What offense does an elementary student need to commit to be temporarily kicked out of school?
Turns out, it might depend on the school.
That’s one point raised by a report released this week. Missouri was highlighted for kicking black elementary students out of its public schools at inordinate rates, says an analysis of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. St. Louis area schools account for much of the disparity in the treatment of white and black students.
But dig deeper and there are many “this deserves a closer look” points for local districts in the raw data that form the basis of “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” It’s available online.
Here’s one tidbit a researcher pulled for the Kansas City area during an interview: Suspension rates for white secondary students in the Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., school districts are higher than for Latino students.
“It’s not just about racism,” said Daniel J. Losen, director of the UCLA Center. “High suspension rates hurt all kids.”
Children aren’t generally being suspended for criminal or violent acts, he said. It’s lesser problems, things like fighting. The conversation that Losen hopes to spur is about attitudes toward students, expectations of behavior and how outcomes like the study found can be driven by policy.
Looking at data for 17 districts in the Kansas City area, some bits jump out. In districts with higher percentages of African-American students, Hispanic students were disciplined at relatively low rates compared to their enrollment.
Yet in school districts with a majority white student enrollment, Latino students, along with black students, tended to be disciplined at disproportionately higher rates. Black students were disciplined at a higher rate than other students in all districts.
So either Latino youths are angelic when many of their peers are African-American and become troublemakers around majority white students or something else may be afoot.
The federal data come with many caveats. Distortions can occur due to rounding, and low numbers of some groups can give the appearance of disparity when it might not exist.
The data are best analyzed at the district level, honestly interpreting the findings. The worst offense for school administrators would be to disregard what the information might tell them.