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Study: The School Discipline Gap is Much Worse than Initially Expected

Long gone are the days when small infractions of the student code required writing something on the board 100 times. But, even if those days were still here, you would probably see more minority students and students with disabilities being subject to punishment. Unfortunately, these children are now being excluded from school at alarming rates:

Nearly 1 in 4 Black students were suspended during the 2009-2010 school year.

Nearly 1 in 5 students with disabilities were suspended during the 2009-2010 school year.

For white students and students without disabilities that figure is 1 in 14. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies (an initiative of the UCLA Civil Rights Project) revealed these shocking statistics in a recent study, Out of School and Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools, that analyzed the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The Center also released a summary of sixteen new research studies that describe the “school discipline gap, contributing factors, and the benefits of reducing disparities for students.”

At all levels of education, Black students are being subjected to more disciplinary actions than any other group. While the numbers are the worst for Black boys, the report highlights the disparities for Black girls too:

  1. Black girls are suspended at higher rates than males of any other racial/ethnic subgroup, at both the middle and high school levels;
  2. The discipline gap between black girls and white girls is 14 percentage points; and
  3. For black girls with disabilities, the discipline gap, when compared to white girls with disabilities, is 16 percentage points.

The additional research summaries also highlight the fact that youth of color are subject to harsher punishments when behavior is controlled for. The study conducted by the Center concluded that there are ample alternatives available to reduce the number of suspensions, including things like changing codes of conduct; implementing positive behavioral supports; additional support and training for teachers; and implementing principles of restorative justice in schools.

Considering the numerous other studies showing that higher rates of suspension lead to higher dropout rates and fuel the school-to-prison pipeline, it is of vital importance that we find new ways of approaching school discipline. Schools should be a safe place for all students to learn. As the new report noted, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently stated that “out-of-school suspension and expulsion are counterproductive . . ., rarely necessary, and should not be considered as appropriate discipline.”

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.