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For Students of Color, the Risks of Exclusion Are High

While policymakers and educators fret about ongoing achievement gaps for students of color, school policies continue to make it harder for black, Hispanic, and American Indian students to stay in class in the first place.

A new analysis of the most recent 2009-10 data from the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights finds minority students are disproportionately excluded through a wide array of disciplinary practices: corporal punishment, suspension, expulsion, and even police referral and arrest. Black students, for example, face triple the risk of white students of being suspended out of school multiple times.

All those exclusions cut learning time and increase the sense of disengagement for many students of color, said David Osher, vice president and fellow of the American Institutes for Research and author of the analysis. That, in turn, can deepen the achievement gaps between white and minority student groups. In Cleveland, for example, Osher found nearly 60 percent of the gap in performance among similar schools from 2008 to 2011 could be explained by the "conditions for learning" there, including excusionary discipline and students' reactions to it. By 2012-13, those conditions for learning accounted for nearly 80 percent of the difference.

"At a school district and public policy level people think that discipline and safety are the same," Osher said. "It's a perception, but at the level of policy and practice, there's a difference."

"You can be safe and orderly in two different ways. It could be a very regimented environment, or ... it could also be safe because you are in a community where people care for one another, watch each others' back, and act proactively to keep bad things from happening," Osher said.

I'll be talking with Osher and other experts about the research and alternatives to exclusion at AIR this morning as part of a launch of a new National Clearinghouse on Supportive School Discipline.

Want more research news? Follow @SarahDSparks on Twitter for the latest studies, and join the conversation.

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