Center for Civil Rights Remedies Shines Light on Minority Discipline

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project has released two reports that show a racial component in the application of punitive disciplinary measures and aid schools that seek more equitable alternatives.

The first report, Out of School & off Track; The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools, was one of the two presented at a Congressional briefing by authors Daniel J. Losen and Tia Elena Martinez. They used data collected by the U.S. Department of Education based on information from 26,000 middle and high schools throughout the country to draw conclusions about disciplinary practices.

The report breaks down the disciplinary data by type of punishment, race, gender, knowledge of English and disability status. According to the report, more than one in nine students were suspended over the course of the 2009-2010 academic year, including 36% of male black disabled students who were suspended at least once over the same period.

here were many other troubling findings, such as 36% of all Black male students with disabilities enrolled in middle and high schools in the data set were suspended at least once in 2009-2010. These findings are of serious concern given that research shows being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a 32% risk for dropping out, double that for those receiving no suspensions.

“We now see that across the nation, one in four Black students and one in five students with disabilities and English Learners are suspended,” said Daniel Losen, report author and director of The Center for Civil Rights Remedies.  “There is something terribly wrong when, despite very effective alternatives, so many middle and high schools quickly punish and exclude students of color, students with disabilities and English Learners. We know these schools can change because in many large districts, we found many low-suspending schools where suspension is still a measure of last resort.”

The report also identified a number of so-called “hot spots,” schools where more than a quarter of students were suspended at least once over the year and the corresponding number of spots where suspensions were doled out to only 10% of the student body.

The second report, “Closing the School Discipline Gap: Research to Practice,” highlights 16 new research papers from leading scholars across the nation. These papers describe the reasons for the race/ethnicity gaps, and how reducing the unfair use of suspensions can help improve graduation rates, achievement scores and life outcomes, while also decreasing the incarceration rate for juveniles and adults. Several studies spell out effective alternatives to out of school suspension in places like Cleveland, Ohio and across the state of Virginia. Together, these 16 new studies debunk the myth that punitive disciplinary measures are needed to ensure safe and productive school climates.

The second report outlines intervention alternatives that reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions in schools. The approaches include teacher training, restorative justice and handing both teachers and students new tools to deal with disruptions that arise over the school day.