The disparity between the rate of disciplinary action of African-American students and their white counterparts in the form as suspension and expulsion is apparently widespread and not confined to any one area of the country.
Most recently, an analysis by The Washington Post indicated that, in the Washington metropolitan area, Black students are suspended and expelled from school as much as five times more frequently than white students.
That follows by just a few months a report by the National Education Policy Center that indicated that Black and Latino students in public schools are suspended at far higher rates than white students.
Education experts contend that the study by the Post and the policy center reflect a trend that is especially pronounced among Black male students. They say that it has troubling implications on everything from graduation rates to the employment prospects for a generation of young Black students, particularly in America’s urban centers.
“This is a problem that is of national significance and that needs to be examined thoroughly,” said Rufus Williams, the former president of the Chicago Board of Education, in an interview with BET.com.
One explanation, Williams said, was that “many white students are in high-achieving schools. They also have a higher level of intact, traditional families. And, because of that, these students are not suffering from the same social issues that other students face.”
African-American students in urban areas, he said, are more likely to be “in lower achieving schools in more impoverished areas. And you have a more fractured family structure and all the issues that result from that.”
On the other hand, Williams said that the disparity could be explained in part by the fact that some teachers have difficulty in dealing with African-American, urban students and find suspension and expulsion an acceptable alternative.
Indeed, the report by the National Education Policy Center pointed to that trend. In one set of data from North Carolina, the report found that African-American first-time offenders were more likely to receive suspension as their punishment than white first-time offenders.
The most recent national figures, compiled from data in 2006, indicate that 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared with 15 percent of their Black counterparts, 7 percent of Hispanic students and 3 percent of their Asians schoolmates.
Experts also cite a number of other factors, such as unintended bias and a disparity in access to effective and experienced teachers.
The analysis that was conducted by the Post included schools in Washington, D.C., as well as the suburbs, including Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia. It also included data from counties in southern Maryland.
In one example cited by the paper, one in seven Black students in St. Mary’s County, Md., were suspended from school, compared with one in 20 white students. In Alexandria, Va., Black students were nearly six times as likely to be suspended as their white peers.
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(Photo: Tami Chappell/Reuters)