There is a body of research indicating that African American youth are punished and disciplined in greater numbers and with greater severity (Gregory, Dewey, & Fan, 2011; Lewis et al., 2010; Wallace et al., 2008). African American and Hispanic children are viewed with suspicion and seldom given the benefit of the doubt White students enjoy (Winn & Behizadeh, 2011). Consistent with Bourdieu’s view, education is an essential element in the reproduction of social and economic class (Aizura 2006; Bourdieu, 1977, 1986), with the children of the educated class attending “better” schools. As a result, poor and minority children that are funneled through troubled schools tend to have fewer opportunities in life. In this paper, the authors explore whether this is a larger phenomenon, and whether structural factors such as the school’s appearance have an impact on the effectiveness of the school and the perception of the student body as a whole within a particular school, and whether the proportion of minority students has anything to do with this.  Given the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty (NCCP, 2007; UNESCO, 2005), school performance and outcomes, particularly in poor and minority neighborhoods, has important implications for the future of the city and for the future of those children.


There has been considerable attention paid to what has been termed the School-to-Prison Pipeline.  The most severe of these actions, suspension, expulsion, and remanding to alternative learning centers, associated with negative student outcomes. (Mendez & Knoff, 2003). These negative student outcomes, in turn are associated with higher incarceration rates (Lochner & Moretti, 2002). While increasingly punitive discipline policies are seen as necessary for a safe and healthy learning environment, there is a body of research indicating that the incidence and severity of school disciplinary actions differ between racial/ethnic and economic groups (Gregory, Dewey, & Fan, 2011: Lewis, et al., 2010; Wallace et al., 2008). The implication of this disparity is that minority and economically disadvantaged students are at greater risk for school failure and entering the correctional system.  At this time, we attempt to answer the following questions:

—  Is the differential enforcement of zero tolerance policies in the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools:

—  Racially based?

—  Based on poverty status?

Using data from 228 Memphis City School District, we test the correlation between race/ethnicity, economic status, and the incidence and severity of school disciplinary actions. Preliminary findings indicate that in the 2012-2013 school year, the suspension rate in MCS for African American students was 26.4%, with a 4.5% expulsion rate. For non-Hispanic white students, the suspension rate was 6.8%, with a 0.9% expulsion rate. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, poverty and race were associated in MCS. In the 2012-2013 school year, 82.7% of children were economically disadvantaged and in the same schools, 81.7% of the students were African American.

From these findings, we make recommendations for fair and appropriate school discipline policies.