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The Treatment of Black and White Students

According to a study released in the journal Sociology of Education the treatment of black and white students who act up results in different responses split along racial lines. Black students are more likely to be punished with suspensions, expulsions or referrals to law enforcement, a phenomenon that helps funnel kids into the criminal justice system. While white kids are more likely to be pushed into special education services or receive medical and psychological treatment for their perceived misbehaviors. Overall, this pattern often leads to the criminalization of young black students and the medicalization of white students.  The study, conducted by Pennsylvania State University assistant professor of sociology and criminology David Ramey, analyzed the rates of suspensions, expulsions and police referrals at 59,000 schools across the country. He also looked at how many students in these schools were enrolled in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, two programs designed to help kids in need of special services.

Ramey found that schools with larger populations of black students also had higher rates of suspensions, while schools with more white students had a greater number of kids in programs designed for students with special needs.

Disadvantaged schools also tend to have more one-size-fits-all approaches to discipline, leading to high rates of suspensions and expulsions.

Suspending low-achieving students or medicalizing kids with certain disabilities can help schools boost their test scores. Ramey said. “If you suspend kids while they’re supposed to take the test, they no longer count against the school’s score.”

Sadly, racial bias could also explain why black and white students are punished differently for similar behavior. “For example, classroom disruptions, talking back — white kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem, while black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn,” Ramey said.

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