Associate Professor, with a joint appointment in the NYU Department of Sociology
Arum's work explores the extent to which school characteristics, such as educational spending and racial segregation, contribute to inadequate youth socialization, crime, and subsequent imprisonment.
How have the courts played a role in changing public schools? How are school characteristics related to adult incarceration? Using tools from research in sociology, law and society, and criminology, Richard Arum teases out surprising answers and schools a new generation of scholars in innovative research techniques.
In Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority in American Schools (Harvard University Press) Arum examines several decades of nationally representative data on schools, students, teachers and administrators, as well as every appellate court case from across the country in which a question of school discipline was at issue. “If you look at how schools have changed over recent decades,” he argues, “the courts have been the key actors."
From an initial database of over 7,000 potentially relevant court cases, Arum, working with a team of graduate students, narrowed the field to 1,200 cases. Studying such a large number of cases in relationship to patterns of variation in educational data allowed him to understand how school disciplinary practices and student and teacher’s perceptions of these practices was structured by the legal climate.
“Starting in the late 60s you begin to see litigation around issues of student rights and the extension of due process to students facing even minor disciplinary practices,” he explains. “The legal challenges promoted in large part by federal sponsored programs changed what local public schools did to discipline kids.”
Arum also conducts social stratification research in which the focus is on inequalities in society, income and employment. “What links education, social inequalities, and employment together, is that the primary determinate of employment outcomes in modern society is educational attainment.”
Incarceration rates have tripled in the last 30 years, so research into educational attainment and later employment must also include incarceration as a possible outcome, Arum argues. His work explores the extent to which school characteristics, such as educational spending and racial segregation, contribute to inadequate youth socialization, crime, and subsequent imprisonment.
“Today there are still people who are not getting ahead,” Arum says. “ Why aren’t they?”