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Schools in Ferguson suspend Black students at higher rates than peers

By Evie Blad for Education Week on Aug 22, 2014 11:10 AM

Black people in Ferguson, Mo. — where a police officer fatally shot an unarmed Black teenager Aug. 9 -- are more likely to be arrested by local police officers than their White peers. Those statistics have sparked a mistrust of the mostly White police force that added fuel to passionate protests that have followed the death of Michael Brown, 18.

Those racial disparities are also present in schools in Ferguson, where Black students are more likely to face some forms of discipline than their White peers, federal statistics show.

The Ferguson-Florissant school district remained closed Thursday, a day after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited the St. Louis suburb to check in on a federal investigation of Brown's death. As Holder arrived, a grand jury began hearing evidence to determine whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson should face charges for shooting Brown or whether the shooting was a justifiable use of force.

Holder touched on a mistrust of authorities in a guest editorial he wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in advance of his visit, in which he called trust between the public and law enforcement fragile. "Enforcement priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve," Holder wrote.

School data

Civil rights activists have said a similar mistrust exists in many schools around the country, fed by statistics that show Black students are more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to the justice system than their peers. In the 13,234-student Ferguson-Florrisant school district, Black students make up 77.1 percent of total enrollment, but 87.1 percent of students without disabilities who receive an out-of-school suspension are Black, according to 2011-12 data from the U.S. Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection.

The charts below also show that higher proportions of the district's Black students are suspended than their peers. The difference is even more dramatic when you look at the proportion of Black students who were suspended more than once. (There are other districts that serve students in the Ferguson area, but their enrollments are so small and so predominantly Black that the disciplinary data draws from a very small number of White students, making it difficult to reliably analyze.)

Such discipline patterns aren't unusual. As Education Week reported in March, the data show that nationwide: "While Black students represented 16 percent of overall enrollment, they represented 33 percent of students suspended out of school and 34 percent of students who were expelled."

President Obama noted school discipline disparities as part of national discriminatory "patterns that start early" in his remarks about Ferguson last week.

"But as I think I've said in some past occasions, part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind, who, as a consequence of tragic histories, often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects," Obama said.

"You have young men of color in many communities who are more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college. And part of my job that I can do I think without any potential conflicts is to get at those root causes ... And one of the things that we've looked at during the course of where we can—during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there are patterns that start early. Young African American and Hispanic boys tend to get suspended from school at much higher rates than other kids, even when they're in elementary school."

Obama administration efforts

Obama's administration, led by Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have worked to tackle such disparities by releasing first-of-its-kind civil rights guidance in January that clearly outlines expectations for schools in fairly crafting and implementing discipline policies.

That guidance urges districts to rethink "zero tolerance" policies that lead to classroom removal for non-violent offenses. And it spells out districts' obligations under civil rights laws to review and track the impact of disciplinary policies to ensure that they aren't unfairly affecting certain student populations. Higher rates of discipline for students in various racial and ethnic groups cannot be entirely explained away by assuming they had higher rates of misbehavior, Holder and Duncan said when they released the discipline guidance in Baltimore.

But some have questioned the guidance's approach to "disparate impact," arguing that it will serve to force racial discipline quotas on schools or force a chilling effect on classroom teachers, who will fear disciplining some students because it may skew statistics.

 

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared at Education Week.

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Comments (18)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 2:42 pm

Are they more likely to get suspended and or arrested because maybe they just commit more offenses? Maybe their odds of committing these offenses are higher. Did anyone think of that?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 3:14 pm

We thought of that and found people like you just don't understand history and economics.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 4:28 pm

Don't commit the crime if you don't want to do the time.  I'm tired of all the excuses.  Do the right thing and ou won't get suspended or arrested.

Submitted by Keith Newman (not verified) on August 22, 2014 4:58 pm

If you can't put your name on your posts are you any different than the poster you criticized? We need people to stand up and take responsibility. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 5:02 pm

So when a student throws a desk across the room, or punches the teacher, or sexually assualts another student, we should take history and economics into consideration and not suspend or expell the student?  Why are the rights of the violent and unruly more important than the rights of the other children trying to get an education?  Doesn't sound very equitable to me.  

Submitted by Jim (not verified) on August 22, 2014 11:53 pm

So what? There's a greater percentage of white students suspended than Asian students across the nation and not many care to mention it.  If you break a rule in school there is a consequence to affirm that certain behaviors are not tolerated in a place of learning.  All rooted in the hope that the offender will come to realize the error of his or her ways hopefully sooner rather than later as well as to show other students you cannot do whatever you please in a school and get away with it.  Some student's have bad home lives where they are not taught basic social skills, despite this they should not be given a pass to do whatever they want consequence free and detract from the education of the rest of their classmates.  Kids must learn what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Schools should not be the ones primarily teaching this to them but it is what is, because a system of behavioral expectations is needed for schools successfully to educate ALL students.  Yes it is an economic and historic issue too but that does not give anyone a get out of jail free card.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 25, 2014 8:18 am

and then again the kids who build the bombs and take the assault weapons to school for mass killings seem to be white?.....is it what the media reports, racism, or somthing else?....

lt us not forget mental health, economics and lack of parenting....all three of which are colorless issues.

