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Analysis Identifies States, Districts With the Most Problematic Discipline Rates

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Updated.

Overreliance on suspensions in school discipline and disproportionately high suspension rates for students of color remain a national problem, a new report says, but merely examining nationwide statistics masks the progress that many districts have made in reducing classroom removals and closing the gaps between racial and ethnic groups.

And a more detailed exploration of state and local data—broken down by elementary and secondary levels and into student subpopulations—shows where the most work remains to be done, says the report, released today by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California Los Angeles.

The report's authors analyzed 2011-12 discipline data from every school and district in the country, which was released by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights last year. In that time period, 10.1 percent of U.S. secondary students and 2.6 percent of elementary students were suspended, they found.

Using different scales for elementary and secondary levels, they classified districts as "high-suspending" and "low-suspending," and tracked progress in narrowing gaps between discipline rates for students in different racial and ethnic groups.

At the secondary level, "any school or district that suspended 25 percent or more of any major racial/ethnic group's secondary enrollment was labeled 'high-suspending, and any school that suspended 10 percent or less of every major racial/ethnic group's secondary enrollment was deemed 'lower-suspending,' " the report says. At the elementary level, where overall rates tend to be lower, researchers lowered those thresholds to 10 percent and 2 percent.

Using that method, the report found that 24 percent of secondary schools met the "high suspending" threshold and 38 percent could be considering "lower suspending." On the elementary level, 37 percent of studied schools were "lower suspending" and just 17 percent where "high-suspending."

"We found a wide range of high- and low-suspending schools and districts in every state, which shows that many districts do not rely on frequent suspension to maintain order," the report says. "These empirical data, coupled with robust longitudinal research findings, lead us to the conclusion that, although state policies can have an influence on suspension rates, the biggest difference is in how school and district administrators approach and implement discipline policy."

The report includes charts that show differences in suspension rates between black and white students at the elementary and secondary level in every state and data breakdowns for some of the country's largest districts. This chart shows states with the highest suspension rates for various student populations.

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While advocates of reworking school discipline policies usually cite national statistics to support their case, a more close exploration of discipline data could help identify trends and problem areas that will help focus policy discussions, the report says. 

The state with the highest suspension rates for all students at both the elementary and secondary levels is Florida, which suspended 5.1 percent of all elementary students and 19 percent of all secondary students in 2011-12, the report says. As Christina Samuels notes in her On Special Education post, Florida also has the highest suspension rate among secondary level students with disabilities. 

A spokesman from Florida's education department sent us this comment Monday afternoon: "Decisions regarding discipline policies as well as student suspensions are made at the district level. I recommend you contact individual districts to understand how such decisions are made." 

Among the report's other findings:

  • Nationally, suspension rates are three to four times higher at the secondary level than at the elementary level.
  • Gaps between rates of discipline for white students and students of color are also much wider at the secondary level.
  • Among students with disabilities, black girls have higher rates of suspension than white boys at both the elementary and secondary levels.
  • English-learners living in states with English-only instruction policies also tend to have high suspension rates. 

Read the whole report here. Read Christina Samuels' post about findings on students with disabilities here. You can also explore the report's data for individual districts at schooldisciplinedata.org.

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