A 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.
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.
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