African American students at greater risk of being suspended or expelled in schools than their peers, claims study

African American students at greater risk of being suspended or expelled in schools than their peers, claims study

African American students and those belonging to two or more races are at greater risk of being suspended or expelled as compared to white students in both middle and high schools in the US, according to a new study.

The study's findings conclude that there is strong evidence of "persistent discrepancies" in school disciplinary practices and actions across ethnic and racial groups. The research team from the Department of Family Sciences, University of Kentucky, and from Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, analyzed in what ways ethnicity and race are associated with "school exclusionary discipline practices", which refer to students being removed from school as a form of punishment.

"School discipline, and school exclusionary practices, in particular, have been widely implemented by secondary schools in the US in an effort to preserve a safe and undisturbed learning environment. Research from the past two decades has shown that reliance on these practices may be associated with suboptimal educational outcomes, as their overuse results in missed educational opportunities and classroom time," states the paper.

"One of the most troubling consequences of this overuse is that it is not applied in an equitable manner across youth from different ethnic and racial groups and that it appears to disproportionately affect particularly African American students. Therefore, this practice may hinder educational promise of minority students, and during adolescence, it might leave them without any real prospects of finishing their secondary education," adds the paper published in the Journal of School Psychology.

The study focusses on ethnic and racial disparities in four types of school exclusionary policies through the Civil Rights Data Collection (2013–2014), based on 15,901 middle and 18,303 high schools in the US. This includes in-school suspension, one or more out-of-school suspensions, expulsion with services, and expulsion without services. It is the most comprehensive study to provide estimates of ethnic and racial discrepancies in who gets disciplined in seven ethnic and racial groups — African American, Asian, Native American, Hawaiian, Hispanic, two or more races, and White — with a dataset representing over 22 million adolescents.


"The results regarding ethnicity/race consistently indicated that African American adolescents had significantly higher rates of school discipline measures as compared to White youth across all disciplinary measures and both types of school. In addition, the relative increase in risk for receiving school discipline for African American students was the highest across all ethnic/racial minority groups," state the findings.

The paper further says: "Being an African American student emerged as the comparatively strongest individual predictor for increased risk of receiving school discipline, with an increased ethnic and racial discrepancy following the severity of the punishment. For example, whereas being an African American student was associated with about 120–130% increase in risk for receiving an in-school suspension in middle school or high school, African American youth had a rate five times higher for receiving an expulsion with services in middle school and nine times greater in high school."




Punishment rates of African American students and students identifying with two or more races were higher in Midwest schools as compared to ones in the South, the study found. (Getty Images)


The researchers say that similarly, students who self-identified as belonging to two or more ethnic/racial groups were also more likely to be punished than White students for all types of school discipline, in both middle and high schools. "Again, the ethnic/racial discrepancy for this risk increased with the severity of the punishment," they add.

Conversely, Asian students were significantly less likely to experience school discipline as this group had the lowest rates of school discipline, shares the study.

The findings show that the risk for African American students and students indicating two or more races were higher in schools with higher poverty rates and a greater ethnic/racial diversity of the student population. "School size was positively associated with more ethnic/racial discrepancy for students self-identifying as two or more races, American Indians, and African American students. This means that students part of these ethnic/racial groups were more likely to receive disciplinary measures in larger schools. With an increasing diversity of the school student body (more representation of ethnic/racial minorities at a particular school), minority students were more likely to be punished," says the paper.


Researchers say in their analysis that African American, Hispanic, and students indicating two or more races were significantly more likely to receive out of school suspensions in urban middle schools as compared to rural and suburban schools. The same finding was made for students indicating two or more races.

The middle schools in the South, says the paper, had the highest discrepancies for African American students related to in-school suspensions across all regions. However, punishment rates of African American students and students identifying with two or more races were higher in Midwest schools as compared to ones in the South. "On the other hand, schools in the West reported a significantly lower discrepancy of school discipline in African American youth (four outcomes) and students identifying with two or more races (four outcomes) as compared to the South," it says.

According to the paper, larger schools were associated with more in-school suspensions in both middle and high schools. However, it was the smaller-sized high schools that had higher rates of expulsions with services as well as expulsions without services. Greater school diversity in the student body predicted a greater number of in-school suspensions in middle and high schools. A comparison of urban and suburban middle schools revealed that suburban middle schools had significantly lower rates of out of school suspensions, but higher rates of expulsions with services. Further, rural middle schools had 20% higher rates of in-school suspensions as compared to urban schools.


"This research is instrumental in providing impetus to a broader discussion about disciplinary actions and practices in America's middle and high schools. The study also provides important information for policymakers in the continued discussion and evaluation of current disciplinary policies found in American secondary schools," researchers say in their study.

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