Last Updated on June 11, 2016 by Andre Loftis

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“Not only will school districts increase graduation rates and generate billions of dollars in economic activity if they stop suspending so many students, the research also shows that reducing the racial discipline gap makes good economic sense and will reduce social costs that hit communities of color the hardest.

Daniel J. Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Those who follow issues of disparities endured by Blacks in America were not surprised to learn in recent weeks that African American students are nearly four times as likely as White students to be suspended out-of-school.

This alarming disparity was highlighted with dramatic emphasis in two recently released studies that revealed the full extent to which the overuse of harsh school discipline has harmed student achievement particularly among students of color and cost taxpayers billions of dollars in the process.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”64869″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]The UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project recently released a groundbreaking research study titled The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact. This was the first ever report to quantify the economic cost of suspending students from school. It built on a large body of research that demonstrated how excessive school suspensions fail to improve school learning environments or enhance academic achievement.

The second study, 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection, highlighted a number of key issues of importance to the African American community including college and career readiness, and chronic student absenteeism within America’s school system; and the purposes of this article, the glaring racial disparities in school discipline.

The UCLA report used data that tracked a cohort of 10th graders. The researchers estimated that 10th grade school suspensions during the study period resulted in more than 67,000 additional high school dropouts nationally.  Using different data sources, the study also estimated the costs and effects of school suspensions. Nationally, the economic impact of 10th-grade suspensions exceeds $35 billion.

According to the study, 10th grade suspensions in California resulted in more than 10,000 additional high school dropouts. Also, 16 percent of all tenth graders nationally reported they had experienced either an in-school or out-of-school suspension in the first semester of tenth grade, compared to 18 percent of tenth graders in California. The bottom line—being suspended yielded a 23 percentage-point decrease in the likelihood of graduating nationally; California showed a 27 percentage points decrease.

The UCLA report put a price tag on what it costs American taxpayers to perpetuate this injustice. The total costs of the additional dropouts caused by suspensions nationally exceeds $35 billion. However, authors of the report stressed this number is very conservative because it only considered 10th grade students, and when all groups are considered the number could well exceed $100 billion.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”64870″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]These economic impact estimates relied on analysis from Clive Belfield, an economics professor at Queens College. He estimated that over the course of a lifetime, every student who drops out leads to $163,000 in lost tax revenue and $364,000 in other social costs, such as health care and criminal justice expenses.

Admittedly, there can be other factors that contribute to why students who are suspended may be less likely to graduate from high school. For example, students who are suspended may have poorer attendance, lower grades and be more likely to be retained than students who are not suspended.

Since the 1970’s, school suspensions have continued to increase, particularly for children of color. The fact that education policy makers and others stressed that many schools have gotten away from using suspensions (both in-school and out-of-school) only as a last resort, does little to explain why children of color, particularly African American males, are most significantly impacted.

The 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection survey looked at 16,758 school districts, encompassing 95,507 schools and 50,035,744 students.

According to the survey, African American students in grades K through 12 were 3.8 times as likely as their White counterparts to receive at least one out-of-school suspension. The report revealed 6 percent of all K-12 students experienced at least one out-of-school suspension; however once again, the breakdown by race and gender was telling—at least 18 percent of Black boys and 10 percent of Black girls as compared to only 5 percent for White boys and 2 percent for White girls.

Even more alarming—preschoolers were no exception. African American preschoolers were 3.6 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as White preschool children—Black boys made up 19 percent of male preschool enrollment and yet were 45 percent of the preschool boys suspended; while Black girls were 20 percent of female preschool enrollment but were fully 54 percent of the preschool girls suspended.

Despite this harsh reality, there remains one factor that lends some hope for a reduction in suspensions going forward particularly if the issue continues to receive increased media attention nationally. According to the report, “While many schools still suspend students at a high rate for mostly minor offenses, they are outnumbered by the schools and districts that keep suspension rates relatively low.”[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”64872″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Examples of this can be found in states and school districts around the nation. The study’s authors stated their beliefs that sharp reductions in suspensions are an achievable goal. One example of this cited in the report was California.

California has reduced suspensions by nearly 40 percent since the 2011-2012 academic year. It accomplished this by virtually eliminating suspensions for minor infractions like disruption or defiance. It also took other measures to promote alternatives to suspension. This is great progress; however, some individual schools nationally have reduced suspensions by more than 90 percent after introducing alternative discipline models.

According to the UCLA study, cutting suspension rates by 50 percent for just one cohort of students (10th grade) would result in economic savings of $3.1 billion for California. The study also offered three core recommendations for policymakers including school district leaders here in California that could impact this issue. Among them, to include suspension rates as a key metric when evaluating school performance; Review and collect suspension data to identify the most effective school discipline approaches; and, to Direct resources toward effective discipline practices that keep children in school.

For the first time, the report revealed a significant number of schools have sworn law enforcement officers, including school resource officers. At least 24 percent of elementary schools and 42 percent of high schools have sworn law enforcement officers. By contrast, 51 percent of high schools with high Black and Latino student enrollment have such officers. It should come as no surprise that Black students are 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as White students.

The report also highlighted that although Black boys account for only eight percent of all students, they are 19 percent of students expelled without being provided any educational services.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text el_class=”small”]To view the UCLA Civil Rights Project Report, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact visit civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/featured-research-collection.

To view the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection in detail visit www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/data.html[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.