School discipline records show racial disparities

A graphic from the report showing suspension rates. Click to enlarge.

A report released today argues racial disparities in suspension and expulsion rates are hurting academics for minority students.

The report, by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, combines information gathered from a variety of recently released studies. It shows that black male middle school students are nearly three times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended. Suspension rates for black female middle-schoolers are four times higher than those for their white peers.

Data obtained in North Carolina, for example, showed schools suspended first-time offenders who were black far more often for committing the same minor offenses as white students.

Aside from greater suspension rates, the study shows that black students are suspended more often for behavior that is seen as subjective, such as being disrespectful, making excessive noise or exhibiting threatening behavior, while white students are punished for more objective transgressions like smoking, vandalism, or using obscene language.

Out-of-school suspensions, which are also more common with first-offender black students, can not only be disruptive to the student’s progress in school, but also add hardship to a student’s family, the report’s author, Daniel Losen, argued.

The report discourages excluding kids who misbehave, calling it “unwise and unproductive,” and suggested some solutions moving forward:

— that schools be more transparent with their suspension data, which Losen argued should be reported by race, gender and disability status.

— that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act include positive incentives for schools, districts and states that reduce their suspension rates.

— that the federal and state government count out-of-school suspensions in measuring a school’s effectiveness.