research Center.

Jones, K. A., Jones, J. L., & Vermette, P. J. (2013). Exploring the complexity of classroom management: 8 components of managing a highly productive, safe, and respectful urban environment. American Secondary Education, 41(3), 21-33.

Kaufman, J. S., Jaser, S. S., Vaughan, E. L., Reynolds, J. S., Di Donato, J., Bernard, S. N., & Hernandez-Brereton, M. (2010). Patterns in office discipline referral data by grade, race/ethnicity, and gender. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 12, 44-54.

KewelRamani, A., Gilbertson, L., Fox, M., & Provasnik, S. (2007). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic minorities (NCES 2007-039). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 262-273.

Krezmien, M. P., Leone, P. E., & Achilles, G. M. (2006). Suspension, race, and disability: Analysis of statewide practices and reporting. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14, 217-226.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate IV, W. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. The Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47-68.

Lee, J. (2002). Racial and ethnic achievement gap trends: Reversing the progress toward equity? Educational Researcher, 31, 3-12.

Lee, J., Grigg, W., & Donahue, P. (2007). The nation’s report card: Reading 2007 (NCES 2007-496). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education.

Lewis, C. W., Butler, B. R., Bonner III, F. A., & Joubert, M. (2010). African American male discipline patterns and school district responses resulting impact on academic achievement: Implications for urban educators and policy makers. Journal of African American Males in Education, 1, 7-25.

Lewis, C. W., Chambers, T. V., & Butler, B. R. (2012). Urban education in the 21st century: An overview of selected issues that impact African American student outcomes. In J. L. Moore & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), African American students in urban schools: Critical issues and solutions for achievement (pp. 11-30). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Lindsay, L. A., Irving, M. A., Tanner, T., & Underdue, D. (2013). In the loop: An examination of the effectiveness of looping for African American students. Curriculum and Research, 1(4), 150-162.

Lillard, A. S. (2005). Montessori: The science behind the genius. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lillard, A. S., & Else-Quest, N. (2006). Evaluating Montessori education. Science, 313, 1893-1894.

Lippman, L., Burns, S., & McArthur, E. (1996). Urban schools: The challenges of location and poverty (NCES Publication No. 96-184). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Lopata, C., Wallace, N. V., & Finn, K. V. (2005). Comparison of academic achievement between Montessori and traditional education programs. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 20(1), 5-13.

Miller, P. C., & Mikulec, E. A. (2014). Pre-service teachers confronting issues of diversity through a radical field experience. Multicultural Education, 21(2), 18-24.

Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education. (2015). 2015 guide to accreditation. Retrieved from http://www.macte.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/MACTE-Guide-to-Accreditation-2015.pdf

National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. (2014). Public Montessori schools in the United States. Retrieved from http://public-montessori.org/census-project/schools-map

Rathunde, K., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2005). Middle school students’ motivation and quality of experience: A comparison of Montessori and traditional school environments. American Journal of Education, 111(3), 341-371.

Rodriguez, L., Irby, B. J., Brown, G., Lara-Alecio, R., & Galloway, M. (2005). An analysis of reading achievement related to pre-kindergarten Montessori and transitional bilingual education. In V. Gonzalez & J. Tinajero (Eds.), Review of Research and Practice (Vol 3., pp. 45-65). Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Earlbaum Associates.

Schollenberger, T. L., (2015). Racial disparities in school suspension and subsequent outcomes: evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion (pp. 31-43). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Skiba, R. J. (2005). Minority disproportionality in special education and school discipline: What we know, what we need to know [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.ceep.indiana.edu/ieo/idp

Skiba, R. J., Chung, C., Trachok, M., Baker, T., Sheya, A., & Hughes, R. (2015). Where should we intervene? Contributions of behavior, students, and school characteristics to out-of-school suspension. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion (pp. 132-146). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Skiba, R. J., Horner, R. H., Chung, C., Rausch, M. K., May, S. L., & Tobin, T. J. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40, 85-107.

Skiba, R. J., Michael, R. S., Nardo, A., & Peterson, R. L. (2002). The color of discipline: Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. Urban Review, 34(4), 317-342.

Skiba, R. J., Peterson, R. L., & Williams, T. (1997). Office referrals and suspension: Disciplinary intervention in middle schools. Education & Treatment of Children, 20, 295-316.

Skiba, R. J., & Rausch, M. K. (2006). Zero tolerance, suspension, and expulsion: Questions of equity and effectiveness. In C.M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 1063-1089). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sleeter, C. E. (2008). Preparing white teachers for diverse students. In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. J. McIntyre, & K. M. Zeichner (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd ed., pp. 559-582). New York, NY: Routledge.

Stansbury, J. (2012). Dealing with diversity: Administrator, teacher and parent perceptions of the responsiveness of Montessori schools to racial and ethnic diversity (Unpublished master’s thesis). DePaul University, Chicago, IL.

Thompson, N. L., Franz, D. P., & Miller, N. (2009). Research summary: Looping. Retrieved from http://www.nmsa.org/Research/ResearchSummaries/Looping/tabid/2090/ Default.aspx

Tobin, T. J., & Vincent, C. G. (2011). Strategies for preventing disproportionate exclusions of African American students. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 55(4), 192-201.

U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. (2014). Civil rights data collection snapshot: School discipline. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/crdc-discipline-snapshot.pdf

U. S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (n.d.). Civil rights data collection. Retrieved from http://ocrdata.ed.gov/DistrictSchoolSearch?ds=1#schoolSearch

Vincent, C. G., Sprague, J. R., Pavel, M., Tobin, T. J., & Gau, J. M. (2015). Effectiveness of schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports in reducing racially inequitable disciplinary exclusion. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion (pp. 207-221). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Vincent, C. G., Tobin, T. J., Hawken, L. S., & Frank, J. L. (2012). Discipline referrals and access to secondary level support in elementary and middle schools: Patterns across African-American, Hispanic American, and White students. Education and Treatment of Children, 35, 431-458.

Vincent, C. G., Tobin, T. J., Swain-Broadway, J., & May, S. (2011). Disciplinary referrals or culturally and linguistically diverse students with and without disabilities: Patterns resulting from school-wide positive behavior support. Exceptionality, 19, 175-190.

Wacquant, L. (2000). Deadly symbiosis: When ghetto and prison meet and mesh. Punishment and Society, 3 (1), 95-134.

Wald, J., & Losen, D. J. (2003). Defining and redirecting a school-to-prison pipeline. In J. Wald & D. J. Losen (Eds.), New directions for youth development: Vol. 99. Deconstructing the school-to-prison pipeline (pp. 9-15). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wallace Jr, J. M., Goodkind, S., Wallace, C. M., & Bachman, J. G. (2008). Racial, ethnic, and gender differences in school discipline among US high school students: 1991-2005. The Negro Educational Review, 59(1-2), 47.

Weinstein, C., Curran, M., & Tomlinson-Clarke, S. (2003). Culturally responsive classroom management: Awareness into action. Theory Into Practice, 42, 269-276.

Wolk, S. (2003). Hearts and minds. Educational Leadership, 61(1), 14–18.

Yezbick, M. (2007). How Montessori educators in the U.S. address culturally responsive teaching (Unpublished master’s thesis). San Francisco State University: San Francisco, CA.




How to Cite

Brown, K. E., & Steele, A. S. (2015). Racial Discipline Disproportionality in Montessori and Traditional Public Schools: A Comparative Study Using the Relative Rate Index. Journal of Montessori Research, 1(1), 14-27. https://doi.org/10.17161/jomr.v1i1.4941