A new policy brief from a civil rights research and advocacy group out of UCLA reignites the concern that race influences which students are punished in schools and how they are punished.
I have written about this topic a great deal on the blog because the evidence clearly suggests that minority children are punished more severely, but many posters are skeptical and argue the opposite.
In June, the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice released a report called “Effective Student Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class.” The study found that African-American students, poor kids and children with learning disabilities are more likely to be disciplined in Georgia schools.
Among the facts in this new report:
Each year, more than 3.25 million K–12 students are suspended at least once. African American students are suspended three times as often as white students – 15 percent versus 5 percent. Hispanic students (7 percent) and Native American students (8 percent) are also suspended at higher rates than white students.
Researchers have found no evidence that students of color engage in more misbehavior than white students. Research does document that the largest disparities in discipline of white and African American students are for infractions that involve judgment calls by adults – talking back or disrespect, for instance. For example, an analysis of North Carolina discipline data found that African American first-time offenders were far more likely to be suspended than white first-time offenders for the same infraction.
Most suspensions are not responses to serious violence. Most states mandate expulsion (not suspension) for weapons, violence, and drug possession/use. Rising suspension rates reflect an increase in school removal for other, lesser infractions. Compared to 102,000 expulsions in 2006-2007 (the most recent year of available data), more than 3.25 million students were suspended at least once, mostly for nonviolent infractions such as truancy, dress-code violations, inappropriate language, and classroom disruptions. Advocates representing students in expulsion cases have even found that some expulsions are for minor, nonviolent infractions, such as repeated instances of talking back or not following a dress code.
Here is an excerpt from the policy brief from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA:
“… in September of 2010, a report analyzing 2006 data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found that more than 28% of black male middle school students had been suspended at least once.This is nearly three times the 10% rate for white males. Further, 18% of black females in middle school were suspended, more than four times as often as white females (4%).3 Later that same month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Duncan each addressed a conference of civil rights lawyers in Washington, D.C., and affirmed their departments’ commitment to ending such disparities.
Findings of this brief strongly suggest a need for reform. A review of the evidence suggests that subgroups experiencing disproportionate suspension miss important instructional time and are at greater risk of disengagement and diminished educational opportunities. Moreover, despite the fact that suspension is a predictor of students’ risk for dropping out, school personnel are not required to report or evaluate the impact of disciplinary decisions. Overall, the evidence shows the following: there is no research base to support frequent suspension or expulsion in response to non-violent and mundane forms of adolescent misbehavior; large disparities by race, gender and disability status are evident in the use of these punishments; frequent suspension and expulsion are associated with negative outcomes; and better alternatives are available.
Based on the research reviewed, the following recommendations for improved policies and practices will help safeguard the civil rights of our schoolchildren and create more effective and equitable learning environments:
–Public school educators should routinely collect, reflect upon, and publicly report data on school disciplinary removal.
–Reports at the state, district, and school level (where permissible) should include data disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, and disability status in terms of numbers of each group disciplined. These reports should also include the percentage of each group that experiences suspension and expulsion, as well as disaggregated incidence data on the type of infraction and the number of days of missed instruction that results from such removals.
–Civil rights enforcement agents should use the disparate impact standard of legal review as grounds to pursue remedies for the unjust and unnecessary removal of children from school.
–When Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it should provide positive incentives for schools, districts and states to support students, teachers and school leaders in systemic improvements to classroom and behavior management where rates of disciplinary exclusion are high – even where disparities do not suggest unlawful discrimination.
–Federal and state policy should specify the rate of out-of-school suspensions as one of several factors to be considered in assessments of school efficacy, especially for low-performing schools. Researchers should investigate connections between school discipline data and key outcomes such as achievement, graduation rates, teacher effectiveness, and college and career readiness. System-wide improvements should be pursued through better policies and practices at all levels—including an effort to improve teachers’ skills in classroom and behavior management.
Our public schools are essential to preparing our children to participate fully in our economic and democratic future. With these interests at stake, U.S. policymakers must find more effective ways to educate all of the nation’s children, including those who may be challenging to engage.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog