Dropout danger leads to backlash against frequent school suspensions

NPR reports on a backlash against suspending high-school students and possibly putting them “on the fast track to falling behind, dropping out, and going to jail.” Opponents cite a study released in April, which highlighted the Worcester school district, that suggests the disciplinary measure is disproportionately used against “children of color and students from other historically disadvantaged groups.”

Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools , published by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, analyzes data from some 26,000 public secondary schools, which suspended 2 million students at least once during the 2009-10 academic year. Among the findings:

The estimated overall suspension rates for the nation in 1972-1973 were 0.9% for elementary students and 8% for secondary students. Today the overall rates are 2.4% and 11.3%, respectively. It should be noted, however, that even though the use of suspensions has increased at every level and for nearly every racial group since the early 1970s, the risk for Black students in secondary schools has grown the most. For example, 24.3%, the suspension rate for Black secondary school students has increased by almost 14 percentage points since the 1970s, whereas the rate for White students has increased from 6% to 7.1%, a gain of just 1 percentage point.

The report’s authors suggest that, among other factors, “high-security measures, including school police and metal detectors, are related to lower levels of perceived safety and the high use of suspensions, and may contribute to racial disparities.”

In Worcester, one of 22 districts profiled in the report, the suspension rate for all secondary-school students was 38 percent, but it was 60 percent for black male students (and male students with learning disabilities were at higher risk of suspension across all racial groups).

Daniel Losen, a co-author of the report, told NPR that a single suspension doubles the chance that a student will drop out of high school (from 16 percent to 32 percent), which puts them at greater risk of entering the juvenile criminal justice system. “The costs of suspending students are really sky high, but they’re hidden costs,” Losen said.

A higher dropout rate can also lead to billions of dollars in lost tax revenue, according to a February report by the public policy group Civic Enterprises. See Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.

                    Robert David Sullivan

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