Submitted by Keith Newman (not verified) on August 22, 2014 4:27 pm

I have to wonder what the results would be if disciplinary incidents were reported and ranked by socio-economics instead of race. Think about it: Race would be diffused as an issue. The real culprit, poverty and our governmnets lack of political will to solve it would be front and center. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 5:05 pm

Excellent point.  African Americans (36% below poverty line) are three times as poor as whites (12% below the poverty line), which is a major factor in discipline issues (they are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled).  It's about socioeconomics, not race.  Poverty is the lurking variable no one wants to acknowledge, because the race card is such a powerful tool for people who are obsessed with stats like these, and they don't want to ever give it up.   

Submitted by Bryce (not verified) on August 22, 2014 5:58 pm

I don't know why the first person's comment is somehow made to seem invalid. Every single time I see these stats, it makes me wonder how the outcome is immediately spun to be that black students are targeted. When the stats show 3X as likely to be suspended, why couldn't it just as easily mean that the student commits more infractions that are then enforced based on the laws of the classroom, school, etc? When you say "We thought of that..." so...great. Do you acknowledge it as a possibility. In so many words, is this article just saying "teachers and principals are racists"? That would have to be your point. Unless you would like to elaborate, "we thought of that" as a response is just a cop out.

Submitted by Bryce (not verified) on August 22, 2014 5:26 pm

In line with what Keith is saying, are there other factors (even within the Black student group) that point to a reason for acting out. For instance: how many of the students are in a single-family home, how many are below the poverty line, how many have suffered a death in the family in the last year, how many have siblings or family member who graduated from high school, from college at the bachelor's level, from college at the masters or doctoral level, how many have family history of substance abuse, how many have experienced domestic violence. It would be very very very very very very simple to do a within-group study but that wouldn't get as many headlines. It's not as provocative as "schools are racists"

Submitted by Bryce (not verified) on August 22, 2014 6:24 pm

...Unless you actually collected the data and aren't presenting it. In Philadelphia, for example, how are there black students at magnet schools with a low suspension rate and black students at neighborhood schools with a high suspension rate. What? Shocking?!? No, it just requires a closer look and that you actually wish to address the causes of the issue. Averages are the most ignorant way of presenting data to serve an agenda 

Submitted by Ken (not verified) on August 23, 2014 10:44 am

Thank you Keith and Bryce.  I HATE articles like these.   The SDP (and other school districts) are not full of racist employees looking to suspend black kids.  It's the socioeconomics.   I moved from north Philly to a northeast school.  The northeast school is incredibly diverse and there were literally zero suspensions and very very few behavior issues.  After 18 years of teaching at schools where dealing with student behaviors was a major stressful part of my day, this was an eye opener.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 23, 2014 11:33 am

Northeast High Schools have 2 principals and 4 assistant principals, 4 deans to deal with school issues. Whereas other neighborhood schools like Frankford, Fels, Overbrook, Bartram have I PRINCIPAL AND 1 AP.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 24, 2014 9:07 am

Not sure what you're getting at... Northeast HS has 2-3 times as many students as the schools you mention. With over 3000 students, one would hope the school would have more administrators and deans. Further, how do schools prioritize their budgets? The other schools you mention have apparently decided to reduce those administrative positions and use the funds elsewhere.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 24, 2014 9:15 am

Principals do not have money in the budget to take thier APs back. They were NOT GIVEN THE MONEY. Principals are waiting to bring back thier assistant principals so they make thier schools safer and ESPECIALLY THE TEACHERS ARE UPSET THEY DO NOT GET ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT WHEN THEY ARE ASSAULTED OR FIGHTS BREAK OUT. Teachers are fleeing and they are terroised to come back. WE NEED ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT. A SINGLE PRINCIPAL WITH 500- 600 STUDENTS CANNOT CATER TO THE NEEDS OF THE STAFF, STUDENTS AND FAMILIES. DO YOU GET IT? If you are someone from 440. talk some sense into Dr.Hite and KHIN PLEEEAAASSSEE. WE need ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 24, 2014 9:20 am

Principals do not have money in the budget to take thier APs back. They were NOT GIVEN THE MONEY. Principals are waiting to bring back thier assistant principals so they make thier schools safer and ESPECIALLY THE TEACHERS ARE UPSET THEY DO NOT GET ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT WHEN THEY ARE ASSAULTED OR FIGHTS BREAK OUT. Teachers are fleeing and they are terroised to come back. WE NEED ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT. A SINGLE PRINCIPAL WITH 500- 600 STUDENTS CANNOT CATER TO THE NEEDS OF THE STAFF, STUDENTS AND FAMILIES. DO YOU GET IT? If you are someone from 440. talk some sense into Dr.Hite and KHIN PLEEEAAASSSEE. WE need ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 25, 2014 6:52 pm
I agree that they should rank stats based on economic disparity. That being said, ANY student who is a danger to students and staff must be dealt with severely. I hate being afraid. If an administrator comes into my room and a student is playing on his/her phone, I'm accountable. Have you seen how students react to be separated from their phones? We've had huge, violent scenes involving police. It's scary. If I tell a student to please put away their phone and they don't, I'm not going to get into a battle. Maybe in elementary school, but not in my high school!

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