Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School

Misbehaving students can create disruptions in the classroom and undermine the integrity of a school. The common policy of punishing students who are misbehaving with out-of-school suspensions is ironic as these students are the ones who most need additional class time and adult supervision.

A recent report by the Center of Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA looks at the rates of suspension for K-12 public school students on the national, state, and district level. It compares rates by among races and students with disabilities. The U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights collected data from 6,835 school districts which included 85 percent of all U.S. students attending public school in the 2009-2010 school year.

Significant findings on the national level in the report include:

  • In 2009-2010, 7 percent of all students were suspended at least one time
  • Black students have about three times the risk of being suspended compared to white students
  • Students with disabilities have twice the risk of suspension compared to their non-disabled peers

There is much variation in these percentages in the state and district level. For example, the range of the difference in the rate of suspension between black and white students on the state level is from 21 percent in Illinois to 0 percent in Montana. Because of the large variation of suspension rates, Losen and Gillespie suggest that “what drives the use of out-of school suspension is not a constant or predictable level of student misbehavior.” Instead, they suggest that some schools treat similar misbehaviors more harshly.

Losen and Gillespie suggest there are alternatives that are more effective than the use of suspensions that promote safe and orderly schools and reduce delinquency:

  • Improving the school learning environment by changing the attitudes and policies about how behavior is addressed
  • Providing teachers with leadership training and helping them improve their classroom management techniques to keep the students interested and engaged
  • Implementing restorative practices instead of punitive consequences to change the mindset of offending students to have more respect for themselves and their communities

Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School
Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillespie
The Civil Rights Project
August 2012

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