You’ll Never Guess Which Region Suspends Black Kids From School Most Often

Posted By on 30th October 2015

The lingering effect of Jim Crow is putting African American children in the school-to-prison pipeline.

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  1. It’s a problem that echoes the “black codes” of the nation’s Jim Crow era: African American schoolchildren nationwide are up to three times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended or expelled from school.

    But a new study shows that things are even worse for black grade-school kids in the South, where they are up to five times more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled—an eyebrow-raising disparity experts say is a big factor in the school-to-prison pipeline.

    The assessment, made by the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, found that African American students were consistently suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers in each of the 3,000 school districts in the 13-state region. The pattern held steady for black boys and girls even when they were a substantial minority of the district’s population and regardless of whether they attended school in an affluent suburban or a poor urban district.

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    “We weren’t necessarily surprised” that African American students were disciplined more frequently, said Edward Smith, who coauthored the study with Shaun Harper. Several national studies, he said, have determined that schools expel and punish black students at higher rates than they do their white peers, a lingering effect of Jim Crow and racial prejudice.

    The unexpected finding of the study, Smith said, was that unequal punishment of black students “happens in places that are dissimilar from each other”—in rich and poor districts, as well as ones that are predominantly black or majority white. “There’s no unique profile or demographic composition,” said Smith, that would indicate a school is more likely to suspend or expel blacks more often than whites. “If anything, we wanted to kind of showcase the variants,” he said.

    The disparities in punishment were most significant in Mississippi, where 50 percent of the students are black, but black students accounted for 74 percent of suspensions and 72 percent of expulsions. Things aren’t much better in neighboring Louisiana, where 45 percent of the students are black; 67 percent of suspensions and 72 percent of expulsions there are of black students.

    At the same time, according to the study, in 181 individual school districts and 84 individual districts, all of the students who were punished by expulsion and suspension—100 percent—were black.

    “The numbers we see are staggering,” said Kaitlin Banner, an attorney with the Advancement Project, a civil rights group. Banner is part of the organization’s Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track program, targeting zero-tolerance discipline programs that lead students to contact with the criminal justice system.

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    The data speaks not only to “a real history and legacy of discrimination” that still lingers in the South, along with modern perceptual biases that lead educators to see African American students more negatively than whites for the same behaviors. “What’s different is the adult reaction to the behavior,” said Banner.

    “We do think that much of what we see is from Jim Crow–era policies, practices, and discrimination,” Smith said. “However, the uptick and the scaling of zero-tolerance disciplinary policies have been shown to change the quality and the nature of out-of-school discipline,” and the result leads to harsher punishment of African American kids.

    Smith and Banner agreed that unequal punishment of black and white students is a factor in the school-to-prison pipeline and deprives black children of a quality education, a key to closing the stubborn achievement gap. Solutions are in reach, they said, starting with giving rich and poor schools equal resources and teaching educators about implicit racial biases.

    “There’s a lack of professional development at schools of education and other sites in which teachers and school leaders are credentialed and certified with respect to behavior and classroom management,” Smith said. Most discipline problems “arise in exchanges that are intense and in exchanges in classrooms that are not supportive.”

    “Every child should have the opportunity to be a child,” and most kids make mistakes, Banner said. But “mistakes should not prevent a kid from getting an education.”

    Screenwriter Marcia L. Sinclair

    As a former teacher in Chicago, I would need more information before I will sign this pledge. I would need to know the percentage of black principals/teachers who are responsible for the suspensions/expulsions. What is the home life like of the children who are suspended/expelled? Are they from low-income homes with a single mom and multiple siblings and not two who share the same parents? Are they exposed on a daily basis to profanity, junk food, no rules, sex, guns, gangs, violence and abuse (emotional, physical or sexual)? Are the older children “raising” the younger children? Are they engaged in unprotected sex? Are mothers and daughters pregnant at the same time? Are they 100 times more likely to be killed by a black person in their community than a white police officer? I have worked with children who came from these households, so let’s not pretend they don’t exist. These children are coming from unstructured homes to a school environment that is structured and the blame is centered on the schools and never the home. The children become angry and sometimes uncontrollable when they can’t comply with rules and a schedule and as a result they make bad choices that lead to bad consequences. In addition, we don’t know what the children did that lead to them being suspended/expelled regardless of their home life or social economic status. There are children who misbehave at school that come from all races and incomes. The difference is, those who don’t have an impoverished background might be able to make a bad choice and apply to Harvard at the same time. Both children and adults need to learn the difference between a “mistake” and a “bad choice”. A mistake is marking the wrong answer on a test, or something you didn’t do intentionally. A bad choice is something you choose to do even though you know it is wrong, however, your reasoning is personal gain and not getting caught. When you call a bad choice a “mistake”, you don’t have to take any accountability or responsibility for your actions, which opens the door for you to repeat it. (Adults do it all the time when they choose to cheat on their spouses and then call it a “mistake” each time they get caught.) As a race, we have never had it this good before! If we’re implying to this particular group of black children, through the media, that every bad consequence that happens to them is because they are black, you’re not giving them choices…just “mistakes” to be repeated. My heart bleeds for them.

    Please check out, One of the Most Dangerous Schools in America, ABC World News Tonight, ABC News reported by Diane Sawyer on Youtube. In this video you will see children who are flourishing in spite of insurmountable odds and those who have given up because they have no hope. The difference could possibly be their home life and not discrimination since they are all black.

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