School Climate & Safety

Black Students’ Discipline Rates Are Especially High in the South, Study Finds

By Evie Blad — August 27, 2015 2 min read
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Southern states contribute heavily to national trends of disproportionately high rates of discipline for black students in public schools, a new study found.

Fifty-five percent of the 1.2 million black students suspended in the U.S. during the 2011-12 school year lived in 13 Southern states, according to the analysis of the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, released this week by researchers at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

“In schools across the United States, black students are punished more severely than their peers,” the study says. “But nowhere are black students suspended or expelled more than in the South.”

The analysis of over 3,000 public school districts in the South found that “black students were consistently suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers across the region. This held true in urban, suburban, and rural districts, for both black boys and black girls.”

Check out this graphic from the report for state-by-state suspension data.

National data have long showed that students of color are significantly more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. And various data analyses have demonstrated how those rates vary district-by-district depending on differences like the existence of zero-tolerance policies, training for staff, and attitudes of administrators.

Researchers Edward Smith and Shaun Harper attribute the findings in this week’s report to a legacy of disparate treatment in the South.

“The findings in our report point to the residual effects of Jim Crow, slavery, and unequal schooling,” Harper said. “They are further explained by poverty trends, structural inequities in the education workforce, and a longstanding history of racial injustice that cyclically reproduces itself, especially across these 13 Southern states.”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • In 181 school districts in the 3,000 Southern school districts analyzed in the report, 100 percent of the expelled students were black. In 84 districts, 100 percent of the suspended students were black. The report does not say what percentage of these districts’ enrollment is made up of black students.
  • In 132 Southern school districts, black students were suspended at rates five times higher than their representation in the student population.
  • In 77 Southern school districts, black students were expelled at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population.

The report also provides reports for every state that show district-by-district discipline rates. That information is also available for every public school district in the country on the office for civil rights website.

Further reading about equity in school discipline:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.