Secondary school suspensions cost some districts over a year of instruction

Dive Brief:

  • A new analysis of middle and high school out-of-school suspension data shows Black students were suspended at much higher rates than White students, according to a report by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project, produced in collaboration with the Learning Policy Institute.

  • The national analysis shows Black students were suspended 103 days per 100 students enrolled in U.S. public schools during the 2015-16 school year, compared to 21 days for White students. The Civil Rights Project also disaggregated suspension data at the state and district levels, finding some large districts reported more than 182 days of suspensions per 100 students.

  • As students return to school campuses, discipline experts are warning schools to avoid exclusionary discipline practices due to concerns about lost instructional time and the trauma students are experiencing because of the pandemic.

Dive Insight:

When The Civil Rights Project researchers calculated the length of suspensions by enrollment data, they also found high levels of suspensions for Black boys, students with disabilities and students who attended alternative schools.

Using the 2015-16 data states and districts reported to the Civil Rights Data Collection, The Civil Rights Project created a searchable discipline database for every student group for every school district in the country. In total, there were more than 11 million days of instruction “lost due to out-of-school suspension,” despite decreases in secondary school suspension rates since 2009-10, the report said.

In some districts, suspension rates at the middle and high school levels added up to more than a year of instructional time. For example, schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had 416 days of suspensions per 100 students and schools in the city of Richmond, Virginia, had 352 days of suspensions per 100 students.

“It’s shocking really, when we drill down and look at the days of instruction lost due to suspensions,” said Dan Losen, the center’s director and lead researcher of the report, “Lost Opportunities.”

“Drilling down and then looking at the racial difference and disability differences, you see this amounts to huge differences in the opportunity to learn, and that’s what we all care about.”

A 2018 Government Accountability Office report on discipline disparities for Black students, boys and students with disabilities reached similar conclusions based on CRDC statistics from the 2013-14 school year. Disproportionate discipline practices were evident regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school the disciplined students attended, the GAO report said.

CRDC data for the 2017-18 school year has not yet been released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Losen said The Civil Right’s Project’s research shows the need to close the discipline gap if schools want to close racial achievement gaps. Exclusionary discipline practices aren’t effective and need to be replaced by alternatives that promote positive behaviors and address root causes of unwanted behaviors, he said. 

This is especially critical as students return to schools after many months of distance learning and while possibly experiencing trauma, Losen said.

“We know a train wreck is coming and we have data to suggest that there are major issues that were contributing to the inequities in educational opportunity,” Losen said. “Those have been exasperated by the pandemic and when kids return in person, if we don’t address them, that failure to address them borders on negligence, really.”

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