U.S. Students Losing 18 Million Days of Instruction Due to Suspensions

Chicago School ClosingsA staggering 3.5 million American students – enough to fill the stadiums of nearly every Super Bowl ever played – were suspended from school in the 2011-2012 school year. According to a new report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA that examines the alarming school suspension rate across the country, American children lost almost 18 million days of instruction due to these actions.

Analyzing federal data, the report focuses on the prevalence of the “discipline gap” nationwide-the difference in suspension rates for students based on race, disability, and gender. Students in historically disadvantaged groups are significantly more likely to face out-of-school suspensions, fueling the longstanding achievement gap.

“The question we’re asking here is, ‘Are we closing the school discipline gap?'” said Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies.  “For the first time, we can answer that question in a really meaningful way. And the answer is, ‘A lot of school districts are closing the gap in a profound way, but not enough to swing the national numbers.'”

Even at just the elementary school level, there is a noticeable difference between suspension rates among students of different ethnic backgrounds. The gap between white and black students was the most severe, with 22 states having a more than 5 percent gap in suspension rates between white and black elementary students. Although this gap is much wider at the secondary level, it  narrower now than in previous reporting periods.

Elementary and Secondary Out-of-school Suspension Rates by Subgroup, 2011-12

Elementary and Secondary Out-of-school Suspension Rates by Subgroup, 2011-12 (Center for Civil Rights Remedies)

Florida had the highest rate in the country, suspending 5.1 percent of its elementary students and 19 percent of its secondary students in 2011-12. Florida was followed closely by Mississippi and Delaware at the elementary level, and Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina at the secondary level.

Missouri had the largest gap in school suspension rates between Black and White pupils, suspending close to 15 percent of its black students. The state also had three out of the 10 districts in the country with the highest rates-one of them being Normandy, the district where Michael Brown graduated from high school in Ferguson, Missouri.

The seven districts in the United States with the highest suspension rates all had majority Black enrollment. In secondary schools, the difference is even more pronounced – all but 12 states had a difference of at least 10 percentage points between suspension rates of black and white students.

Highest-suspending states by racial/ethnic group and English learners at secondary level (Center for Civil Rights Remedies)

Highest-suspending states by racial/ethnic group and English learners at secondary level (Center for Civil Rights Remedies)

Nationwide, high school students with disabilities were at the highest risk for suspension, especially those with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances, who are the most likely to have received suspension.

In the ten elementary schools with the highest suspension rates, between 29 and 47 percent of disabled students were suspended. Elementary schools with the highest concentration of students with disabilities had noticeably high rates, with many suspending more than a quarter of these students.

It is illegal for a student to be punished for behavior caused by their disability, so these numbers should be a major cause for concern for districts and lawmakers.

The report does spotlight a handful of districts in California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia that have initiated programs to decrease the number rof out-of-school suspensions. Still, despite the lower numbers overall, many districts have not shown much improvement in closing the racial disparity in suspension rates.

“This type of large disparity impacts both the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children, inflicting upon them a legacy of despair rather than opportunity,” said Losen.

Photo: Associated Press

  • Dr Rajesh Sharma

    Very nice topic to remove the learning gap.

  • Val E. Forge

    And how much instruction and attention are the students who were NOT suspended missing because of the misbehavior of those who were? Seems like in education we gear everything to the laziest, most immature student and the most irresponsible yet litigious parent.

  • Robert

    Whenever the subject of school suspensions along racial lines is addressed, a common complaint is that some minorities – especially blacks – are disproportionally suspended. What criteria should be used to determine if minorities are disproportionally suspended? Should we expect that all ethnic groups would have the same rate of suspension? Let’s take the next reasonable step. Should we expect that both male and female students would have the same rate of suspension?

    Hopefully, even the casual reader will realize that boys and girls have different levels of aggression and likewise for different ethnic groups. The best way to determine if some groups are disproportionally suspended is to determine the expected rate of
    suspension and compare it to the observed rate of suspension. It is well known that blacks are the most violent ethnic group. For example, “The incarceration rate of black males was over six times higher than that of white males, with a rate of 4,749 per 100,000 US residents.” http://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Race_and_crime_in_the_United_States Therefore, we expect that a higher
    percentage of blacks would be suspended than whites.

    When we read about suspending high school students with disabilities, we visualize children in wheelchairs. However, many of these disabilities are actually learning disabilities. Learning disability individuals would include those with an IQ of 70 or below. http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/general-learning-disability In the United States, blacks have an average IQ of about 85 with a standard deviation of about 13.5. Additionally, it is known that poor people are typically less bright than those who are richer. Therefore, it is likely that the IQ of the poorer blacks is probably closer to 80 (than 85). With this information, we would expect approximately 23% of the poorer blacks would have an IQ of 70 or less. We should, therefore, not be too surprised that
    students with disabilities would have high suspension rates.

    The article states that a handful of districts in a few states have initiated programs to decrease the number of out-of-school suspensions.

    Comment: A more reasonable program would be to ensure that the classroom environment is conducive to learning. This was almost certainly the purpose of the school’s rules for its students.

    The article states that “This type of large disparity [in the rates of suspensions] impacts both the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children, inflicting upon them a legacy of despair rather than opportunity,” said Losen.

    Comment: O.K. now — who do we believe is going to suffer the most from disruptive classroom? Is it the bright kids (typically white and east Asian)? Or, is it the less gifted children (typically black and Hispanic)? Thus, a policy of reducing suspensions can have the opposite of the desired effect. It will harm those who most need quality time
    in the classroom.

  • bob

    all of the data is correlative…..none that is shown is causative. What is the CAUSE of the disproportionality?? Could it be actual behavior differences or other factors?? We know that smokers are much more likely to have cancer. …so when we say “smokers have higher cancer rates” we then investigate the cause, which it turns out IS smoking. If minorities have higher percentage suspension rates, what is the cause?

  • bob

    “It is illegal for a student to be punished for behavior caused by their disability, so these numbers should be a major cause for concern for districts and lawmakers.”—this is based on the belief that every behavioral problem has an organic disease cause….which is completely untrue and unproven.