Children's race, not disability status, may predict more frequent suspension

January 24, 2019 by Kristie Auman-Bauer, Pennsylvania State University
Among students in Kindergarten through eighth grade, students who are black are more frequently suspended than white students of similar behavioral, academic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Credit: Rido/shutterstock.com

Suspension is one way schools discipline students, but the high number of and disparities in suspensions in the U.S. has sparked controversy and policy debate.

New research, led by Paul L. Morgan, Harry and Marion Eberly Fellow, professor of education and demography, and director of Penn State's Center for Educational Disparities Research, has found that, among students in Kindergarten through eighth grade, students who are black are more frequently suspended than of similar behavioral, academic and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, students with disabilities, including those of color, were not more frequently suspended after accounting for the study's other explanatory factors. The findings were recently published in the Journal of School Psychology.

Being suspended has been reported to increase the risk for later life-course adversities. Students who are suspended frequently are at especially high risk. For example, other work finds that students who are suspended two, three or four times are much more likely to later be arrested than students who are suspended only once.

"Students who are suspended are at increased risk for lower academic achievement, school dropout, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse and adult criminality," said Morgan.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides legal protections to students with disabilities and requires U.S. states monitor for disparities in discipline.

"The purpose of these protections is to make sure that students are not missing out on services that they need. The protections also make sure that students with disabilities are not being inappropriately disciplined due to a lack of effective support," Morgan explained.

Morgan and his research team took a new approach examining disparities in school by investigating how frequently students were suspended, rather than whether or not they were suspended.

The investigators analyzed 6,740 students who were participating in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten cohort 1998-1999, a data set collected and administered by U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Data collection started with the 1998-1999 kindergarten class and followed them through eighth grade.

The investigators found that by the end of eighth grade, students who are black received almost twice as many suspensions as otherwise similar students who are white. Prior behavior, family socioeconomic status and school economic composition did not explain these racial disparities, although these factors themselves increased the risk for more frequent suspension.

Students with disabilities were initially at greater risk for more frequent suspension, but their risk was subsequently explained by the study's other factors. Neither students of color with nor those with specific disability conditioners were at greater risk.

"It's a complex issue, because schools need to maintain a safe learning environment for all students, but at the same time schools should not be using suspension in ways that are discriminatory," Morgan said. "The results provide suggestive evidence of bias in how students of color are being suspended, at least as indicated by their more frequent suspension not being explained by many other factors including behavior at entry, growing up in poverty, or attending schools in more economically distressed communities."

Explore further: Suspending young students risks future success in school

More information: Paul L. Morgan et al. Are students with disabilities suspended more frequently than otherwise similar students without disabilities?, Journal of School Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jsp.2018.11.001

Related Stories

Rethinking school suspensions: School climate offers a clue

December 12, 2018

A 2012 study by the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University found that when a high school freshman receives a single suspension, their chances of dropping out of school can increase by a third. Furthermore, only ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.