WASHINGTON – U.S. public schools suspend black, Hispanic and disabled students at much higher rates than others, according to a new report by a Colorado-based civil rights group.
The report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) says that frequent suspensions and expulsions should “raise questions about a school’s disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership and the training of its personnel.”
The report follows several recent studies in which advocacy groups have questioned harsh school disciplinary policies. Most notably, the Council of State Governments, a Kentucky-based research organization, looked at suspension and expulsion rates for Texas public schools and found in July that nearly six in 10 students had been suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade.
The latest findings “strongly suggest a need for reform,” according to the NEPC, based at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s School of Education. The center is a left-leaning think tank that studies racial justice in K-12 education.
The report doesn’t provide any new findings, but instead reviews current statistics from states and the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
The federal government found that between the 1972-73 and the 2006-07 school years, suspension rates for white students rose from 3% to 5%. Meanwhile, suspension rates for black students rose from 6% to 15%.
Suspension rates for Hispanic students rose from 3% to 7%.
Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said department officials hadn’t seen the new report, but he said they were aware of “troubling reports across the country” of the disparity in minority and white discipline rates. He said the department is taking the reports seriously. “In the end, we want to make sure that every student is treated fairly and given the opportunities and the resources to succeed,” he said.
Recent federal findings also show that minority students with disabilities are suspended at a much higher rate than white students. In the 2007-08 school year, 16.6% of black disabled students were suspended, vs. 6.7% of white disabled students.
“I think there is a growing movement to say, ‘Wait a minute, we can do better,’” said Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. Losen, who wrote the NEPC report, says recent statistics show that minority and disabled students are often suspended for minor offenses.
“Suspending kids right and left for minor offenses is not a sound educational policy,” Losen says.