A new study suggests that minority students are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school for minor violations than white students. Daniel J. Losen, the author of the report, argues that “the students who miss class time for misbehavior are at a greater risk for missing out on educational opportunities,” and that punishments such as suspension and expulsion are “meted out disproportionately among students of different races, genders, and ethnic groups.”
Losen analyzed 2006 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights and found that “more than 28 percent of African-American middle school boys had been suspended at least once, compared with 10 percent of white males nationwide. For girls, it was 18 percent of black students, compared with 4 percent of white students.”
Losen’s study adds to the national conversation about whether suspension and expulsion are appropriate punishments for students who misbehave in school. Students who have been suspended in the past are more likely to drop out of school entirely, and suspensions have become more common in the past few years as many schools adopt “zero-tolerance” policies, which can cover anything from drug possession to cell phone usage.
In fact, Education Week found that dress code violations and cell phone possession were common reasons for suspensions in North Carolina during the 2008-2009 school year, even for first-time offenders. “For possessing or using a cellphone at school, almost 33 percent of first-time black middle school offenders were suspended, compared with 14.5 percent of white students.”
When suspension is one of the biggest indicators of whether or not a student will drop out of school, it seems that this extreme form of punishment should be saved for more serious violations. Suspension or expulsion is mandated by law if, for example, a student commits a violent act at school. But the punishments for minor transgressions are decided by individual school districts.
Educators should carefully consider what constitutes a basis for suspension or expulsion, and examine the reasons for the high numbers of minority students that receive these punishments. So many middle and high school students are already at risk for dropping out– the last thing we need to do is help push them out the door.
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