Study looks at suspension rates for Native American students

A comprehensive study of suspension rates in school districts across the nation from the UCLA Civil Rights Project has found serious disparities in the application of suspension to students of color and students with disabilities.

Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion From School found that 17% of African American students nationwide received an out-of-school suspension compared to about 5% of White students. The comparable rate for Latinos was 7%. The suspension rates were equally striking for students with disabilities and revealed that an estimated 13% of all students with disabilities were suspended nationally, approximately twice the rate of their non-disabled peers.

In the early 1970s, the national average for suspensions was approximately three percent for White K-12 students. Today, many districts report suspension risks of lower than three percent for each racial/ethnic subgroup. However, according to the study:

Well over three million children, K-12, are estimated to have lost instructional “seat time” in 2009-2010 because they were suspended from school, often with no guarantee of adult supervision outside the school. That’s about the number of children it would take to fill every seat in every major league baseball park and every NFL stadium in America, combined.

The study also notes that while loss of seat time is obviously a barrier to learning, suspensions matter because a suspended student is much more likely to drop out of school and also more likely to be incarcerated. This is especially important because the study reiterates finding that suspensions are not doled out equally across demographic groups of students. African American children and children with disabilities are usually at a far greater risk than others.

These suspension rates are influenced by several factors closely controlled by schools and districts, the study’s authors found. Factors include differences in school leadership, differences in school policy, effective support and training for teachers, and possibly racial and disability bias.

One thing the study highlights is that the frequent use of suspension brings no benefits in terms of test scores or graduation rates. Authors conclude:

[T]he oft-repeated claim that it is necessary to kick out the bad kids so the good kids can learn is shown to be a myth. In fact, research suggests that a relatively lower use of out-of-school suspensions, after controlling for race and poverty, correlates with higher test scores, not lower.”

The report is based on an analysis of Federal government suspension-related data from the 2009-10 school year for grades K-12 in nearly 7,000 districts. The data analyzed covered about 85% of the nation’s public school students.

Read the full report here.

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