Student suspension rates: Why we should take a careful look
Voices intern Nicole Bibel provides an overview and introduction to a UCLA study that examines race differences among K12 suspension rates.
A recent report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project investigates the rate of suspensions around the country, and takes a specific look at rates by race/ ethnicity. Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School suggests that not only are students of color being suspended at far higher rates than White students, but that schools around the country are suspending all students too frequently.
One of the main findings from the study is that nationwide 1 in 6 Black students is suspended each year, compared with 1 in 20 White students, 1 in 13 Native American students, 1 in 14 Latino students, and 1 in 50 Asian students. Regardless of race, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as children not identified with a disability. In the 2009-2010 school year, more than three million children across the country were suspended at least once. To provide a visual description of just how many children that is, the study’s authors point out that three million children would fill every seat in every NFL and major league baseball stadium in the United States combined.
Another question the study addresses is whether or not suspensions are beneficial. Authors Daniel L. Losen and Jonathan Gillespie argue that the answer is “no.” Studies have found that being suspended does not deter students from participating again in the offensive activity. Suspension also takes a toll on academics; when suspended, students frequently spend the day at home watching television or playing video games instead of doing any school work, and they often go the entire day without any adult supervision. One solution to this is to use out-of-school suspensions as a last resort, something that Connecticut and Maryland have passed legislation to ensure. If suspensions took place in school, students would be supervised and would be required to spend the day doing independent school work.
Losen and Gillespie recognize that there is still much research to be done. Their report contains breakdowns by state and (to a degree) by district, but they do not address the issue of why it is that the disparities exist. Their hope is that further research can be done soon to investigate the various reasons that students are suspended, and to figure out if students of color really are participating in more punishable activities, or if schools discriminate when it comes to punishment.