Black boys are nearly three times as likely to be suspended as white boys in many of the nation’s middle schools, according to a new study, which also found that black girls were suspended at four times the rate of white girls.
The study, “Suspended Education:Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” written by education researchers Daniel J. Losen and Russell Skiba, was published this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The authors used Department of Education data covering four decades of suspensions, drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools.
Huge Gap Between Black and White Suspensions
They found that on average 28.3 percent of black males were suspended at least once during the school year, compared to 10 percent of white males, while 18 percent of black females were suspended, compared to 4 percent of white females. Taking all demographics and schools together, the average suspension rate was 11.2 percent.
The authors also looked at 18 urban districts more closely and found the average suspension rate was 22.2 percent. Two districts revealed especially high rates: in Palm Beach County, Florida, and Milwaukee, more than 50 percent of black male middle school students were suspended at least once in 2006, according to the study.
Blacks No More Disruptive Than Whites
Alarmingly, the study also notes that there is, in general, no evidence that racial disparities in school discipline are the result of higher rates of disruption among black students. In that case, what is the reason for this huge racial difference?
With recent studies linking middle school suspensions to later incarceration rates, it seems important to find out why this is happening. Federal law requires schools to expel students for weapons possession and other incidents involving serious safety issues. But according to Losen and Skiba, the increase here can be linked in part to the rise of zero-tolerance policies. In an earlier study, it was found that in one state only 5 percent of suspensions were issued for serious or dangerous incidents; the remaining 95 percent were labeled “disruptive behavior” or “other.”
Is Suspension The Answer To Disciplinary Problems?
In any case, is there any evidence that suspensions actually work? Several students I’ve known in the past have been happy to be suspended so that they can stay home and play video games. And, in general, the kids who are given the day off this way are usually the ones who really need to be in school.
Maybe educators should re-think their approach to discipline.