In a new study of Texas schools, a study so deep and thorough it’s being called “unprecedented” by the Washington Post, the whimsical and often unfair nature of school discipline has been exposed. We’ve told you before that racial disparities in school punishments have long been an issue in America, with the NAACP recently filing a discrimination charge against a group of schools in Maryland. Today, with the Texas study following literally one million children, we now know how awful the problem has become.
Called Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement, the report looked at the effectiveness of suspension on improving student behavior. What it found is that suspension and expulsion may not always be the answer, and, in fact, they might contribute to the problem.
The study, which analyzed 6.6 million records, proved that suspending or expelling a child drastically increased that child’s risk of being held back a grade, dropping out of school or becoming another child put into the justice system. In fact, 23 percent of students who had been suspended at least once had also engaged with the justice system, compared with only two percent of students with no suspensions.
Sending children from schools to juvenile detention centers is bad in and of itself. But exacerbating this is that the children are being suspended in a racist manner. According to the study, which controlled for a full 83 variables, African-American students were 31 percent more likely to be disciplined for “discretionary offenses” (e.g. disruption, insubordination, fighting) than were identical white or Latino students.
According to NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Matt Cregor, the Texas study’s findings aren’t unique. “What we’re seeing in Texas is no different than what we are seeing nationally,” he told the Post.
What this means is not that discipline should be taken out of schools. It doesn’t even mean that we need to completely stop suspending students. What this means is that we need to look at suspension and expulsion as the serious penalties they are, and we need to begin considering how and when it’s appropriate to use them. And if we can’t begin wielding them in a way that doesn’t discriminate against young Black people, maybe we need to totally reevaluate how we mete out justice in American schools.
(Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore)