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

Keywords: 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.


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