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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Cutting suspensions doesn’t close ‘discipline gap’

California’s out-of-school suspension rate is way down, but the “discipline gap” remains, reports Mario Koran on The 74. Black students are much, much more likely to be suspended.

The number of out-of-school suspensions declined by 46 percent from 2011-12 to 2016-17, Koran reports. That reflects national trends.

In 2014, an Obama administration “rethink discipline” guidance pressured schools to reduce disparities in suspension rates for black and Latino students and for special-needs students. Tom Loveless, who produced a 2017 report on California’s suspension data for the Brookings Institution, thinks the trend started before the 2014 guidance.

More relevant to the declines, Loveless said, was a growing awareness of disparities, thanks in large part to reports from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project— which were well-covered by media outlets — as well as efforts at the state and local levels to curb the use of suspensions for petty infractions, such as disrupting class, using cell phones, or refusing to do school work.

In 2013, Los Angeles Unified limited suspensions for “willful defiance,” and “other school districts followed suit,” writes Koran. The Legislature banned out-of-school suspension for students in grade 3 or lower the next year.

Data show that even while suspension rates fell across the board, the rate for black students dropped the least. In fact, in 2017, black students were still being suspended at four times the rate as whites — and that gap had widened slightly from 2013. Suspension rates for black students dropped from 22.3 percent to 15.8 percent between 2013 and 2017. Latino suspensions fell at the steepest rate: 34 percent.

White and Latino students have similar suspension rates, while Asians have much lower discipline rates.

There’s also evidence that administrators are cooking the books, writes Koran.

At one troubled school in San Diego Unified, a former vice principal said that, facing top-down pressure to keep suspension rates low, administrators would simply send students home for the day instead of suspending them.

At least seven of 18 District of Columbia high schools sent students home for the day without calling it a suspension, the Washington Post reported last July.

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