Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

High Suspension Schools and Dropout Rates for Black and White Students

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

High Suspension Schools and Dropout Rates for Black and White Students

Article excerpt


This study examined the association between school suspension rates and dropout rates in a statewide sample of 289 Virginia public high schools. The contribution of suspension rates on dropout rates was examined for both Black and White students, after controlling for school demographics (school racial composition, percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Price Meals, urbanicity), and school resources (per pupil expenditure). Because student attitudes also might influence suspension rates, the prevalence of aggressive attitudes and rejection of school rules among students were used as additional predictors. Hierarchical regression analyses using schools as the unit of analysis found that, after entering both school demographics and student attitude measures, schools with high suspension rates tended to have high dropout rates. There were comparable findings for both White and Black students, although school suspension rates were more strongly associated with White dropout rates than Black dropout rates. These findings contribute new evidence that suspension policies may have an adverse effect on student completion of high school.

Keywords: dropout rates, suspension rates

Out-of-school suspension is one of the most widely used disciplinary practices in American schools, with more than 3.3 million students suspended each year (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). It is well-established that Black students are more likely to be suspended than White students (Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008), and that school suspensions are consistently associated with negative academic outcomes for individual students, including greater risk of dropping out of school (Brooks, Schiraldi, & Ziedenberg, 2000; Civil Rights Project, 2000; Skiba, Peterson & Williams, 1997; Suh, Suh, & Houston, 2007). These observations have triggered a series of studies investigating the link between suspension and dropout rates on an individual student level of analysis (Bowditch, 1993; Suh & Suh, 2007). These studies have examined how the suspension of a student might lead that student to become disengaged from school and to feel pushed out of school (Bowditch, 1993; Skiba, 2000).

Although studies have examined the impact of suspension on individual students, less attention, has been given to schoolwide differences in the use of suspension practices. How much variation is there among schools in their use of suspension? The Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2008 (Dinkes, Kemp, Baum, & Snyder, 2009) documented an approximately even split between schools in the use of serious disciplinary consequences in 2005-06, when approximately 39,600 public schools (48%) took serious disciplinary action against a student, including long-term suspensions and expulsions. Closer examination of school suspension practices yields more evidence of diverse practices. The Virginia High School Safety Study found that Virginia high schools suspended an average of 15% of their students at least once during the school year, but that rates varied from 2.9% to 58% of the student body (Gregory, Cornell, & Fan, in press). The considerable variability in suspension rates in Virginia high schools raises questions about the correlates of high suspending versus low suspending schools.

Frequent use of school suspension may have an impact that extends beyond the individual student to affect the school climate and student body as a whole. As suggested by the studies reviewed below, schools that engage in frequent use of suspension as a disciplinary option may perpetuate a school climate that is perceived as harsh, punitive, and rejecting of students (Bowditch, 1993; Christie, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2007; Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, & Rock, 1986). The purpose of the present study was to investigate the link between schoolwide suspension practices and dropout rates. Of special interest is whether schools with low suspension rates would have lower dropout rates, especially among Black students, than schools with high suspension rates. …

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