Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis

Poverty & Race, January/February 2011 | Go to article overview

Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis


Research suggests that data on suspension at the middle-school level are rarely analyzed, despite the likelihood that suspension in middle school has significant long-term negative repercussions on achievement and graduation. Having analyzed some middle-school data for individual school districts, we knew that some urban middle schools had unusually high suspension rates and deep racial disparities. We did not know the full scope of the problem, so we set out to review the middleschool data in a more comprehensive manner. We knew the data were not easy to access or analyze for researchers, and were not aware of any prior national studies on middle-school suspension. Once we overcame the technical obstacles with gaining access to middle-school data, we set out to shed light on the issues of efficacy and fairness in the use of out-of-school suspension for middle-school students, with a close look at the disparities by race and gender.

To place the issue of middle-school suspensions in context, our report described the dramatic rise in suspension rates since the early 70's, using the ?? 2 data. These show a substantial increase in the use of suspension for students of all races, but a much greater increase in the racial discipline gap. Specifically, K-12 suspension rates have more than doubled since the early 70' s for all non-Whites, while the Black/White gap more than tripled, rising from a difference of 3 percentage points in the 70' s to over 10 percentage points in the 2000' s.

Data Sources and Methodology

Using school-level data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, our report first estimated the risk of suspension in approximately 9,220 middle schools from every state in the nation. Next, we examined middle schools in 18 of the nation's largest school districts to provide a clear picture of middle-school disciplinary practices in large urban districts and to document the change in suspension rates over the most recent four-year period.

The data source for the school- and district-level suspensions was a biennial survey of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). OCR's survey explicitly required that schools only report the number of students suspended at least once during the year, which meant that the findings do not fully capture the frequency of the use of suspension by a given school or district. To generate rates that could be easily compared, our report used the most straightforward formula for each racial/gender group. Specifically, we divided the number of suspended students from the defined group by that group's total enrollment to generate the percent of students from each subgroup that were suspended.

Findings

National Middle-School Suspension Rates by Race With Gender

Our analysis revealed profound racial/gender disparities (see table). For example, for middle school, 28.3% of Black males were suspended, compared to just 10% for White males. And 18% of Black females were suspended, compared with 3.9% of White females.

Middle-School Suspension Rates at the District and School Levels

Our report further analyzed the data for 18 of the nation's largest districts. In 15 of the 18 districts, the research revealed that at least 30% of all enrolled Black males were suspended one or more times. In Palm Beach County and Milwaukee, the districtwide middle-school suspension rate for Black males exceeded 50%. The suspension rate for Black females exceeded 50% in Milwaukee and was over 33 % in Palm Beach County, Indianapolis and Des Moines.

Our report's school-level analysis also illustrated that urban middle schools with extraordinarily high suspension rates were not uncommon. Across the 18 districts examined, 167 middle schools suspended more than 33% of the Black males enrolled, and 84 schools exceeded 50%. The 50% mark was also met or exceeded by 31 schools for Black females; 13 schools for Hispanic males; 2 schools for Hispanic females; 22 schools for White males; and 18 schools for White females. …

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