Schools suspend minority students at much higher rates than their peers, sometimes starting from the beginning — preschool.
The Civil Rights Data Collection, a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, surveyed over 50 million students at more than 95,000 schools and found that while suspensions decreased by almost 20 percentage points between the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 school years, gaps between the suspension rates of different groups of students remained, according to results released late Monday.
The survey included 1,439,188 preschool students enrolled in 28,783 schools. Of those,6,743 preschool students or .47% were suspended out of school once or more than once. While black girls represent 20 percent of preschool enrollment, 54 percent of preschool girls suspended once or more were black. And black preschool children overall were 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as young white children.
The results don’t “paint a very good picture,” said Liz King, senior policy analyst and director of education policy at the Leadership for Civil and Human Rights. She called parts of it “startling.”
Across all grades, 2.8 million students were suspended once or more than once. Black students were nearly four times as likely to be suspended and almost twice as likely to be expelled as white students. Students with disabilities were also twice as likely to be suspended as general education students.
The disparity “tears at the moral fabric of the nation,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. “We will not compromise away the civil right of all students to an excellent education.”
The findings come amid a major nationwide debate over school discipline, and just what statistics like these mean.
School districts across the country have reexamined the way they chastise students for misbehaving, in part because of previous civil rights survey results.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District banned suspensions for “willful defiance.” As a result, the district’s suspension rate dropped to .55 percent last school year from eight percent in 2007-2008. Instead, teachers were supposed to use “restorative justice,” tactics that include conflict resolution, to keep their classrooms orderly. But teachers have saidthat they haven’t been trained in these techniques sufficiently.
Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a new law, states are required to review schools disciplinary statistics to reduce an “overuse of suspension.”
The disparities invite further investigation, said Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary of education responsible of the Office for Civil Rights. “Data by itself is not a reason to think there’s intentional discrimination, but they are a reason to ask further questions,” she said.
So why are there major disparities in school discipline?
Jason Okonofua, a social psychologist at Stanford University, began trying to answer this question in his research after reflecting on his own experiences. As a kid growing up in Memphis, Tenn., he attended seven different public schools and noticed that in some schools, teachers were more rigid; in others, they were more supportive. After tenth grade, though, came a bigger difference: he won a scholarship to an East coast prep school, where he was one of just several black kids, compared to the majority black schools he attended in Memphis.
At the prep school, he said, teachers treated students like adults. “Seeing how different school atmospheres can bring about different outcomes got me interested in this particular topic,” he said.
Okonofua found in his studies that the disparities stem from problems in the relationships between teachers and students. Minority students, he found, expect to be the victim of bias — which leads them to be less cooperative. On the other hand, he said, if a teacher feels disrespected, and as if the student is a troublemaker, the student will get punished more severely, causing the cycle to continue….More…