One out of every ten secondary school students was suspended during the 2009 to 2010 school year, and they were disproportionately black, disabled, or English as a Second Language students, according to a new academic study. In fact, the disproportionate suspension of African Americans has spiked since the 1970s, with black suspensions increasing 12.5 percent while suspension of whites increased just one percent, as illustrated by the below chart:
According to a nationwide analysis of more than 26,000 middle and high schools by researchers at UCLA’s The Civil Rights Project, more than one-third of black male students are suspended, and black students overall are four times as likely to be suspended as white students without disabilities. One fifth of ESL and disabled students were suspended. This study measures the number of students suspended at least once, not the number of suspensions, and thus doesn’t even address the related issue of repeated suspensions. The report notes:
As other studies demonstrate, the vast majority of suspensions are for minor infractions of school rules, such as disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations, rather than for serious violent or criminal behavior. Serious incidents are rare and result in expulsions, which are not covered by this report.
The report, focused only on middle and high school students, builds on other recent data analyses finding that suspensions fall disproportionately on minorities and the disabled. And it is one of 16 new research studies to analyze harsh punishment of school discipline violations that has been associated with what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which students are funneled away from school and into the criminal justice system. One suspension doubles the risk of dropping out of school from 16 percent to 32 percent, and suspensions also increase the likelihood of arrests and juvenile detention. The new body of research finds that “harsh discipline policies increase the number of young people who are disengaged from school, which has damaging academic consequences and long-term economic and societal costs.” It cites an American Pediatrics Association policy that “schools with higher rates of out-of-school suspension and expulsion are not safer for students or faculty.”