Promoting Equity and Addressing Disparities in K-12 Schools

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) have been working to promote equity and address disparities in K-12 schools. In particular, ED and DOJ have issued guidance on improving school discipline. Why?

  • Discriminatory discipline practices in our nation’s schools disproportionately impact students of color; students with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive disabilities; and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ).1 
  • Large numbers of these students are removed from class, lose opportunities to learn, and are suspended or expelled from school because of exclusionary discipline practices. The impact on students, families, schools, and the community is serious and the cost is high.
  • Students become alienated from school and their teachers, and they are placed at risk of educational, economic, and social problems.2 
  • Often these youth also have disproportionate rates of contact with the juvenile justice system, particularly when being arrested at school or referred to court from school.3 This initial contact can lead to deeper involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems and reduce the likelihood that these youth will return to school or graduate.4

Below are a selection of federal, NCSSLE, and other resources available on this site to help communities promote equity and address disparities.

2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection: A First Look

Uses a survey of all public schools and school districts in the United States to measure student access to courses, programs, instructional and other staff, and resources — as well as school climate factors, such as student discipline and bullying and harassment — that impact education equity and opportunity for students. The purpose of the CRDC is to obtain data related to the obligation of public school districts and of elementary and secondary schools to provide equal educational opportunity. It is a longstanding aspect of the Office for Civil Rights' overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. Also see the Civil Rights Data Collection User Guide for guidanceon using the CRDC website’s search function and viewing summary and detailed data reports on schools and districts. 

ED's School Discipline and Climate Webpage

Includes the latest resources and information on ED's work to support communities as they rethink discipline.  Within, it includes the School Discipline Guidance Package, links to archived events, and more.

Addressing the Root Causes of Disparities in School Discipline Toolkit

Provides tools to assess and systematically address disparities in school discipline. It describes how to carry out a descriptive analysis of disparities in school discipline and how to conduct a root cause analysis to systematically address school-based factors that contribute to disparities.

Cultural and Linguistic Competence Resources

Defines Cultural and Linguistic Competence and the role it plays in school climate and provides a selection of resources for supporting populations including students with disabilities, students who are refugees/immigrants, students of different races, ethnicities, sexyak orientation, gender identity, and more. 


  • U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (2014). Civil rights data collection data snapshot: School discipline (Issue Brief No. 1). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://
  • Arcia, E. (2006). Achievement and enrollment status of suspended students: Outcomes in a large, multicultural school district. Education and Urban Society, 38, 359–369.
  • Losen, D. J., & Martinez, T. E. (2013). Out of school & off track: The overuse of suspensions in American middle and high schools. Los Angeles, CA: The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project. Retrieved from ED541735.pdf
  • Losen, D. L., & Skiba, R. J. (2010, September). Suspended education: Urban middle schools in crisis. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project at UCLA and Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from
  • Himmelstein, K. E. W., & Bruckner, H. (2011). Criminal-justice and school sanctions against nonhetersexual youth: A national longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127(1), 49–57.; Poteat, P., & Russell, S. (2013). Understanding homophobic behavior and its implications for policy and practice. Theory Into Practice, 52(4), 264–271.
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2014). Joint “Dear Colleague” letter on the nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline. Retrieved from
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2014; Morgan, E., Salomon, N., Plotkin, M., & Cohen, R. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center. 
  • Council on School Health. (2003). Out-of-school suspension and expulsion. Pediatrics, 112(5), 1206–1209. Retrieved from
  • Fabelo, T., Thompson, M. D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks, M. P., & Booth, E. A. (2011). Breaking schools’ rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students’ success and juvenile justice involvement. New York, NY: Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from Breaking_Schools_Rules_Report_Final.pdf
  • Aizer, A., & Doyle Jr., J. (2013). Juvenile incarceration, human capital and future crime: Evidence from randomly-assigned judges (NBER working paper 19101). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from edu/~jjdoyle/aizer_doyle_judges_06242013.pdf
  • Shollenberger, T. L. (2013). Racial disparities in school suspension and subsequent outcomes: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. Paper presented at the Closing the School Discipline Gap: Research to Practice Conference, Washington, DC.
  • Toldson, I. A., Mcgee, T., & Lemmons, B. P. (2013). Reducing suspensions by improving academic engagement among school-age black males. In D. Losen (Ed.), Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion (pp. 107–117). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Western, B., & Beckett, K. (1999). How unregulated is the U.S. labor market? The penal system as a labor market institution. American Journal of Sociology, 104(4), 1030–1060.
  • Sweeten, G. (2006). Who will graduate? Disruption of high school education by arrest and court involvement. Justice Quarterly, 23(4), 462–480.