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Minority School Suspensions

I am again indebted to my friend and colleague  Bonnie Bracy for making me aware of this article.

Across the Washington, D.C. area, black students are suspended and expelled two to five times as often as white students, creating disparities in discipline that experts say reflect a growing national problem.

An analysis by The Washington Post shows the phenomenon both in the suburbs and in the city, from the far reaches of Southern Maryland to the subdivisions of Fairfax, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Last year, for example, one in seven black students in St. Mary’s County were suspended from school, compared with one in 20 white students. In Alexandria, black students were nearly six times as likely to be suspended as their white peers.

In Fairfax, where the suicide in January of a white high school football player who had been suspended brought an outcry for change, African American students were four times as likely that year to be suspended as white students, and Hispanic students were twice as likely.

The problems extend beyond the Washington area to school districts across the country and are among a host of concerns about school discipline that sparked a joint effort by the U.S. Justice and Education departments in July to look into reforms.

Experts say disparities appear to have complex causes. A disproportionate number of black students live below the poverty line or with a single parent, factors that affect disciplinary patterns. But experts say those factors do not fully explain racial differences in suspensions. Other contributing factors could include unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles.

Still, she said, much remains to be done. Nearly 6 percent of black students were suspended or expelled from school last year, compared with 1.2 percent of white students. The gap remains even as suspensions are down since 2006 across all racial groups.

She pointed to one unsettling statistic: 71 percent of suspensions for insubordination, a relatively rare offense in the county, were handed out to black students. African Americans make up 21 percent of students in Montgomery’s schools. The goal is to dig deeper into the data, offer more professional development and share best practices, she said.

The Post’s analysis found that in the Washington suburbs alone, more than 35,000 students were suspended or expelled from school at some point last school year — more than half of them black students.

Suspensions have surged nationally since the 1970s, fueled in part by a zero-tolerance culture. As suspensions ticked up, racial disparities widened between blacks and whites — and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics and whites.

The most recent national figures, from 2006, show that 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared with 15 percent of their black classmates, 7 percent of Hispanics and 3 percent of Asians.

“We associate getting kicked out of school with something really really bad, but there has been a sea change in recent years in what kids get suspended for and how often we use suspension,” said researcher Daniel J. Losen, who recently authored a report on suspension and disparities for the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

In Fairfax — the suspension rate among whites of 1.5 percent and a suspension rate among blacks of 7 percent last year.

The stakes are high for those who get booted out of school.

Out-of-school suspensions mean lost classroom time and, for some, disconnection from school. A recent landmark study of nearly a million Texas children showed that suspension increased the likelihood of repeating a grade that year and landing in the juvenile-justice system the next year. It also was linked to dropping out.

In that research, African American students were more likely to be suspended for discretionary offenses and less likely than whites to be suspended for severe violations, such as selling drugs or bringing a gun to school.

Experts say disparities arise from an array of issues.  They may be driven by unconscious bias or unequal access to teachers who do better engaging students in learning and managing behavior problems when they occur. The leaders of a school system — or of an individual school — strongly influence how often suspensions are meted out.

Disparities are common in both suburban and urban districts, although urban schools tend to use suspension more, experts say.  An increasing number of studies have looked into whether poverty, family background or other characteristics explain racial disparities,

It is not just a matter of kids coming from poverty.  Poor kids do get suspended more. But that does not explain why poor black kids get suspended more than poor white kids and why affluent black kids get suspended more than affluent white kids.

According to recent data, 1 out of every  3 students has been suspended in the state of Texas.  Something is wrong when the solution to our school problems is to push out students.  Based on my research, thanks to high stakes testing, No Child and Race for the Top, this is the fastest growing group of “dropouts”. As long as we believe that our educational processes are correct, we will continue to blame individuals when the system doesn’t work.  (“If only we had better students, parents, teachers, administrators, etc.”) 

 

 

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