Nationwide Study Finds Major Racial Gap in School Suspensions and Expulsions

Previous studies have shown that in certain school districts and states, African American students are more likely to be disciplined in school than Whites. And the punishments received by African American student are often more severe than the punishment White students receive for similar offense.

But a new study conducted at the University of Kentucky and led by Albert Ksinan, now a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, offers a comprehensive look at racial disparities in school discipline involving expulsion or suspension from school at secondary educational institutions throughout the United States. The study examined disciplinary records involving nearly 16,000 middle schools and more than 18,000 high schools all across the country. These schools enroll more than 22 million students.

“The results showed robust evidence of persistent discrepancies in disciplinary practices across ethnic/racial groups, with African American students found to be at increased risk for being suspended/expelled compared to White students in both middle and high schools,” said Dr. Ksinan.

“Exclusionary discipline can be particularly harmful during adolescence, because in many cases, it leaves adolescents without any real possibility to finish high school,” said Dr. Ksinan. “Given that adolescence is the developmental period associated with the highest rate of delinquent behaviors, it is can be argued that school expulsion during this ‘window of vulnerability’ leads to an increased risk of engaging in substance abuse and violent crime, and an associated increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system.”

The full study, “National Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Disciplinary Practices: A Contextual Analysis in American Secondary Schools,” was published in the Journal of School Psychology. It may be accessed here.

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  1. I am a School Counselor in a predominantly black middle school which has about 20% White/Asian, student population. The written discipline referrals are written up constantly by the teachers, but White/Asian students are offered alternative consequences. They alternative consequences are not written up and placed in the system. The administrators will request the secretary to go into the system and change the written consequence as a time-out. This will not demonstrate a high percentage of written referrals among Black students. The Black students are still written up and given ISS/OSS as their consequences.

    • Thanks so much for sharing. Reviewing this article as well as other data with a focus group in Baltimore, MD. Vast similarities in how young black youth are treated and revered in the education system and in law enforcement as it relates to cultural bias and root cause investigative data.

  2. When studies are made of racial disparities in school discipline, there is insufficient attention to the relatively poor behavior of black students.

    Some of these disparities can be fully justified because prescribed standards of conduct are being flouted. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of overlooking or excusing delinquent behavior among. The price to be paid is a downward spiral in academic performance of predominantly black schools, particularly big city schools. Just what we need.

    • I share your thoughts. The behaviors of Black children towards authority figures at school is observed as atrocious. They hold no limits, nor filter. It is as if these kids are raising themselves and have no one teaching them proper manors and behaviors of conduct.

      • I fully share your thoughts. But the fact is that as educators some can be observed as atrocious, and children pick up on these things as well as picking up on the attitudes and behaviors in the home or community. In order to a great educator, it takes more than just a lesson plan. We have to learn to be creative. We have to learn how to break down the barriers that these students have up. If parents failed them, society fails them and then enter into an educational facility and the teachers fail them by overlooking what is really happening or behind these behaviors, then we do fail them. We can always be on guard to say, “well that is not my job,” then yes we are failing. There are good teachers out here, only in the subject is being taught. But what makes a good educator is one who educates the whole student. Once you capture their attention and show that you have a general interest and investment in those students, then it will eventually turn that disrespectful behavior into a respectful one….only if you are up for the challenge. These students most likely hear negative things thrown at them every day and we as educators have to mindful of what we say, how we say it and our actions towards them speaks heavy volume. We can do all this without losing our authority as a educator.

  3. The rates of male-female suspensions/ discipline are even more uneven. Males are disciplined more often and much harsher than female students and this must stop, if we are going to be consistent in this effort.

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