Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Assessing the Differential Impact of Contextual Factors on School Suspension for Black and White Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Assessing the Differential Impact of Contextual Factors on School Suspension for Black and White Students

Article excerpt


The purpose of the current study is to examine the differential impact of contextual factors for school suspension on Black and White youth. Although, school suspension is the direct result of decisions made at the school level, understanding contextual factors that influence the process would have implications for policies and programs for students who are suspended and who are atrisk for suspension. More specifically, this study examines a comprehensive list of factors simultaneously. Previous studies have examined limited factors to include neighborhood and school factors, which do not offer a comprehensive understanding of the problem of school suspension and race. In addition, limitations on juvenile research are often due to the data available, many studies use small data sets that are not nationally representative of the population. This present study uses nationally representative data, which reduces issues related to data quality.

Literature Review

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas (1954) started the process of equalizing education opportunities for all people in the United States regardless of race. Since then, there have been increased legislation aimed at expanding opportunities for others including students with disabilities. During the George W. Bush presidency, "No Child Left Behind" became the governing legislation regarding equality in the classroom, especially for poor children. However, research shows that the education system in the United States continues to struggle with the notion of education equality regarding race and other socioeconomic factors. The issue of equality is prevalent in the statistics regarding dropouts and school discipline with respect to race and other socioeconomic factors (Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Gregory, 1997; McCarthy & Dean, 1987; McFadden et al., 1992; Skiba et al., 2000; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997).

The Children's Defense Fund of 1975 was one of the first studies that showed that Blacks were suspended at higher rates than their White peers (Washington Research Project, 1975). Since that time, the vast majorities of studies are consistent and reveal the same disparity (Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Gregory, 1997; McCarthy & Dean, 1987; Raffaele Mendez et al., 2002; Morrison et al., 2001). Research suggests the frequency by which Blacks and Whites are suspended from school is generally high overall. Blacks, not including any other minorities, make up 32% of all suspended students. Moreover, Blacks are suspended at a rate that is 2.3 times higher than White American students (Brooks, Schiraldi, & Ziedenberg, 2000). Research also suggests that Black students are less likely than White students to receive less punitive alternative sanctions once they are referred for disciplinary action (McFadden et al., 1992).

One explanation for the disproportionate suspension rates is due to the socioeconomic differences among Blacks and White American students. However, most of the data do not support this hypothesis. The disproportionate representation of minorities in school suspension is the same after controlling for socioeconomic status (Skiba et al., 2000; Wu et al., 1982). Another hypothesis is that Black students and minorities do engage in more severe and violent behaviors. However, research that controls for the severity and violence of the offenses committed by students still show disproportionate treatment of Black students (Advancement Project/Civil Rights Project, 2000; McCarthy & Dean 1987; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997; Townsend, 2000).

Individual Level Factors and School Suspension

Peer delinquency. Delinquent peer association has always been associated with poor academic performance. The characteristics of friends influence the motivation and attitudes of adolescents (Bemdt, 1999). Associating with juveniles who have problems in school may discourage school engagement. …

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