A comprehensive survey of more than 72,000 K-12 schools serving 85 percent of the country has found that nearly one out of every five black male students received at least one out-of-school suspension during the 2009-10 school year — a rate three and a half times that of their peers.
The report, released this week by the Discipline Disparities Collaborative, headquartered at Indiana University, added more data to support the $200 million, five-year “My Brother’s Keeper” project, which was announced by President Obama last month to address the multiple problems facing young black men. At the same time, it highlighted what a number of forward-thinking schools and school districts across the country are doing to reduce the number of students they suspend and expel.
“When you suspend a student, what you’re basically saying is, ‘You’re not entitled to receive instruction,’” said Ramiro Rubalcaba, principal of Azuza High School northeast of Los Angeles, who spoke Thursday at news conference on the report.
Years ago, when he was a high school administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Rubalcaba was a self-described “skeptic” of disciplinary alternatives who once suspended 600 students in one year. But over several years at LAUSD’s Garfield High School and now at Azuza, Rubalcaba has helped change disciplinary policies, resulting in a sharp drop in the number of out-of-school suspensions. Last school year at Azusa High School, for example, there were more than 70-out-of-school suspensions: So far this school year there have been three.
“Schools have the power to change these rates of suspension and expulsion,” said Russell Skiba, director of Indiana University’s Equity Project, of which the collaborative is a part. He and other experts emphasized that the higher suspension rate of black students – as well as Hispanics, disabled students, Native American students, and LGBT students – is not because of higher rates of infractions by these groups. “The research simply does not support this belief,” he said.
NSBA is taking a leading role in the effort to reform school disciplinary procedures and reduce out-of-school suspensions. Last March NSBA and its Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) — along with its Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native caucuses — issued Addressing the Out of School Suspension Crisis: A Policy Guide for School Board Members.
“School boards must take the lead in ensuring that out-of-school suspension is used as a last resort in addressing violations of school codes of conduct,” NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel, said in the report. He also noted that school boards were already in the forefront of addressing these issues.
The collaborative’s report made several points about school discipline reform. The first is that improving schooling overall does not necessarily lead to a reduction in disciplinary disparities. Indeed, as Dan Losen, director UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies said at the news conference releasing the report, “You can’t close the achievement gap unless you close the discipline gap.”
NSBA’s National Black Caucus of School Board Members hosted a webinar in November 2013 titled Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline. On April 7, at NSBA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, the caucus will also be hosting a breakout session titled We Can Do Better: Reforming School Discipline and Accountability. The session will highlight the work of Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Schools and the Broward County Public Schools in Florida.