Reports and a recent national study show that black students are being suspended more often than white students across the school spectrum from elementary through high school. States such as Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin are being forced to respond to the data, with some cases of black students receiving suspensions at over four times the rate of white students.
The Kansas City Star reports that black students in Missouri are showing a 14 percent suspension rate, which is almost double that of the national suspension rate. Director of the Center for Civil Remedies Dan Losen says the numbers are, “very disturbing”, while in a conference call with reporters:
“It’s emblematic of problems (in the communities) and indicators of racial bias,” he said.
He also said that while Missouri overall had many districts that were doing well, the biggest concerns were in areas with a high concentration of poor and/or black students.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education called upon schools to analyse the data carefully:
“In light of this data showing the disparity in suspension rates for black and white students, the Department urges districts to take a close look at discipline policies and determine how schools can keep students engaged and learning in school,”
In Wisconsin a similar trend is showing, with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal reporting that a whopping 34% of black high school students were suspended in 2011-12 compared to just 4% of white students. While figures are still high, significant progress has been made since 2008 where Milwaukee Public Schools came under spotlight for their unusually high suspension rate. The rate for black students being suspended was as high as 56% in the 2007-08 period, which dropped to 26% in 2012-13. MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia said in a statement that “these trends reflect our continued work to make sure discipline is appropriate.”
The Guilfordian reports that other national initiatives to help address this issue include the My Brother’s Keeper program, a White House initiative aimed at young African American males.
They also report that another solution could involve the removal of ‘zero tolerance’ policies. Sherry Giles, professor of justice and policy studies, explained the problems with a zero tolerance approach:
“Zero tolerance discipline policies (are policies) which suspend students according to strict guidelines with predetermined harsh consequences or punishments for a broad range of violation of rules,” said Giles. “Some of the categories of violation are based on the subjective judgment of a teacher or administrator, such as ‘disruptive behavior’ or ‘insubordination.’ Implicit racial bias inevitably influences these kinds of subjective decisions.”
US Rep. and Virginia Democrat Robert Scott said that suspension wasn’t even a particularly effective method of discipline, with many children being further behind the curriculum after the punishment than before, thus creating a bigger gap between them and their peers.
Janel George, a lead lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also shared this sentiment, calling suspension a “school pushout” that undermines kids and prevents them from learning, reports Patrick O’Donnell at Cleveland.com.
“Our nation cannot close the achievement gap if we ignore the discipline gap,” George said.