National report highlights punitive suspensions of minority students, which are on the rise in Baltimore
A national report released today underscores the widely-known disparity in suspensions of minority students and their non-minority counterparts.
In the report, Maryland is highlighted for its efforts to curb punitive suspensions and expulsions, and Baltimore is highlighted for its effort of significantly reducing its suspension rate in recent years--though the number of suspensions in the district is up this year, including those for "soft offenses" like disrespect and insubordination.
The report, titled “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice” was published by the National Education Policy Center (NPEC), and released in collaboration with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Using recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, and data from states that have like North Carolina, the report's authors conclude that harsh discipline is applied disproportionately to students of color.
The report highlights troubling 2006 data, published last year, collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. It shows that more than 28% of black male middle school students had been suspended at least once-- nearly three times the 10% rate for white males; 18% of black females in middle school were suspended, more than four times as often as white females.
The report was released in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, with officials advocating more productive solutions that suspending and expelling students. Its authors concluded what we have all heard in Baltimore as the city has campaigned to reduce its suspensions from roughly 26,000 students in 2003 to 11,000 this year: pushing students out of school results in poor outcomes like increased dropout rates and juvenile crime.
Jonathan Brice, who oversees student support services for the city school system, headed to Washington for the release of the report where he presented the city's successes of implementing positive interventions in city schools, and streamlining discipline policies.
"This report gives further confirmation that city schools is on the right path," Brice said, pointing to the city's recently celebrated graduation and dropout rates. "One of the things that we know is that students who are not in school, are not able to learn. And suspension and truancy is taking kids away from what's important."
Brice discussed the variety of ways that schools employ alternatives, such as character education programs, restorative justice, community conferencing. The system has also focused on building a code of conduct that is consistent, Brice said, so that "we have an expectation that an incident that would occur in school A, would receive the same consequences in school Z."
But, this year, the city's suspension rates rose for the first time in four years. About 1,300 more students were suspended last school year than in 2009-2010.
"I think every year we have to be reminded about losing the lowest level consequences first, that every incident does not require an out-of-school suspension," Brice said of the uptick.
While the system noted an increase of suspensions for violence, like physical attacks on students (385 more suspensions than last year) and adults (200 more), Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso said he was concerned that "soft offenses" rounded out the list of increased incidents.
City school data shows there were 238 more students suspended in 2010-2011 school year for "disrespect" than in the previous year-- the second-highest increase among the city's 2011 suspensions; 192 students were suspended for "inciting/participating in a public disturbance;" and 82 more students were suspended for "insubordination."
When the data was released in August, Alonso said the data could indicate that educators are resorting to suspensions as a means to maintain order.
"When I see increases in those soft offenses that are not directly tied to violence, I start to get nervous,"Alonso said told a room full of principals. "We'll be watching."
The city also noted a slight uptick in expulsions last school year, according to data obtained through a public information request. Expulsions rose from 534 in 2009-2010 school year, to 558 in the 2010-2011 year. In the 2008-2009 school year, 703 students were expelled.
Last school year, the incident categories that noted the most expulsions was physical attacks on adults with 217, and "other weapons," (besides firearms), which resulted in 132. The category "weapons possession" had the third highest number, with 82 expulsions.