Suspensions Are Down In U.S. Schools But Large Racial Gaps Remain

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NPR on 12/17/2018 by Anya Kamenetz

Students in U.S. schools were less likely to be suspended in 2016 than they were in 2012. But the progress is incremental, and large gaps — by race and by special education status — remain.

This data comes from an analysis of federal data for NPR in partnership with the nonprofit organization Child Trends. And it comes as the Trump administration is preparing the final report from a school safety commission that is expected to back away from or rescind Obama-era guidance intended to reduce racial disparities in school discipline.

The commission, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is expected to release its final report in the coming days.

The Child Trends analysis highlights findings that when a student disrupts class, a school can disrupt that student’s education — and his or her entire life. Research suggests suspension and expulsion, arrests and referrals to law enforcement, is associated with dropping out of school and going to jail. All of these consequences happen more frequently to black students, even in preschool. Sometimes they are punished more harshly for the same behavior as white students; often for nonviolent offenses. Students with disabilities are also punished more often and more harshly.

In 2014, with this body of evidence growing, the U.S. Department of Education issued detailed guidance on “how to identify, avoid, and remedy” what they called “discriminatory discipline.” They promoted alternatives to suspension and expulsion, and opened investigations into school districts that had severely racially skewed numbers.

In the wake of that guidance, more than 50 of America’s largest school districts instituted discipline reform. More than half the states revised their laws to try and reduce suspensions and expulsions. And, our indicators are, they succeeded.