Equity & Diversity

Study Shows Fewer Suspensions in Calif. Schools, But Racial Disparities Persist

By Denisa R. Superville — June 13, 2014 2 min read
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Fewer Black and Latino students were missing school as a result of out-of-school suspensions, but racial gaps persisted even as suspensions fell among students of all racial and ethnic groups, according to a report this week by the University of California Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project.

The findings were among those included in the UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies’ ”Keeping California’s Kids in School: Fewer Students of Color Missing School for Minor Misbehavior .” The study analyzed suspension data in the state’s 745 school districts that submitted school discipline data in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.

The researchers found an overall decrease in out-of-school suspensions. “Disruption/willful defiance,” an all-encompassing area that can include anything from failing to do homework to talking back to a teacher, made up more than one-third of all out-of-school suspensions. In the 2012-2013 data, disruption/willful defiance—one of 24 different violations of the state code of conduct included in the data—accounted for 34 percent of all out-of-school suspensions.

Minority students were more likely to be suspended than whites under disruption/willful defiance, making it the major reason for the disparity in suspension rates among white and black and Latino students, according to the report.

This new report comes amid a national debate about how zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, including out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, affect minority students. In January, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice released a set of guidelines and guidance for how schools may implement disciplinary policies that do not disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities. And, last week, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released its own report “The School Discipline Consensus Report,” which recommended ways to keep students in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

The UCLA report says the decline in out-of-school suspension was most dramatic for black students, who saw a reduction of nearly three suspensions for every 100 students enrolled. Suspensions for white students fell by one for every 100 students enrolled.

The reduction in out-of-school suspensions may stem from the use of alternative disciplinary measures and changes that some districts have already made to deal with excessive use of suspensions. It may also be a recognition that too many children were missing schools because of behavioral issues, according to the report.

The report recommends that districts follow the example of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which eliminated willful defiance suspensions. Other districts are also moving along those lines, and changes in the state legislature may decrease suspensions in that category, according to the report.

The report also has recommendations for creating more effective disciplinary policies and reducing disparities. They include:

  • Publicly reporting discipline data and setting clear goals for a reduction in overall out-of-school suspensions;
  • Removing disruption and willful ignorance as grounds for removal from educational settings, and revising the disciplinary code to reflect a positive framework;
  • Investing in effective alternatives and interventions;
  • And providing training to teachers and leaders to implement new disciplinary strategies.

A full copy of the report can be read here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.