School Suspensions Skyrocket, Racial Gap Widens

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Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis
Southern Poverty Law Center

Middle schools are suspending more students than ever, and black students are increasingly likely to be suspended, according to this analysis.

Using 2006 data from one-third of the country’s school districts, researchers examined the fairness and frequency of use of “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies, which result in a student’s removal from school for a wide range of offenses, from starting a fight to violating the dress code.

Middle school suspension rates rose across most the school districts from 2002 to 2006. Most students were suspended for behavior that was not deemed “serious or dangerous.” While fighting ranked as the number one cause of suspension, more minor offenses, including inappropriate language and poor attendance, were cause for the rest of the disciplinary actions.

The report found that the suspension rate of black students has increased rapidly in comparison to white students over the past several decades, growing from a 3 percent difference in the 1970s to a 10 percent difference in the 2000s. On average, 28.3 percent of black males at the schools  were suspended at least once during a school year, compared with rates of 16.3 percent for Hispanic males and 10 percent for white males.

Although male students tend to have higher suspension rates than girls, black female students were more likely to be suspended than were white or Hispanic males.

The more than 9,000 schools used in the study were required to report how many students were suspended at least once during the academic year but not the total number of suspensions. The study, therefore, is based on a “conservative estimate” of data, according to the authors.

The study also shows that schools with higher rates of suspension and expulsion usually have poorer average results on standardized tests. The authors suggest that these issues should be addressed simultaneously, and that “concerns about high suspension rates should be treated with the same level of concern often expressed for low test scores, poor attendance and high dropout rates.”

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