A new analysis of the disparity of discipline in the suburbs and built-up areas of Maryland shows that black students are between two to five times more likely to be expelled or suspended than their white peers, writes Donna St. George at the Washington Post.
Experts say that factors such as living below the poverty line or with a single parent may affect disciplinary patterns. But it is not believed that these factors can fully explain racial differences in suspensions.
It is thought that factors such as unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles may also have an effect.
This disparity of discipline isn't limited to the state, and the national concern has provoked a joint effort by the U.S. Justice and Education departments to look into reforms in the summer.
The analysis found:
- Last year, one in seven black students in St. Mary's County were suspended from school, compared with one in 20 white students.
- In Fairfax, African American students were four times as likely that year to be suspended as white students.
- In Alexandria, black students were nearly six times as likely to be suspended as their white peers.
- And in Washington suburbs, more than 35,000 students were suspended or expelled from school at some point last school year, with more than half of them being black students.
Montgomery's Deputy Superintendent Frieda K. Lacey said the district has trained principals and administrators in new suspension processes, but much more needs to be done. Nearly 6 percent of black students in the county were suspended or expelled from school last year, compared with 1.2 percent of white students.
Many school officials believe that cultural-sensitivity training and positive-behavior initiatives that are proactive about discipline are the way forward for reducing suspension.
National Education Policy Center researcher Daniel J. Losen says:
"We associate getting kicked out of school with something really really bad, but there has been a sea change in recent years in what kids get suspended for and how often we use suspension."
"I think some of it is cultural sensitivity, believe it or not," says Karyn Lynch, chief of student services in Prince George's.
Lynch says that the district has been working hard over the last two years to reduce suspensions by scrutinizing data, using suspension alternatives and expanding a positive-behavior initiative to all middle schools.
A recent study of nearly a million Texas children, called âBreaking School Rules', showed that suspension increased the chances of having to repeat a grade and end up in the juvenile-justice system in the following year.
The research also showed that African American students were more likely to be suspended for minor/discretionary offenses, while white students were more likely to be suspended for severe violations, such as selling drugs or bringing a gun to school.
"If they are not involved with the more-serious offenses as often as whites are, what's going on with those discretionary offenses?" asks study co-author Michael Thompson, of the Council of State Governments Justice Center.