Simply put, you can’t teach students who are not in school.
It should be an obvious corollary for education policymakers that use of suspensions in school discipline results in reduced instructional time for those students suspended, which negatively impacts their academic achievement. Furthermore, suspensions and expulsions have additional consequences that may further impact students and their academic achievement; studies show that students who have been suspended or expelled often have less social bonds to schools, are less likely to feel that they belong at school and are at increased risk of dropping out.
Research on school suspensions reveals that they are relatively ineffective at improving student safety, student behavior and serve to further alienate students and advance them along what is commonly known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Suspensions reinforce negative student behavior, increase the likelihood of disengaging from school and dropping out, and effectively alienates students from the schooling process 1, 2, 3, 4.
Disparate Race and Gender Impacts
Evidence persists of disproportionality in school disciplinary practices by race, economic status, gender and disability category. The recently released book, Closing the Discipline Gap by Daniel Losen, highlights how students of color have higher rates of office referrals, suspensions and expulsions from school; moreover, low income Black males receiving special education services have the highest suspension rates of any subgroup 5, 6. This is not a recent phenomenon. In 1975, the Children’s Defense Fund reported the overuse of suspensions with Black children based on their representation in school districts across the United States 7. Over thirty years of research, Black students’ disproportionate numbers in school suspensions and expulsions has remained constant 8.
Although Black students are consistently disciplined at a higher rate than their White peers, there is no evidence that such discrepancies are due to higher rates of school misbehavior by Black students. On the contrary, studies have shown that Black students are punished more severely for less serious or more subjective infractions 9.
Racial and gender disproportionality in school suspensions is egregious not only because it has been shown to involve prejudice and unfairness, but also for the heavy toll it takes on the suspended students and their families — and, it is important to note, on their larger community. Suspensions do not contribute to healthy living and learning communities. Black boys who are pushed out of school have greatly diminished chances to realize their full personal or economic potential and their communities, as well as our country, are robbed of their leadership and contributions.
Nationally, 15% of Black males received out-of-school suspensions, compared to 7% of Latino males and 5% of White males. The average expulsion rate for Black males nationally was 0.61%, compared to 0.29% for Latino males and 0.21% for White males. These suspension and expulsion data indicate that Black students across the country were suspended at least twice as often as their peers, and were more likely to be expelled from school.
Florida ranked first in the nation in the rate of out-of-school suspension for both Black (23%) and White males (9%), and ranked third in the rate for Latino males (10%). Even though the state suspended Latino and White males at relatively high rates, Black males were still suspended at more than double the rate of both groups. Rhode Island had the highest out-of-school suspension rate for Latino males (12%). North Dakota had the lowest out-of-school suspension rate for Black males (4%), while New York had the lowest rate for Latino males (3%). One percent of White males in the District of Columbia received an out-of-school suspension, the lowest rate nationally.
Oklahoma expelled Black males (3.7%), Latino males (1.3%) and White males (0.7%) at the highest rates nationwide. Despite the high rates of out-of-school suspensions in Florida, the state expelled Black males at the lowest rate nationwide, just 0.07%. North Carolina, New Jersey and New York each reported the lowest rate of expulsion for Latino students, 0.05%. Rhode Island expelled White students at the lowest rate, 0.01%.
In Polk County, FL and St. Louis, MO, 40% of the Black male populations received an out-of-school suspension, a rate higher than any other selected urban district. Palm Beach, Pinellas and Orange County — all in Florida — also had relatively high rates of out-of-school suspensions for Black males.
Thirty-nine of the 50 urban districts reported data on expulsions by race and gender. Among these districts, Memphis and Chatham County expelled Black males at the highest rate (5%) followed by East Baton Rouge (4%). In contrast, East Baton Rouge expelled 1.3% of Latino males and 1.4% of White males – the highest rates for each of those two groups among the selected urban districts.