New research from the University of California at Los Angeles has found that despite suspension rates dropping in school districts across the country, US students still lost around 18 million school days due to out-of-school punishments in the 2011-12 school year.
The report, "Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap," looked at data for every school district across the country, finding school systems in Missouri, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania that have an "alarming" suspension rate of 20% or higher among their elementary school students. They also found 28 school systems throughout 17 states that showed declines among suspension rates from 2009-10 to 2011-12, which is the most recent data available. Overall, they found over half of school districts in the country had low rates of out-of-school punishment.
"There are some large districts that have made some dramatic reductions in their suspensions and reduced the racial gap as well," said researcher Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, which is part of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
Despite a number of improvements, there have not been many meaningful changes to the national suspension rate, causing racial gaps to continue to persist. Including all grade levels, 16% of black students were suspended in 2011-12 in comparison with 7% of Hispanic students and 5% of white students.
Researchers suggest the current concern pertaining to out-of-school suspensions comes from a greater risk of academic failure, dropping out of high school, and involvement within the juvenile justice system, writes Donna St. George for The Washington Post.
Discipline guidelines were issued by the federal government last year in an effort to help keep children in class, reduce racial disparities and avoid unnecessary suspensions. Maryland also issued new regulations for its 24 school systems last year. Experts believe alternatives to suspension should be used as much as possible.
"We conclude that our nation cannot close the achievement gap if we ignore the discipline gap," the UCLA report said.
Florida showed the highest suspension rates, with 5.1% for elementary school students and 19% for secondary students in 2011-12. In the same year, Maryland suspended 1.7% of its elementary students and 9% of its high schoolers, while Virginia showed similar results, suspending 2.6% of its elementary students and 10% of its high schoolers.
School districts in and around St. Louis were found to have the highest rate of suspension anywhere in the country. Missouri showed the largest gap between black and white students in suspension rates of elementary students, and the fourth largest gap between black and white students for suspension rates of high school students.
Researchers suggested education leaders look at the data to determine best practices. They went on to suggest that additional resources be added for teacher and school leader training, and that school climate be used as an accountability measure.