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Black males suspended much more often in California, report finds

April 10, 2012 |  6:37 pm

A black student in California is three times more likely to be suspended than a white student, a disparity that is much higher in some school systems in the state.

The high rate of suspensions for black students—and frequently members of other minority groups—is alarmingly high and directly contributes to low academic achievement and the dropout rate, said researchers with the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project.

In the 2009-10 school year, about 18% of black students were suspended, compared with 7% of Latinos, 6% of whites and 3% of Asians. The overall suspension rate was 5.2%.

Among the state’s larger school systems, Stockton Unified stood out for suspending 38% of black male students, according to the federal data on which the study was based. But other minority students also were suspended: 19% of Latino males, 23% of white males and 13% of Asian males.

“It just defies common sense—the frequency with which kids are being kicked out of schools,” said study co-author Daniel J. Losen. “It seems like kicking kids out of school is an automatic response to even the slightest misbehavior.”

Losen and other experts cited such reasons for suspension as defiance, dress-code violations, repeated tardiness, even chewing gum.

In interviews, hard-pressed teachers—and often students and parents—have expressed relief when a disruptive student can be removed from a classroom, especially in an era of larger class sizes and reduced support services.

But advocates insist out-of-school suspensions are ineffective in the long run, compared with other alternatives such as in-school discipline, teacher training and counseling.

For one thing, the suspended student comes back “less connected to school and more resentful of the adults on campus,” said Castle Redmond, a program manager at the California Endowment and a former teacher in Oakland.

And it’s worse for the student and the community if the student doesn’t come back, said Redmond, who worked at schools with high suspension rates and also one that reduced its suspensions by 80%.

The issue is not one of large urban school systems alone. Manteca Unified, south of Stockton, suspended 60% of black students, 30% of Latinos, 33% of whites and 28% of Asians. Overall, one in three students went home for misbehavior.

Students with disabilities also were suspended at disproportionately high rates. In San Bernardino City Unified, schools suspended 59% of black males with a disability and a third of Latinos.

Ethnic disparities exist even when poverty and the type of behavior are factored out, said Indiana University professor Russell Skiba.
“It isn’t really to say school personnel are racist,” said Skiba, but the gap also is not due to “poor kids behaving badly.”

The racial discrepancy also existed at Los Angeles Unified, where 23% of black males were suspended, compared with 7% of Latino males and 6% of white males. A study earlier this year by another group, using the same data set, found that L.A. Unified suspended black students at a disproportionately higher rate than the nation's other largest school systems.

But L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said the nation’s second-largest school system is turning a corner on this challenge.

Comparing data through February, the instructional time lost by African American students due to suspension has decreased by 1,138 days from last year, according to the district.

-- Howard Blume