The Civil Rights Project recently released a report showing alarming trends in suspension rates in California public schools. Researchers compiled data from the Office for Civil Rights covering approximately 500 different districts for the 2009-2010 school year, during which more than 400,000 students were suspended at least once. As the study points out:
“That’s enough students suspended out-of-school to fill every seat in all the professional baseball and football stadiums in the state…”
Here are some results that caught my eye:
1. African American males receive significantly more suspensions than females or students of other races. African Americans of both genders had a suspension rate of 18%, whereas Latinos and white students trailed behind them at 7% and 6%, respectively. This is a pretty significant gap, but as the study focuses in on male students in the ten largest districts — Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Oakland Unified, and Stockton Unified among them — it only gets wider. 38% of African American males in Stockton Unified were suspended in 2009-2010, a full 15% above whites and 19% above Latinos. Unfortunately, African Americans stand out even more starkly in the districts reporting the highest suspension rates in the state. According to the study:
“–nearly one of every four students of all races and ages — received at least one suspension that school year…with Black students suspended on average at a rate that was a full 20 percentage points higher than white students.”
This data isn’t broken down by gender, but if it follows a similar trend as the statistics for the ten largest districts, African American males likely account for twice as many suspensions as their female counterparts.
2. Students with disabilities are suspended twice as often as their peers. All students with disabilities should have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and/or behavior modifications that must be carried out and updated each school year. This study seems to indicate that teachers and other school staff either need assistance implementing each student’s individual mandates and/or need to be better trained on how to approach disciplining students with disabilities. It obviously takes a full set of resources — teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, professional development — to make sure that these kids are able to fully function in the classroom. As school budgets continue to shrink and the importance of standardized test scores rise, schools may not have the time, money or staff needed to invest in well-thought-out, constructive discipline for special-needs students. Out-of-school suspension becomes the quick, seemingly misguided alternative.
3. Suspensions hinder the suspendee’s ability to make educational gains. I’ve taught in the Bronx for several years and have seen students irreparably fall behind their classmates after suspensions. Simply not being in a familiar classroom environment for ten, thirty, or sometimes sixty days disrupts their routine and causes them to miss huge chunks of their core classes. It’s a rare student than can bounce back from such a disruption without summer school or being held over.
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