America’s public schools suspend black students at a disproportionately higher rate than other students, according to a new report released Wednesday by the National Education Policy Center.
The report, which upholds the findings of previous studies, said the frequent suspensions and expulsions “raise questions about a school’s disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership and the training of its personnel.”
Titled “Discipline, Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice,” the study highlights disturbing 2006 data collected by the U.S. Department of Education that showed 28 percent of the nation’s black middle school students had been suspended at least once. That’s nearly three times higher than the 10 percent rate for white male middle school students.
Eighteen percent of black female middle school students were suspended in 2006, a rate more than four times higher than their white female schoolmates.
Citing a 2010 examination of the nation’s 18 largest school districts by the education department’s Office for Civil Rights, the NEPC report states that among the nation’s 18 largest school districts, at least 30 percent of all black males were suspended one or more times in 15 of them. In addition, hundreds of schools among the 18 districts had a suspension rate of 50 percent or higher for black males.
“Research on student behavior, race, and discipline has found no evidence that African American over-representation in school suspension is due to higher rates of misbehavior,” the NEPC report states.
The report found that more black students are suspended at higher rates for vague or subjective infractions – disrespect, excessive noise, threatening behavior, and loitering – than for concrete violations like vandalism, smoking, obscene language.
A graph chart in the report showed a massive gap between black and white students suspended for first-time violations for cell phone use, breaking the dress code, disruptive behavior, and displays of affection.
During the 2008-09 school year in North Carolina, nearly 33 percent of black students who violated in-school cell phone rules for the first time were suspended compared with only 14.5 percent of white students. Nearly 40 percent of black students tagged for first-time dress code violations were suspended while only 16.6 percent of first-time white dress code violators were suspended.
“In short, the researchers concluded that there is no evidence that racial disparities in school discipline can be explained by more serious patterns of rule-breaking among African American students,” according to the report written by Daniel Losen of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. “It appears that white students are engaging more often in those behavioral transgressions that can be documented and counted without much subjectivity or discretion coming into play. However, for those offenses that require a judgment call by teachers, administrators and others, black students are disproportionately called out.”
Losen suggests two possibilities for the disparity: “perhaps black students focus their misbehavior on those types of activities that call for a subjective judgment of such misbehavior, or perhaps black students are being unfairly singled out when it comes to prosecuting such misbehavior.