Alabama’s in the Top 5…for Out-of-School Suspension Rates
Whenever Alabama’s school districts are in the Top 5 in just about anything, the news is all abuzz. Celebrations are held. Press releases are generated.
But a couple of months ago, Alabama students came out in the top 5 and no one made a sound. Especially odd considering that the Top 5 ranking was in the public education realm, which is an area where Alabama rarely is highly-ranked.
How did we let that one get by us?
Could it be because we were in the Top 5 for out-of-school suspension rates? Probably so.
The UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project published “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” in February 2015. The report is based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Education for the 2011-2012 school year. School districts are required to report this data. The data is publicly housed on the Office of Civil Rights Data Collection web site.
The Center looked specifically at whether the gap between suspension rates for white students and other racial and ethnic groups was closing at the national level. “If we ignore the discipline gap, we will be unable to close the achievement gap,” according to the report’s authors.
Each of these out-of-school suspensions represents instructional days lost. With the average out-of-school suspension lasting 3.5 days, this means that Alabama’s students lost nearly 197,000 instructional days to out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year. And that is making the (inaccurate) assumption that students are only suspended once in a year. Many students are suspended more than once during a school year.
The gap is defined in percentage points and is calculated simply by subtracting the proportion of white students suspended from the proportion of a comparison group of students suspended.
The Center found that the racial gap at the national level remained as large as it was in the previous study year (2009-2010), but that some districts had dramatically lowered their suspension rate, resulting in a narrowing of the gap in those districts. Because the Center analyzed only 113 of Alabama’s districts for their trend data, look for a more complete analysis of Alabama’s schools and districts here soon.
The numbers that are reported here are for Alabama’s secondary schools (defined as as any school with grades 5-8, 6-8, 7-9, 6-12, 9-12, 10-12, or 9th-grade academies) for white, black, and Latino students, by gender and whether the student has a disability as reported by the Center on the spreadsheet they provided along with the report.
The tables below depict Alabama’s national ranking in each category.
It is important to understand that the tables below depict the proportion of students within the described group that received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year.
Here’s how to read the table.
Look at the first line in the table below. It shows that of all students in Alabama’s secondary schools, 16.27% received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year. That put Alabama at number five in the country. A total of 56,270 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year.
Let’s look at the next line. Of all Black students in Alabama’s secondary schools, 29.2% of them received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year, putting Alabama at number four for the proportion of black students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions that year. A total of 36,705 Black students received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year.
This table depicts the out-of-school suspension rates for students without disabilities, which means students that do not have Individual Education Programs (IEPs).
This next table (below) depicts out-of-school suspension rates for students with disabilities, which specifically includes students who have IEPs.
Don’t get too caught up in the rankings here. The proportions of students are actually higher than students without disabilities (depicted above), but the ranking simply means there are other states with higher proportions. For example, in Florida, 37.1% of students with disabilities received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year. And in Nevada, 55.3% of Black students with disabilities received one or more out-of-school suspensions that school year.
[Stay tuned for more about discipline for students with disabilities.]
District-level data is available at this link.
The Discipline Gap
Finally, let’s look at the “discipline gap”. The number described as the discipline gap below is expressed in percentage points. So let’s read this table.
The first line tells us that there is a difference of 20.21 percentage points between the out-of-school suspension rates of Black and White students.
The math was simple, but the implications are alarming. It gets worse when you look at the 23.34 percentage points difference between the suspension rates of Black male and White male students.
Why This Matters
This matters because, simply put, if students aren’t in school, they can’t learn. Those 197,000 instructional days could have gone a long way to improve learning and achievement during the school year.
But there is something more in the data. The disparity in how out-of-school suspension is used as discipline for children of different races is too large to blame on anything other than policies and practice.
From the Center’s report:
There is consensus that profound disparities in suspension rates must be addressed. This report documents gross disparities in the use of out of school suspension experienced by students with disabilities, and those from historically disadvantaged racial, ethnic, and gender subgroups. The egregious disparities presented in the pages that follow reveal that the overarching education policy concern about excessive disciplinary removal is, in fact, a serious civil rights and social justice issue that implicates the potentially unlawful disparate negative impact on disadvantaged students and the denial of educational opportunity in numerous districts across the country.
What can school officials do to address the disparities revealed in the data?
In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education issued formal guidance through a “Dear Colleague” letter calling for school officials to take a hard look at their discipline data, policies and practices to determine if disciplinary practices result in discrimination. “Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem,” the letter said.
Throughout the letter, the Departments remind districts of their legal obligations under federal civil rights laws. News reports have shown they are serious about investigating and resolving complaints of discriminatory discipline practices. (Here’s another example.)
In her recent order regarding Huntsville City Schools, U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala used examples unevenly applied discipline and the use of out-of-school suspension for Black students in the school district as an example of “the tenacious vestiges of de jure segregation…affecting the way in which African-American students in the district were treated.”
The 164-page order includes a detailed plan for ensuring discipline, including out-of-school suspension, does not differ based on a student’s race.
These national rankings indicate there is much work to be done in Alabama.
Here’s a link to the U.S. Department of Education’s School Climate and Discipline resource page.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education prepared a package of material to assist school officials in reviewing policies and putting better practices in place to ensure all students are offered an equal opportunity in our public schools.
The package includes Guiding Principles, a Directory of Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources, a Compendium of School Discipline Laws and Regulations, and an overview of the Supportive School Initiative.
The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) collects discipline and incident information from school districts through the Student Incident Report (SIR). Here is the statewide report for the 2013-2014 school year for each school within each school district. The quickest way to find your school is through searching the PDF by using CTRL+F and then typing your school name into the search box.
Here is a quick video to help you access the Civil Rights Data Collection.
In accordance with the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) requirement, the Center rounded all numbers to the nearest five.
All analyses based on the 2011 – 2012 unsuppressed data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) released by the US Department of Education in March 2014. More details about the data collection can be found online at http://ocrdata.ed.gov. Per IES requirements, to protect the identity of individual students, numbers of suspension and enrollment in this spreadsheet and the related report are rounded to the nearest five. All analyses completed by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project, UCLA. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/CCRRNationalReports.