GAO Cites Implicit Racial Bias as Reason for High Suspension Rates for Black children


The nation’s favourite coffee house, Starbucks, is at the helm of a sticky situation following the arrest of two black men at one of their Philadelphia stores on April 12.   The store manager called the police because the men occupied a table without making a purchase.  Implicit bias was blamed as the reason for her reaction and as such the company took a drastic action to close their stores on May 29 and put all their employees through implicit bias training

The issue of implicit bias is not new. But now a research conducted by Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites implicit bias as the likely cause of the disparity in school discipline among black children and their white peers. GAO was asked to report on the issue of discipline in schools and to provide insight on this. The organization carried out an audit from November 2016 to March 2018 and based on 2013-2014 discipline data from the Civil Rights Data Collection.

The data indicated that black students made up 15.5 percent of all public students but represented approximately 39 percent of school suspensions.  The GAO examined data from every public school in the nation but the results were the same every time-black kids and those with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined in comparison to their white peers. Disproportionate discipline was widespread in every school data analysed; however, Texas, North Dakota, California, Georgia and Massachusetts school districts had the greatest disparity

GAO based its conclusion about implicit bias on several studies that they reviewed suggesting that implicit bias on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students behaviors differently based on race and sex. One Yale study proved used using eye-tracking technology ad teachers were given video clips of children in a classroom setting and asked to look for patterns of misconduct.  The researchers’ advanced eye-tracking technology showed that the teachers kept their eyes mostly on black children for misbehaviour.

Officials from the five districts with the greatest disparity of suspensions have reported that they are trying to find other disciplinary measures. But if the core of the problem (implicit bias) is not addressed, black and disabled students are still going to be disproportionately punished.

Bridgette Davis