Causes and Effects of Racism in Schools


Racism is always a difficult topic but the news and social media provides evidence that it still exists and continues to impact how we engage with each other in the United States. Racism is a learned behavior where we are socialized to see difference and act upon it. Racism is so prevalent that it causes challenges for learning and with school experiences.

Racial bias in our schools affects student learning and school discipline, as well as influences how students engage with each other. Negative racial attitudes and behaviors are ingrained in our system and institutions. However, as educators we have the opportunity to change outcomes in our schools in spite of our existing systems.

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The first step to understanding racism is acknowledging that it is woven into American history. It started long before now, yet we are still experiencing a ripple of negative effects. Racism is the act of discrimination against a different race based on the belief or assumption that one’s race is superior. The unintended behaviors and consequences of racism are so pervasive that it is sometimes difficult to clearly identify how it affects us. One way is racial bias, which addresses the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our actions toward a group of people unconsciously.

Here are three areas where the cause and effect of racism is apparent in schools.

School Discipline

Cause: Racial bias in school leaders and teachers affects how they engage with students. Learned negative stereotypes dictate how we engage with different racial groups. For students this can impact how a teacher perceives their learning ability, engagement in school activities and how they might interpret student behavior choices.

Effect: According to the US Government Accountability Office Report on Discipline Disparities, black students are disproportionately suspended in schools across the country. These same students are more likely to be truant or become transient students within the district. If a teacher believes negative stereotypes about a student, then they are more likely to punish them for small non-violent offenses. As school disciplinary action increases, students miss increasing amounts of instruction.

School Funding

Cause: School funding and resources are linked to state and local resources. There are instances where students from low-income or under-resourced schools are choosing to enroll in specialized well-resourced schools. The lack of school resources are an indication of how racially biased policies underserve certain communities. This happens through housing policies that inform school zoning and have led to a response of implementing magnet programs or busing policies.

Effect: The lack of sufficient resources and underfunding directly impacts academic achievement. Historically, black and brown students who have attended poorly funded schools also have had inadequate learning opportunities. This contributes to the achievement gap which highlights the vast differences in academic performance across racial lines. It is evident that years of being underserved in subpar conditions impacts outcomes. If we fund schools inequitably, then we continue to perpetuate the racially biased housing and funding policies that caused the initial resource issue.

School Security

Cause: Negative stereotypes about black and brown students are exacerbated through the media. There are often pictures and clips that portray these young people as violent or aggressive. For example, I read an article of white students busting windows of cars, starting fires and trashing a college campus after a collegiate basketball game win and it was described as a “celebration”. A similar image was shown with a group of black students protesting campus policies with signs, standing on cars and that was described as a “riot”. The photo with balck students included a caption that raised safety concerns for the general public and encouraged college campuses to increase security and disciplinary action, where the photo of white students did not. This narrative only reinforces the negative stereotype of black and brown youth as threatening or unsafe members of our community.

Effect: Whether school leadership is aware of it or not, these images are subconsciously informing how decisions are made. In this case, there are school leaders who institute security measures in their schools under the notion that they are increasing safety. The question is, who is it they believe to be unsafe? This sends a negative message to students about who they are and how they are perceived while also perpetuating a societal message that they are feared.

Racism is a learned behavior where we are socialized to see difference and act upon it. School administrators and school communities can work together to combat the effects of racism. As a school leader, you are responsible for creating safe learning environments for all students so they thrive. For more information on ways school leadership can avert racism in their building, check out 6 Ways to Prevent Racism in Schools. Kickboard is committed to support administrative efforts to provide tools to support leaders who are working toward equitable learning environments.