A little context on racial disparities in suspension rates

Last week the Civil Rights Project reported that black students—especially those with disabilities—are suspended at much higher rates than their peers. But does this mean, as Arne Duncan has intimated, that these youngsters are victims of discrimination? The study found that black students were 3.4 times more likely to be suspended than white students. Jarring indeed. But consider this: Black adults are 5.8 times more likely to be in prison than whites. Yes, you can make a case that our justice system is also racist. But even if that’s so, nobody would argue that eliminating racism and discrimination would remove the disparity entirely. We understand that all manner of social pathologies—poverty, single parenthood, addiction, etc.—disproportionately impact the black community. Turning that situation around is the focus of many school reformers and other social entrepreneurs. In the meantime, however, we are not wrong to expect that those pathologies will lead to higher levels of crime. So it is with school discipline. Considering what many poor, black children are up against, is it really hard to believe that they might be 3.4 times more likely to commit infractions that carry a penalty of suspension from school? As the Civil Rights Project report itself admits, the data do not “provide clear answers” to the question: “Are blacks and others misbehaving more or experiencing discrimination?” That’s an important caveat that Secretary Duncan would be wise to remember.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Flypaper blog.

SOURCE:“Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School,” by Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillespie, The Civil Rights Project, August 7, 2012.

Michael J. Petrilli
Michael J. Petrilli is the President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.